Dark Souls II, and the Souls series in general, didn’t pique my interest until recently.
I don’t know why, everyone said they were great, the reviews were all awesome, but I think something about the “You will die repeatedly” thing just turned me off to it. I didn’t really want to play a game that was working against me, or one that existed just there to piss me off. Despite this, I knew that the Souls games must be good. With so many people praising them, there has to be something special about the games, right?
With this in mind, I recently bought Dark Souls II: Scholar of the Sin. Knowing that it wasn’t a typical hack n’ slash game like God of War or Dante’s Inferno, I had reservations about how I would fare. It only took a few hours for me to become totally engrossed in the game. I couldn’t get enough. Taking a break, even for a moment, was out of the question once I got into Dark Souls II.
After getting a feel for the game, I found myself succeeding more often than I was dying. Granted, I was tip-toeing through parts of the early game and doing my best to power-level my character for fear of getting destroyed by a boss, but still, I was making progress.
Making progress in Dark Souls II showed me that there is more to the game – and the Souls series at large – than just blisteringly hard bosses and unforgiving mechanics.
In Dark Souls II, the backstory is just that, backstory. After making it through the game’s opening tutorial area, there isn’t much narration to go off of. Cutscenes, as well, are few and far between, occurring only as frequently as players encounter major bosses.
These cutscenes go a long way of establishing a sense of consequence in Dark Souls II. Bosses like The Rotten are intimidating enough by themselves, but their introductory cutscenes are enough to haunt the nightmare of players. Because of his imposing nature, I was elated to kill The Rotten after a few tries. The buildup was worth it, the feeling of triumph palpable.
Similar to Dark Souls II’s backstory, the game offers little in the way of actual direction to the player. It was enjoyable, I think, to enter a world I knew nothing about and be left to fend for myself. Upon entering each area, I didn’t know what kind of enemies to expect, or what boss lurked in the shadows. I know that I could have used a guide or walkthrough, but I refused to let myself be spoiled. The fun of listening for footsteps, stomping every corpse I encountered for fear of it reanimating, brought me back to fond memories of traversing the world of The Legend Zelda: Wind Waker without a guide. In both games, exploring by my lonesome created a powerful connection to the game and their world.
Ten years ago, I think that I was more used to games that didn’t hold my hand. Titles like Wind Waker and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door instilled a great sense of accomplishment in beating the game. I had to work at it, unlike recent Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty titles. Even Mass Effect, a series which I adore, tends to hold the player’s hand on harder difficulties. Throughout those games, I never felt like I didn’t know what was coming next, I was always prepared for better or for worse.
Unlike those games, Dark Souls II left me constantly exploring. In order to survive, I had to be constantly on my toes. Even lowly dogs in the Souls games can destroy you if you aren’t smart, and while this can be frustrating at time, I came to appreciate the added tension.
The main appeal of Dark Souls II, I think, boils down to the fact that you have to figure things out for yourself in the game. It’s immensely rewarding. Sure, people try to leave messages and signs throughout the game, but more often than not, people are just trying to make you fall to your death.
Dark Souls II’s character customization was another standout element of the game. Because of the game’s fluid leveling and build setup, Dark Souls II invites players to experiment with what works best, finish the game, and then come back and try out another build. Learning to diversify your abilities and making an effort to constantly experiment with different weapons and armor sets if infinitely exciting, and became one of my favorite parts of the game.
After playing through Dark Souls II, I think that it is safe to say that the Souls games are something you should try whenever you are in a gaming rut. Whenever it feels like you’ve had enough with the regurgitated ideas of most triple-A titles, boot up one of From Software’s games, explore, and let yourself die a few times.
Souls games strike a strong balance between challenge and reward from the moment the game really starts. They’re hard, dark, and scary. Each moment you spend in a Souls game is memorable. For that, I am thankful.
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