THE concept of the learning curve is a staple of game design, but few titles execute it as well as Dark Souls 2. The latest entry in a series renowned for its stern challenges and epic battles refines the formula, pruning back the exploration elements to focus on the battles that have earned it a fervent if masochistic fanbase.
Review: Dark Souls 2 - Xbox 360 (reviewed) / Playstation 3
Score: 8.9 / 10
If there were any doubts about the certainty of death, Dark Souls 2 provides countless bloody reminders. The foes, in particular the bosses, mete out punishment relentlessly, meaning you will soon become all too well acquainted with the screen announcing your demise. It will happen often, a fact played out by the worldwide death counter highlighting how players the world over have endured a similar fate millions of times over.
As with its predecessor, however, Dark Souls 2 does not make preposterous demands of players’ abilities. Progress may seem impossible at times, but put in the hours and you come to realise the game’s true test is of your ability to hold your nerve and remain patient even when all appears futile. The key is to concentrate and channel frustration is a positive, instructive way. You will die, yes, but seldom will you feel cheated.
There are several small but telling tweaks to the Souls formula that have put in place by developers, From Software. Drangliec is now a sprawling, shadowy expanse that feels larger than before, even if it does not allow for the kind of open world experience its size hints at. This is in large part down to a new fast travel system, allowing you to flit between bonfires quickly.
The addition diminishes the sense of exploration that many hold dear, yet the pay off is worth it. Instead of traipsing around aimlessly, in fear of perishing, the titles allows those unable to commit to a 100 hour plus playthrough to focus on the classic Souls experience of taking on challenge after challenge, all the while dying and learning. It is a twist that keeps the game lean and mean.