Dark Souls II
|Dark Souls II|
Official cover artwork depicting the game's protagonist
|Designer(s)||Naotoshi Zin (lead designer)|
|Programmer(s)||Yoshitaka Suzuki (lead programmer)|
|Release date(s)||PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360
NA March 11, 2014
|Genre(s)||Action role-playing, hack and slash|
|Distribution||Optical disc, download|
Dark Souls II (ダークソウルII, Dāku Souru Tsu− ?) is an action RPG video game. The third game in its series, Dark Souls II was developed for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 by From Software, which also published the game in Japan, while Bandai Namco Games published the game in other regions.
Dark Souls II was announced at the Spike Video Game Awards on December 7, 2012. Hidetaka Miyazaki, who served as director on the two earlier games in the series, Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, acted as a supervisor, while the game was directed by Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura. Although set in the same world, Miyazaki stated there is no direct story connection between Dark Souls and Dark Souls II. The game uses dedicated multiplayer servers.
Taking place in the world of Drangleic, the game features both player versus environment (PvE) and player versus player (PvP) play, in addition to having some co-op components. As in the earlier games in the series, it once again features challenging gameplay, but with a more powerful graphics engine and more advanced AI system.
To begin the game, players customize the sex and physical features of a character in addition to choosing a gift and starting class, which determines starting statistics and equipment. From a third-person perspective, players explore a continuous, open world, where they are confronted by a hostile environment with unrelenting enemies and bosses. As enemies are defeated, "souls" are accumulated, which can be used as either currency or experience points, with players upgrading various character attributes to reflect a certain style of play.
The player moves through the world with little guidance or orientation, facing deadly opponents which generally increase in difficulty. The player can save their progress by lighting "bonfires," at which they can also rest to renew their health and magic, as well as repairing damage to their weapons. Resting at a bonfire also resets enemies in the particular area where that bonfire is located. The player can instantaneously travel between discovered bonfires in order to make backtracking less tedious. When a player is defeated, they "die," losing all the souls in their possession and returning to the last bonfire where they rested. When this happens, not only have they lost all their souls, but they are no longer human (called being "hollow"), and their maximum hit points have been decreased. The player can retrieve their lost souls at the location they died. As souls are accumulated, the player has the choice to either trade them in to increase one of more than a dozen attributes (e.g. strength — to increase the damage inflicted, or vigor — to increase the maximum amount of damage taken), or to use them to purchase items, equipment, or weapons. A third option, as one progresses in the game, is to use souls (usually in combination with another acquired item) to upgrade weapons and armor. The end of each section of gameplay consists of battling a boss — a much more powerful enemy that rewards the player with a "boss soul," which can be consumed for a large numbers of souls or traded for certain pieces of equipment. After defeating the final boss, the player may enter New Game+ mode.
In the early stages of the game, once a player becomes hollow there are only two ways for them to regain their humanity: to use a "human effigy," or to be summoned into another player's world and assist in conquering a boss. There are several advantages to being human, with the main one being the ability to summon other players into your world, discussed below.
Multiplayer features heavily in Dark Souls II. Players can call up to two players to join them, in order to help them through a level and/or to battle a boss. As a player, you can put down a "sign", which other players can activate, calling you into their "world". You may only call other players into your world if you are in human form, although you may be summoned in either human or hollow mode. Players can also participate in player versus player (PvP) gameplay, by either invading other players' games, or by leaving a dark spirit summoning sign. There are specific areas set aside for dueling, with neither player being penalized for defeat. While random invasions still occur, many are part of belonging to a particular covenant. Several areas, mostly for covenants (groups the player can join), also include being summoned as a "gray spirit" to defend or invade the specific region for specific rewards and progression within that covenant. For example, the player can join the Bell Keepers covenant, to defend the in-game regions of Belfry Luna or Sol. Upon joining the covenant, the player receives a ring that will automatically summon the player to defend the bell in the latter areas from other players who attempt to ring them. Every covenant receives a covenant-specific ring, which all have their own covenant-related effect, usually a way to summon each other or keep track of PvP kills for the covenant.
Enemies do not respawn indefinitely; after they are defeated a set number of times, they disappear for the remainder of the current playthrough. They can be returned using a Bonfire Ascetic, at the cost of permanently increasing the difficulty of that area. While this makes certain areas easier to traverse if the player dies many times, it also makes farming upgrade materials and equipment more difficult. The other major difference is the player's maximum HP is reduced upon each death, until their maximum HP reaches 50% of the full health bar. This can only be overcome by a player regaining their humanity or finding a special ring.
Magic plays a major role, with many enemies and bosses being weak to particular forms of damage, such as lightning or fire, either from magical weapons or spells. Both require the player to have a certain skill levels, such as a minimum intelligence to cast a spells or strength to wield a sword, as well as considering the overall weight of the player's equipment set.
Dark Souls II presents its plot in an unconventional way that makes it difficult to understand in one playthrough, and it has several unclear or unknown elements. In this way, the game encourages its community to share and review findings and interpretations with each other in order to fully understand it.
The story revolves around a male or female Undead human known as the "bearer of the curse", who has nearly lost their mind and gone "hollow" in their search for a cure. They have traveled to Drangleic, which is rumored to be home to powerful souls that can help Undead regain their humanity and avoid this fate. The bearer of the curse finds their way to Majula, a settlement in Drangleic, where they meet an enigmatic woman known as the Emerald Herald, who acts as the player's guide. She asks the player to seek four ancient beings with immense souls, and Vendrick, the king of Drangleic.
After claiming these four great souls (or a certain number of regular souls, which changes depending on the playthrough), the protagonist gains access to Drangleic Castle and can meet Nashandra, the queen of Drangleic. Nashandra urges the protagonist to visit King Vendrick, who has abandoned his own castle. When the protagonist reaches Vendrick inside the Undead Crypt, it is revealed that the former monarch of Drangleic has actually gone completely hollow, mindlessly wandering around in circles. The player may choose to fight Vendrick, but he is extremely powerful and almost indestructible. In order to proceed in the game, the bearer of the curse must pick up Vendrick's ring.
The King's Ring opens a seal placed on three doors. The first door leads to the withered remains of a fallen Giant in the Forest of the Fallen Giants. The second door leads eastwards – which is where the Emerald Herald will instruct the protagonist to go – to Vendrick's brother Aldia's keep. The last door leads to the Throne of Want below Drangleic Castle, where the bearer of the curse may fight and defeat the Throne Watcher and the Throne Defender. If the player defeats them, the throne will still be unreachable, as a pitch-black abyss blocks the path.
In order to proceed, the bearer of the curse must travel through Aldia's Keep and visit the colossal Ancient Dragon in the Dragon Shrine. If the dragon isn't provoked, it will speak with the player and willingly give the player an Ashen Mist Heart. The player can alternatively attempt to take the item by force and kill the Ancient Dragon. After having met the dragon, Queen Nashandra may offer guidance to the bearer of the curse by instructing him to seek the Forest of the Fallen Giants. She will also claim the Ancient Dragon is a false deity.
With the Ashen Mist Heart, the player can travel through time into the memories of withered creatures. In the Forest of the Fallen Giants, the bearer of the curse may interact with several long-dead, withered Giants – a race from the northern continents, whose homeland was attacked by Vendrick at Nashandra's request. Inside the memories of the Giant found beyond the door that Vendrick's ring opens, the player must fight and defeat the leader of the Giants. After achieving victory, the player gains a mysterious item called the Giant's Kinship, and can finally reach the throne below Drangleic Castle.
As their final objective, the bearer of the curse must open the door to the Throne of Want and become the next monarch. After opening the sealed door, the Emerald Herald warns the bearer of the curse that Nashandra will come after him in order to prevent him from "linking the fire"; the act of offering oneself up as fuel for the First Flame of the world. Linking the fire temporarily cures the Undead curse, and hinders the spreading of the Abyss; which is a pitch-black darkness that threatens to corrupt and swallow the entire world.
Inside the Throne of Want, after the Throne Watcher and Defender are defeated, Nashandra herself will appear as the final boss of the game, and attack the player with curses and dark magic. After the fight, the Giant's Kinship will activate several golems, who form a path through the Abyss. The bearer of the curse takes the path, sits down upon the throne and becomes the next monarch. The Emerald Herald narrates that only the sovereign monarch can see what lies ahead; the protagonist is transported back to Majula and may choose to start the journey again via the bonfire.
Upon further inspection of Nashandra's soul, her identity is revealed to be a fragment of Manus, the "Father of the Abyss", who was the final boss and main antagonist of the Artorias of the Abyss expansion for the original Dark Souls. She had manipulated Vendrick in order to spread the "Dark" and extinguish the Flame. This might suggest that in the first game, the Chosen Undead chose to rekindle the First Flame, as Lordran's flame was the first flame which started the cycle.
Dark Souls II features gameplay mechanics similar to its predecessor; co-director Tomohiro Shibuya stated that he had no intention of changing the controls. The game features a whole new world, with many weapons that are used to fight the monsters in the game. Covenants, a feature in the original Dark Souls, that allowed the player to align with different factions, make a reappearance, though easier to understand and more accessible. The game world is roughly the same size as in Dark Souls, though content density is much richer, and gives players more freedom in how to progress, with the beginning of the game more accessible to newcomers. The game retains the challenging gameplay known to the original, as the director, Tanimura, explained: "We do not plan on having an Easy Mode since we are creating this game with a thought that challenge and difficulty are core elements of the game."
The development team utilized a more powerful graphics engine for the sequel. New challenges, adding to the series' documented difficulty level, were also added. The game features a more advanced AI system, that allows enemies to react to a wider range of actions by the player.
On September 19, 2013, an announcement regarding the delay of the PC version was made by the game's director Yui Tanimura. He explained that the delay was necessary to ensure an optimal version of Dark Souls II on PC.
Although producer Takeshi Miyazoe originally stated in December 2013 that he did not expect there to be downloadable content (DLC) for Dark Souls II, on June 4, 2014, From Software announced a trilogy of DLC collectively known as "The Lost Crowns". The first of these, titled Crown of the Sunken King, was released on July 22, 2014. The second, Old Iron King, was released on August 26, 2014.
Dark Souls II received universal critical acclaim. Aggregating review websites GameRankings and Metacritic gave the Xbox 360 version 90.33% based on 21 reviews and 92/100 based on 29 reviews, the PlayStation 3 version 89.68% based on 51 reviews and 91/100 based on 69 reviews and the Microsoft Windows version 88.21% based on 19 reviews and 91/100 based on 34 reviews.
Reviews for Dark Souls II have praised the increase in difficulty, atmosphere, and visuals in the game, seeing it as a large improvement over the first two installments in the series. The German magazine M! Games gave it a 90% fresh rating, with their reviewer stating that it took him more than 60 hours to complete. In a behind-the-scenes video released on February 26, 2014, Peter Serafinowicz, the voice actor for Pate, states that in his 30 years of playing video games, he had never played anything better. Famitsu magazine reviewed the game with four reviewers giving their opinions, who gave it 9/10/9/9, bringing the total score to 37/40.
IGN gave the game a 9/10, with critic Marty Silva saying: "Dark Souls II is a smart, massive, and incredibly rewarding sequel. It’s crammed with deep systems, tense encounters, and enough clever multiplayer and New Game Plus elements to make me want to restart the second I saw the end credits. Not all of the tweaks and additions worked out for the best, the penalty for dying made the game almost unplayable but with such great enemies and levels to fight and explore, Dark Souls II made 60 hours of pain and agony so much fun they flew by in a heartbeat." Game Informer's Daniel Tack released a review, giving the game a score of 9.75 out of 10, stating: "Dark Souls II is an epic adventure from start to finish packed with wondrous environments, imaginative and terrifying foes, and the continual adrenaline-apprehension rush of passing through each fog gate make this title a must-play." Polygon's Phil Kollar also gave it a 9/10, and similarly praised the ambition displayed by the team in creating such a vast RPG universe for the player to explore, the notorious difficulty, and the sense of triumph that comes with eventually defeating the game; he notes that he died 235 times before completing it.
Despite the almost universal praise from critics, the game has been criticized for aspects relating to its unyielding difficulty. In an "alternative take," Justin Haywald of Gamespot gave the game a 5/10, claiming that it "too often sacrifices fun, replaces it with tedium, and tries to defend that choice by calling it a challenge." As a newcomer to the series, Haywald criticized the HP penalty upon death, the leveling system, and the lack of direction the game gives to the player.
As of March 31, 2014, the game had shipped 1.2 million copies within the United States and Europe; and according to a 2014 Bandai Namco financial report, the game also sold very well in Brazil.
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