Dark Souls II
|Dark Souls II|
Official cover artwork depicting the game's protagonist
|Genre(s)||Action role-playing, hack and slash|
Dark Souls II (ダークソウルII Dāku Sōru Tsū?) is an action role-playing 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, 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.
An updated version of the game, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, was released in April 2015. The title is a compilation of the original game and its downloadable content and patches, and also encompasses a remastered port of the game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC with changes to the game's layout, upgraded graphics, and expanded online multiplayer capacity.
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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. If at any point in the game the player decides to change their style of play, these points can be reallocated with the use of a Soul Vessel.
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, but must do so before dying again, otherwise all souls accumulated up to that point will be permanently lost.
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, vigor — to increase the maximum amount of damage taken, or vitality — to increase the amount of equipment one can carry without impairing movement), 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 a boss, the player may use a bonfire ascetic to respawn the boss. However, this will increase the difficulty of the area as well as include new enemies which appear as red spirits. After defeating the final boss, the player may enter New Game+ mode.
When human, the player can also summon other players into their "world" in a form of multiplayer; players can either be summoned to cooperate on an area or boss, or for player versus player play 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. 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 item, or to be summoned into another player's world and assist in conquering a boss.
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 through the use of the Ring of Binding, which limits health reduction to 75% rather than 50%.
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 spell 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, the Emerald Herald, who acts as the player's guide. She advises them to seek four ancient beings with immense souls: the demonic Old Iron King, the repulsive abomination called the Rotten, the forsaken Lost Sinner, and the giant arachnid called the Duke's Dear Freja. The Herald also tells the player to seek 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 and fled to the Undead Crypt. 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 then acquires The King's Ring which allows access to Aldia's keep.
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. When spoken to, it bequeaths to them the Ashen Mist Heart. Alternatively, the player can attempt to kill the Ancient Dragon and take the item by force. After having met the dragon, Queen Nashandra offers guidance to the Bearer of the Curse by telling them to return to the Forest of the Fallen Giants. She will also claim the Ancient Dragon is a false creation of Aldia, and indeed, the dragon's actual fossilized body and soul can be found in the Writhing Ruin.
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 Giants – a race from the northern continents, whose homeland was attacked by Vendrick at Nashandra's urgings in order to enslave them. Inside the memories of one such Giant, found beyond the door that Vendrick's ring opens, the player must fight and defeat the leader of the Giants, the Giant Lord. After achieving victory, the player gains the Giant's Kinship, a mysterious resonance between the Giant Lord's wish to defeat Nashandra and the Player's own, and can finally reach the throne below Drangleic Castle: the Throne of Want.
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 them in order to prevent them 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, the player fights its guards, Throne Watcher and Defender. After defeating them, Nashandra herself will appear as the final boss of the game. When she is struck down, the Giant's Kinship will activate several golems, who form a path to the Throne. The player 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 in a manner reminiscent of the Dark Lord ending of Dark Souls. This suggests that in the first game, the Chosen Undead was able to link the First Flame, preventing it from dying out at that time.
The Scholar of the First Sin expansion adds an alternate ending of the game and a new final boss, Aldia. Upon defeating Nashandra and Aldia, the player is instead given the choice of proceeding to the Throne of Want or leaving. If the player chooses not to sit on the throne, Aldia indicates that there might be another way to save humanity, "beyond the scope of light, beyond the reach of dark". The player then proceeds to an uncertain future as the torches that light the path extinguish.
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.
Producer Takeshi Miyazoe originally stated in December 2013 that he did not expect there to be downloadable content (DLC) for Dark Souls II. Despite that, in an interview in January 2014, he said that there is definitely potential for DLC for Dark Souls II and that fan feedback is key. 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, Crown of the Old Iron King, was released on August 26, 2014. The final DLC, Crown of the Ivory King, was slated to be released on September 24, 2014, but was delayed until September 30, 2014 due to unknown reasons. It was then released a day early (September 29) on PC, and a day later (October 1) on PS3.
Scholar of the First Sin
On November 25, 2014, Bandai Namco Games announced an updated version of the game, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, which was released on April 2, 2015 for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, along with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. On all platforms, the game is a compilation of Dark Souls II and its three DLC campaigns. On PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Scholar of the First Sin also features remastered visuals with more advanced lighting effects, running at 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second on consoles. The re-release also makes changes to the game itself; enemy positions and behaviors have been revised, and the game also supports up to six players in multiplayer scenarios. Its release coincided with patch version 1.10, which was also released for existing versions of the game on February 5, 2015, which included improvements to online play, the addition of the titular Scholar of the First Sin NPC, performance improvements, and adjustments to items and covenants among other changes.
The existing PC version of Dark Souls II received the 1.10 patch at no charge; the remastered Scholar of the First Sin edition must be purchased separately, but is available at a discount to existing Dark Souls II owners. The remastered version uses DirectX 11 instead of 9, and save data from the original version is incompatible with it.
Dark Souls II received critical acclaim. Aggregating review websites GameRankings and Metacritic gave the Xbox 360 version 88.95% based on 22 reviews and 91/100 based on 30 reviews, the PlayStation 3 version 89.68% based on 51 reviews and 91/100 based on 69 reviews and the Microsoft Windows version 88.30% based on 20 reviews and 91/100 based on 36 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 his character 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" review, as a newcomer to the series 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 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. As of April 2015, the game has sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide.
On 6 June 2015, game journalists on The Know received rumors that Dark Souls III would be revealed at E3, with a 2016 release date. Sources also included leaked screenshots and new content, such as the sacrificial-ritual mechanism and a bonfire change that enables the player to light his bonfires autonomously. 45 new enemy types, 15 new bosses and 12 new map-areas could also be added, with a sixty-minute in-game bonus of cut-scenes.
At the E3 2015 Xbox Live Presentation on 15 June 2015, a trailer for Dark Souls III was shown with a tentative release window of early 2016.
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