January 6, 2019 at 5:57 PM #1273
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin
Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding
The New Gold Standard for Modern RPGs (a review for newcomers to the series)
Let me start with full disclosure: I have not completed this game. In fact the only other Souls type game I’ve completed as of this review is Bloodborne, which managed to convert me over to these incredibly difficult yet extremely rewarding games. I feel as though I’ve seen enough to write a competent review though, having put about 30 hours into the game so here we go!
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re like I was when deciding whether to purchase Bloodborne earlier this year. You might have heard that the Souls series is so difficult it makes grown men cry and beat their heads against a wall in frustration. You’re wondering whether you are up for the challenge when so many others have given up after the first few hours. It’s a waste of money to buy a game that you can’t or won’t see through to the end, right?
Well, to a degree all that is worth considering. This isn’t an easy game and it will punish you for zoning out or not trying your absolute hardest to defeat these foes. But here’s the secret: if you can push past the first few hours of constantly dying and not knowing what you’re doing at all, the game kind of opens up to you and you can start to tailor your character to whatever play style you’re comfortable with. Dying too much? Put all your souls into strength and HP and get yourself a great shield and heavy armor. Or you can focus on miracles, to heal yourself easier and cast defensive spells. The list goes on and I’ve barely scratched the surface of possible builds, and they all actually matter. It’s not like a lot of RPGs these days where the leveling up pretty much locks you into these skill trees and it’s almost an afterthought. It’s called "Dark Souls" for a reason. How you spend your souls is incredibly important.
Also, this is a game where your skill level will increase the more you play. That sounds pretty basic, but it’s also very true. You, the player, are very much the deciding factor of whether or not you win a fight or discover new areas. It’s not a passive experience at all. There aren’t bulletin boards with side quests or a world map or anything to hold your hand through this experience, you have to take some initiative to see this thing through to the end. And you know what? It’s an extremely liberating feeling. How many times during the course of your average modern RPG and/or open world game do you pause the action and study the map for quests and items? For me it’s basically every 5 minutes at least. This game immerses you in the world they’ve created and there’s nothing to take you out of that feeling to remind you it’s just a game. I’ve found myself "stopping to smell the roses" a lot more than I usually do in games because it’s such a beautiful design (and I need a break from slaughtering/getting slaughtered). A lot of companies these days talk about "player freedom" but so far this game (and series) is the only one that’s actually delivered on that promise in my eyes.
Let’s talk about the combat a little, because that’s pretty much the most important part of the game right? There are a lot of different weapons to choose from. You’ve got your swords, daggers, magic staffs, battle axes and many more. The combat system is tight and fluid. There’s a strong attack and weak attack for each weapon you carry, and you can choose to have a weapon (or shield) in each hand or wield a weapon two handed. Usually it’s a good idea to mix it up depending on what you’re fighting. There’s a parrying system, so if you time it right you can block an enemy’s attack and stagger them making it easier to backstab them or just slash normally. It’s up to you how you approach combat, but just hacking away at an enemy won’t work most of the time. The lock on system is almost perfect, it’s very easy to switch which enemy you are locked onto and then roll around them or use a shield to deflect incoming attacks. Think Zelda but cleaner, as it’s much easier to disengage the lock on entirely if you need to run for the hills and drink some Estus (healing flask that refills at bonfires).
I’m going to end here, I know this wasn’t as much a proper review as a glorified pitch but I figure if anyone who reads this is interested they will read some other more professional reviews and then decide if they want to make the purchase. I wanted to write this mostly for people like me, who are on the fence about getting into this series and want to know if it’s worth taking a chance. I can undeniably say that it is worth it. The sense of accomplishment you get after a particularly difficult section is like nothing else in modern gaming. Buy this game and you won’t regret it, at least until you try playing other similar games and realize that you just can’t get into it in the same way. Playing this series has made me more critical of what games I play, and it might do the same to you so beware. Also, not everyone likes a challenge this intense so it might not be for you. Regardless, this game and the whole series sets the bar very high for new RPGs of this kind and you owe it to yourself to at least try it out.
Take the plunge, praise the sun and never look back.
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