On Black Friday 2019 I purchased a PS4 and a stack of games. I had been playing almost entirely indie games for the past ten years with several exceptions. Many modern AAA franchises never interested me, and the few games I did play were losing my interest. Fallout 4, one of the few AAA games I finished in the past decade, was largely boring. Still, I knew I had missed some great games over the years, so my goal now is to play through some recent AAA games that interest me and to write about each of them. Assume there are spoilers and enjoy!
I’ve read online many times that Dark Souls 2 is “the bad one”. Those people are wrong. I do agree that its combat/feel/etc. is not as well tuned as the first or third or Bloodborne (godddd writing about these games really makes me appreciate the word Soulsborne), but the game is still fantastic regardless and the somewhat off hit boxes rarely caused me any concrete problems.
When I first saw the light at the end of the tunnel and stepped into the twinkling sand and waters of Majula and heard the music kick in I stopped moving and said “holy shit”. Majula is a masterpiece of visual and sound design and the core of what makes the game great. The other Soulsborne games have centralized locations that are all kind of similar and don’t stand out much. The music alone in Majula may be the best track out of all four games. I still think about it several times a week. The decision to make Majula so bright and spacious, so different, is indicative of the developers willingness to take risks after the first Dark Souls but with the experience to make a more polished experience.
I found Dark Souls Remastered to not be that challenging. The “hard” parts were mostly poorly designed hallways and bosses that never felt balanced. Dark Souls 2 felt like it was trying to beat me into the ground from the start and educate me along the way. New areas often had enemies that tested my response time, combat choices, and focus. All the challenge also felt legitimate, I never felt like enemies or bosses were unfair and I felt in control of my character in my surroundings, even if I died a thousand times, in a way I didn’t in the first game.
The difficulty presented a continuous challenge throughout the game. Unlike sections of the first Dark Souls that relied on awkward hallways or edges you fall off of, there were still tight areas and fights but they were much cleaner and more legitimately challenging. A favorite area early on that was very hard was Heide’s Tower of Flame. It quickly taught me not to mess around with large enemies with big health bars. The areas continued to present a variety of challenges - No Man’s Wharf had groups of enemies varying in speed and proximity of attack, Huntsman’s Copse used darkness in various ways to obscure enemies, Earthen Peak had verticality and battles along dangerous edges (in a good way), Brightstone Cove Tseldora gave a battlefield feel, Undead Crypt had undying enemies, etc. Each area had unique exciting challenges and unlike Dark Souls Remastered I really liked every area and found them, for the most part, pretty well balance and very challenging. Oh except of course for Black Gulch.....wayyyy too much poison to have to deal with every death. That place sucks.
The sheer number and variety of bosses in this game was AWESOME. Overall I loved them, I felt none of them were as poorly designed as the worst designed bosses of DS1 and the variety in how to fight them, their look, and the endless amount of them was just cool as hell. It made me sad to think about how much fewer bosses there were in the other games and, I would soon find out, that this was no different in Dark Souls 3. The bosses were just...so cool. From puzzle bosses, to straight out brawls, to strategizing, each one was interesting and enjoyable, and none felt too overly hard or frustrating. The decision to have many more bosses also fits really well with the setting of Dark Souls in general...the boss fights are one of the pinnacles of the games and I have to wonder why this was the only game where they made so many? Though I suppose the mini-bosses of Sekiro can be counted when thinking this way, even if they’re not nearly as varied in their designs.
I should note that I didn’t finish all the DLC. It varied from the coolest stuff I’d seen (Brume Tower is one of the best areas in all the Dark Souls games) to being overly difficult and kind of annoying (the Frozen Eleum Loyce area was just not fun). You can leave it to the end and if it’s not for you, just skip the parts you don’t like.
All the stuff above made me love my time with Dark Souls 2. I enjoyed it much more than Dark Souls Remastered and outside of the valid (but often exaggerated) combat complaints I....don’t really know what people are talking about? There’s more plot, more areas, better quality areas, better bosses, better art design, it’s more polished, etc. It outshines the first Dark Souls in every category. If you like FromSoftware games but have been putting it off because of haters....don’t. This game is amazing.