Dark Souls II (PlayStation 3) Review

By Leo Epema 13.11.2016

Review for Dark Souls II on PlayStation 3

The first Dark Souls was quite enjoyable; it was moody, creepy, and hard. Its challenge came from enemies that could do immense amounts of hard-to-evade damage, as well as inflict serious status effects. All the while, it provided very few checkpoints scattered across the locales, with each death forcing a re-tread of familiar paths filled with various opponent types. Its sequel, Dark Souls II, is still good, but not amazing. Read on for why that is.

As with the previous instalment, there's not actually a story. Basically explained, the main character is the 'chosen undead,' and he/she needs to un-undead (kill?) themselves, and link the flame to preserve the Age of Fire. What that means exactly, the majority of players probably don't know, and can't know. The rest of the plot has no relation to the playable character; it's just a little background information on the world that will be traversed. That's why it's hard to figure out why the info is relevant. It doesn't concern any characters, and it's hard to get a personal connection to it. There is no emotional connection to the places explored, and the info obtained does not actually explain why the world is consumed by darkness - or rather, it does, but it's all very obscure.

This never amounts to more than a nice little tale about a kingdom that was once great, and then fell. It's on the same level as… no, even shallower than a children's bedtime story. Sometimes the realisation will come that, "Aah, this is connected to Dark Souls' plot!" but that seems to be the only appeal story-wise. It is unclear why the chosen undead does what he or she does. In Dark Souls, there was at least a simple goal that was meagrely explained. Now, it's just a matter of wandering around aimlessly, hoping to get some guidance as to what is supposed to be done, and why. The background story of the realm only comes from item descriptions and some NPCs. Overall, it is decent, but it would be nice if it had more relevance to the main character, and if that character was fleshed out further.

Screenshot for Dark Souls II on PlayStation 3

The gameplay is very similar to the one of the first game. What is annoying, though, is that it's far easier than the last one. There's no penalty for using bonfires or anything like that, since humanity does not need to be expended to light them. Fast-traveling is also available from the start, which makes death less of a problem, since fast-traveling back to a bonfire near the death site is now possible. This means there's no dilemma anymore between playing it safe by going back, or taking a chance by progressing.

Areas are now often connected by elevator shafts, which feels strange. Not only is it a boring and lazy transition from one area to the next, but it also makes no sense sometimes. One moment the chosen undead is at the top of a tower with normal sky above them, and the next they're in a castle with lava underneath it and a different sky altogether, even though the elevator went up. Almost each area is a single cell that isn't connected to other areas. That makes the geography of the game very illogical, too, and the areas have little verticality. The sense of wonder and reward from finding shortcuts is… well, cut.

Screenshot for Dark Souls II on PlayStation 3

Power-stancing is an enjoyable new feature that allows weapons to be dual-wielded, and extra combos can be used provided the required attribute's level is 50 percent higher than it normally needs to be. It can really bring a new dimension of realism to the weapons, but also a chance to use a weapon that otherwise might seem boring or unsuited to the chosen play style. On a more negative note, health is now reduced with each death, which is an odd feature. Not only do they dole out the punishment for dying by making the character hollow, but they also reduce their health? It just seems like a cheap way to increase difficulty. Adding to the tedium is the removal of the ability to grind for souls, with enemies de-spawning and never returning. That means that the game world can eventually end up mostly empty, and that doesn't encourage thorough exploration.

Enemy A.I. seems more aggressive than before, which is good. That said, some bosses are very cheap, and can perform one-hit KOs. Some were copied and pasted from Dark Souls, and many can even track the main character's movement by 180 degrees within a second, and still land a hit despite a dodge. Others try to overwhelm the main character with sheer numbers. A few others are quite good, but they're mostly humanoid, which gets old after a while. With all that said, bosses are very nicely designed visually, and they do have logical backstories.

The gameplay is still good, though. It is comparable to the first Dark Souls, but it plays a bit faster and more fluidly. Nonetheless, the bosses should require more skill to defeat than just to dodge or block their attacks and then countering. It's too much of a waiting game for yours truly, and the bosses should've adjusted their tactics in accordance with their opponent. Death was all around in Dark Souls due to the difficulty level, but death only happened about six times this time around.

Screenshot for Dark Souls II on PlayStation 3

The graphics are quite nice, and they're certainly an improvement over the first instalment. Textures are sharper, the colours are a bit more vibrant, and the general contrast is acceptable. That said, the contrast is not on the same level as that of Dark Souls, and, sometimes, the game is not dark enough, not sufficiently focused on horror or grittiness. The atmosphere is not always as awe-inspiring as that of the previous title. Thankfully, the visual effects are a slight improvement over those of its predecessor.

Magic still looks far too weak (or, at least, not impressive) to this particular set of eyes. The last spells obtained will be grand, but every other spell just looks as though the enemies might be damaged about as much as getting a bucket of water thrown over them. Why hexes and sorcery continue to look so uninspired, so bland, remains a mystery - unlike the environments, which are all grandiose, very nicely and imaginatively designed. The sense of scope is amazing, too.

While the environments are splendid, the soundtrack is not. Most of the tracks will probably slip the mind, save for the one that plays in the main hub, Majula. It seems most of the songs just follow a certain formula of bombast that makes very few of them stand out. However, the tracks are still all nicely dread-inducing, though they mostly just get the blood pumping. The bombast does get in the way of the choir singing sometimes, unfortunately, drowning it out. There are still at least a few tracks that fit the themes behind the bosses. Overall, it's a bit too uniform, but it does set the mood pretty well.

Screenshot for Dark Souls II on PlayStation 3

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Dark Souls II implements some backwards gameplay ideas, with much of its difficulty coming from the fact that the bosses can track the character's moves too much, as well as some environmental effects that don't make themselves apparent well enough. The story isn't much to write home about, either, but if there's interest in a story that doesn't relate to the character, there's still value in it. Visually, everything looks decently impressive, and the OST, while not as diverse or emotional as the previous one, sets the mood. This is recommended for anyone who enjoys simple gameplay with horror themes and a story that plays out like a fable.


From Software


Namco Bandai


Real Time RPG



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


Comments are currently disabled

Subscribe to this topic Subscribe to this topic

If you are a registered member and logged in, you can also subscribe to topics by email.
Sign up today for blogs, games collections, reader reviews and much more
Site Feed
Who's Online?

There are 1 members online at the moment.