Dark Souls – the Squeakquel!

Sean Pruett-Jones, Staff reporter

You may be familiar with the Dark Souls universe by now. Perhaps you’ve already dived into the chaotic world that Dark Souls offers. To those of you who are not familiar with what Dark Souls is, I’d like you to try and imagine something with me. Imagine constantly screaming louder than that time when you couldn’t get that new Star Wars Lego set. Imagine fury beyond the Hulk’s worst nightmares, as you tear your hair out to the point of near-baldness. Imagine long, nightmarishly dark, terrifying, maddening areas, with enemies that can obliterate you in one hit around every corner. Imagine your frustration reaching a point in the stratosphere, shattering the sound barrier, and travelling upwards so fast you’ll travel backwards in time.

That’s basically Dark Souls II in a nutshell. A very, very, painful nutshell that’s on fire and shoots lava daggers lined with poison at your eyes all while bending your knees backwards.

Sounds fun, huh? I’m glad you agree, because it certainly is.

Dark Souls II is From Software’s new RPG for PS3 and Xbox 360. The first Dark Souls did very well after its predecessor, Demon’s Souls. Dark Souls II is your standard RPG with swords, spells, and monsters, but *as you can surely tell by my eloquent opening paragraph* the distinguishing factor of Dark Souls II is the way it throws you into an endlessly hostile environment that’s as harsh and unforgiving as it is captivating and mysterious. Quite literally, almost everything in this game will try to kill you, and it will most likely succeed. The game itself even has fun with that concept, as the first characters you meet tell that you will die. Upon your first death, you receive a trophy entitled “Welcome to Dark Souls”. There is a monument in the game’s hub that tells you how many deaths there are worldwide and that count just keeps on rising.

Anyway, that’s enough doom and gloom for the moment. Let me tell you about how Dark Souls functions. You find yourself in the harsh land Drangleic, the site of a fallen kingdom.  In the opening levels, you can create your character with all that you would expect. Gender, hairstyle, jaw shape, nose length, weight, etc. So, yes, if you want to, you can give your character a face not unlike a plate of mashed potatoes. You can choose your character’s class, such as Sorcerer, Warrior, Cleric, Explorer, and so on. Each one has different starting stats like Health, Endurance, Strength, Intelligence, Adaptability, etc. Each class will start out with different respective weapons, such as a sword or staff. So, after you’ve created your potentially haggis-resemblant character, you begin in a tutorial level of sorts, with messages scattered about that teach you how to do things like power attack, roll, sprint, kick, etc. which is the most specific instructions you will receive all game. You receive souls from enemies, which serve as currency with which to level up, buy new items, or reinforce old ones. When you die your souls remain in a bloodstain on the ground on the spot of your death, and if you die before reaching them and reclaiming them, you lose those souls forever. Soon after the tutorial, you find yourself in the beautiful Majula, which serves as a hub area with some assorted characters scattered here and there, and one of them will tell you that you must seek out the King of Drangleic. Does she tell you why? Nah, that’s not important – it’s more about the journey. She kinda sorta hints that maybe you ought to try to become King yourself, basically, because you can. How do you get to the King? Why, you defeat the four great souls. Where are these great souls?

Bugger if I know. They gave me jack squat in the way of direction. In layman’s terms, she basically said, “Here’s what you wanna do, but you have to figure out completely on your own how to get there. What’s that, you don’t know if you went down a path you shouldn’t go down yet? Aw, that sure is too bad. What’s that you say, you don’t know if this is the boss you want to fight to progress with the area you’re currently going down? That sounds like a right pickle, it sure is a shame I can’t offer any sliver of assistance.”

Dang it… ah well, what about this area? Oh hey, look at that big dude with a sword the size of Australia, I bet he wants to be friends. Hey there, how’s it going… no wait, don’t hack off my legs, stop it. No stop that’s my arm you’re tearing out of its socket, I just wanted to have some tea. Oh my, that sure was my head you just sliced off and kicked off the ledge. Golly gee, there went all my souls with which to level up.

From there, it only got better and better.

The freedom the world offers you is unlike any other, because Dark Souls II is an incredibly complex and dense game. All of the environments have lots to explore with all sorts of great treasures to find. Some areas are very well hidden, only accessible by maybe dropping off of an inconspicuous ledge or following that path that doesn’t look like anything more than just a piece of the wall. Lots of areas are only accessible after progressing through the game and backtracking (and backtracking is made easy, thanks to the option of travelling between each bonfire, which are basically checkpoints). You will also meet some different characters along the way, some of which who will travel back to Majula to serve as a shop. These characters are fun to meet and even more fun to listen to their stories, specifically Benhart of Jugo, who won’t shut up about his blue sword. At all. You can meet some of these characters in later places, or not depending on what you do with them when you meet them, such as hack them to pieces for whatever loot they may drop.

Sometimes, to help cope with the dangers lurking anywhere and everywhere, you can summon other people. As in, other people playing Dark Souls II who left an online-play summon sign. You can summon them wherever they left their sign, and they will help you with traversing through the area, and believe me, you’re going to need them for some bosses. Taking the online play to the next level, there are 9 different “covenants” you can join in Dark Souls II, all offering different rewards and opportunities for online play. One covenant summons you to an area to kill a trespassing player, another covenant encourages you to invade another’s world (that is, enter their world without their permission and kill them) , basically, because why not. I’ve never personally given covenants much thought, but I can’t deny that they offer a wide range of possibilities for anyone who gave them more time than I did. Other aspects of online play include messages that other players can leave, that maybe say things like “trap ahead”, “illusory wall”, or even some fun musings like “Let me out of here”. There are set messages you choose from, so breaking the 4th wall isn’t an option, and misleading people is pointless, because if another player likes your message, they can rate it and you will receive some health back. There are also bloodstains left on the ground by other players who died there, which show their final moments. Many a time did I save myself from an unfortunate death from a hidden hole in the ground by watching others fall there directly before I would’ve.

I’m sure you’re wondering after all I’ve said about the demonic level of frustration you’re going to go through – is Dark Souls II fun? I would probably say “Is milk best refrigerated after opening?” I mean, yes the game is fun, technically. Diverse enemies, locations, characters, gear, great looking environments, lots of different techniques and tactics to use… what’s not to like? However, it’s all a matter of perspective whether or not you’ll REALLY enjoy Dark Souls II. If you just got home from a long day, and you want to just play something simple, where you can just relax and do what you please, Dark Souls II is not the top candidate. However, if you’re willing to put in the effort, you will get a reward unlike any sword or shield the game can offer you – satisfaction. It may take you well over 15 tries to beat some bosses, depending if you summon or not. You may use up all of your throw-able weapons, all of your lifegems, all of your good gear. However, after those 15 tries, when you’ve got it down to a science, where you know that boss like the back of your hand, when you are more comfortable fighting that boss than you are wearing pants, and after you finally beat it… that is a feeling unlike any other. As you dance around your room, waving your arms and howling, and as your parents come in to smack you with the newspaper, it will all be worth it. You beat that stupid boss, right up its fat ugly face.

You have to let Dark Souls II envelop you for you to enjoy it. You have to enter its mad, mad world with open arms. You may come out the other side with shattered tibias, fractured skulls, broken ribs, a limp on each leg, a deaf ear and a blind eye, a nose that is beyond repair, blood trailing behind you, twenty enemies behind you eager for another match, an invader on your tail as well, a heart pounding faster than the speed of cooking a grilled cheese sandwich on the sun, trench foot AND gangrene, a few hernias, and a whole bunch of pent up anger, but you’ll come out the other side a stronger, prouder person.