The Souls series is a strange one. In an era where video games generally tend to be more “hand-holdy”, or always tell you where to go, or restrict what you can do, the Souls games focus on giving you no more than you need but allowing you access to everything at the same time. Want to be a slow heavy tank with the ability to hurl lightning? Go for it. Want to be super nimble with a weapon in each hand and the ability to cast spells? Sure thing. Dark Souls 2, the newest installment in the acclaimed series, brings back everything I loved about the series and even improves upon it.
Dark Souls 2 is the first actual sequel in the series, and while it does connect to the previous game in a few ways, it is completely stand alone in that anyone can start with this entry without finding themselves lost. If you've never played a Souls game then this is what you need to know: each is an action RPG that, while difficult, will never present you with anything that you are not capable of handling. On your first attempt through a given area or boss you may feel that it's cheap, or impossible, or bullshit, but if you put your mind to it and think about everything at your disposal you will ALWAYS find a way through any hardship the game presents you with.
Just as in previous Souls games you are able to customize your character and pick a starting class. These classes do not lock you in to any particular way of playing, they are simply a starting point. Every character is capable of doing anything that any other character can do. In previous games it was possible, if you didn't know what you were doing, to mess up your build by putting points in places that you may end up regretting. This entry however has a certain item that you can obtain that will allow you to have those points returned to you so that you can “respec.”
Combat, and actions overall, have undergone a bit of a change, one that is tied to a new stat. In previous games your ease of dodging through rolls was tied to your equipment load (the percentage of your maximum weight capacity that you have made use of, the lower that percent the better your roll), your shield was raised immediately when you pressed the corresponding button, and your estus flask (the default, autoreplenishing healing item) was consumed at a set speed, but this game introduces a new mechanic called Agility, which is leveled up through a stat called Adaptability.
Agility determines a few things. When you roll, there is a mechanic referred to as “i-frames” which is how long you are essentially invincible while dodging. In DS2 i-frames are dependent on your Agility, your equipment load simply determines how far you roll. Agility also allows you to raise your shield faster and, if enough points are spent in the stat, drink your estus every so slightly quicker. Overall an extremely useful stat.
Another change to combat is that dual wielding weapons is now viable. This is made possible by the new “power stance.” If you have a weapon in each hand, and you have 1.5x the stat requirement for those weapons (ex. If you have two longswords and they require 10 str and 8 dex you'll need 15 str and 12 dex.) and then holding down the triangle (PS3) or Y (360) button you will swap into power stance, which changes your L1/LB and L2/LT to attacks that make use of both weapons at the same time. This adds even more customization to the already incredible amount of re-playability of the Souls games. There are a few other changes as well such as fire damage now scaling with int and faith and the new dark damage scaling off of whichever of those two magic stats is higher, but for the most part you'll feel right at home with this game if you've played either of the previous.
The new landscape presented, known as Drangleic, is fantastic. It's gorgeous, atmospheric, and haunting. It doesn't always have quite the same sense of “wrap around” that DaS1 had in that areas would often bring you back to the starting area, Firelink Shrine, but it still feels like a well realized world and still has the same sense of freedom in which direction you can go. In fact right from the beginning of the game out of the four directions that you'll need to go from the starting area of Majula for the main quest, three of which can potentially be taken almost off the bat. This entry has also taken the ability to warp between bonfires that was given to you halfway through the first game and made it available right from the start.
The story, while not on the same godly scope as the first, is still extremely interesting in my opinion. Rather than the story of great lords with equally great powers you get what feels like more of a dark personal story of the land of Drangleic and its King. You'll still only be given the vaguest hints from characters, the world itself, and the descriptions of items, and it's still a blast to try and piece these together into a coherent whole.
Many have been worried about difficulty of this installment, mainly that it might be too easy compared to previous games, but that is certainly not the case. In many areas of this game I would say that it is in fact more difficult, but nonetheless still challenging in a way that makes you want to keep at it for that incredible feeling of satisfaction you receive when you see those words “Victory Achieved.” As someone who put quite a lot of time into the first game I was pleased with the difficulty offered this time around.
Overall Dark Souls 2 is an incredible game, both in its own right and as a sequel to the equally fantastic Dark Souls. It's challenging, interesting, and rewarding. Whether or not you've immersed yourself in a Souls game before I urge you to pick it up and give yourself the challenge that you may not have even realized you needed.