Like haggis fritters smothered in Marmite, Dark Souls 2’s unrelenting difficulty isn’t for everyone. For those with a glutton for punishment, you’re in for a meal that challenges and nourishes like no other – albeit one that likes to hoof you in the unmentionables every chance it gets. This is going to be one bumpy but thankfully brilliant descent back into the depths of despair.
For starters, fighting beasties is still ruddy amazing. Beautifully poised and sharply tactical, every considered thrust of your axe, sword, or spear carries more menace and consequence for failure than a million haphazardly fired COD rounds. Class-leading combat is just one part of the lethal cocktail, mind. It’s also backed up by the peerless thrill of constantly pushing forth into the unknown. Each corner turned, or mist barrier broken offers the promise of progression set against an unceasing backdrop of tension.
Though every nerve-jangling duel bristles with the potential of sucking in souls to level up your Chosen Undead, it’s far more likely a moment of impatience or clumsiness will wipe out an hour’s worth of toil. The constant threat of smothering failure never leaves your side in a game that’s centered around leveraging your finite resources for greater rewards. This ever-evolving thrill of cat-and-mouse gambling is what makes Dark Souls 2 so horribly hard to put down.
Before you get your passport stamped for re-entry to Hellsville, you best prepare for a change of destination in Drangleic. Though this open-ended kingdom is more compartmentalized and lacks the natural visual flow of Lordran, it’s still dotted with locales that are sure to burn in the memory long after you’ve sacked off your PS3 at a car boot sale for a tenner.
Prepare to dodge the sweaty meat hooks of obese, nappy-wearing Cyclopses in the clawing quagmire of Things Betwixt (indeed the most fantastic name for an opening level ever). Don’t forget to watch your step as you gingerly ghost past spectral sentries in the Silent Hill-aping Shaded Woods. While Lost Bastille’s deadly prison cells make a sleepover in Folsom look like an overnight stay in the Fireworks, Candy, And Puppy Dogs Store. In short, there’s more artistic imagination on show here than the majority of the games on PS3
Yes, it’s a last-gen game, but a strikingly handsome one: less cartoony, far richer in detail, and substantially more lived-in than its predecessor. Entire analogue movement and smooth combat animations ensure the action now slithers from the screen with a fluid, balletic brutality. It not only makes monster skirmishes appear less mechanical but also ensures they’re more responsive to the touch – crucial when every millisecond of hesitation could see that ghoulish knight gut you with his 11-foot butcher’s knife.