Review :: Dark Souls II

In familiar and comfortable territory

Vincent Deshaies

Written by Vincent Deshaies - Assistant Editor-in-Chief

Published Sunday, 06 April 2014 17:06

Write your own review !

 edchoicegf resized


Harsh, unforgiving, punishing, those are the words often used to describe the games in the Souls series. Having begun its life in the form of Demon’s Souls as a PlayStation 3 exclusive, the series was reborn in 2011 as Dark Souls, a multiplatform spiritual sequel to the original game that kept many elements from its predecessor, while redefining some core elements which really changed the game. Dark Souls II is a late generation direct sequel that doesn’t have the aspirations to reinvent the series, but attempts to refine it and polish up some rough edges. Does it succeed in keeping the series fresh, or is it in need of another reboot? Let’s find out!


Dark Souls II doesn’t have a story, it has a style, lore that will make hardcore fans feel right at home, and an atmosphere that most masochistic gamers will certainly appreciate. It’s still just as dark, gritty, and oddly noble and eerie as ever. Some people expressed concern that some key people had left From Software after the original game was completed, leading them to think that the remaining talent would have trouble recapturing the troubling essence of the series, but after playing the game, I can assure you that this isn’t the case. Every area gives off a strong sense of uniqueness, all of them feel oppressive to the point where bonfires noticeable in the distance will feel like a beacon of hope after a long journey through the cold, ruthless paths of the game.

The same brutal, incredibly satisfying gameplay

One of the trademarks of the series has always been its brutal difficulty, but it’s never been at the expense of fairness or balance. The original game was a lesson in game design, allowing for a tough game that trained you not to make mistakes. Once you stopped making these mistakes, you stopped dying. This kind of gameplay was at the core of the addictive experience. For the sequel, I’m happy to report that the same philosophy is employed, but a little bit less happy to report that it’s a mostly noticeable downgrade in fairness. The level design is still extremely good, but never quite manages to surpass the excellent design from the first game. We would have liked to see improvements in this regard, but we can’t complain with what we’ve been given. The progression paths are still sprawling and cleverly implemented, still adding a bit of “metroidvania” flavor to the experience, but there doesn’t appear to be any ambition to go further than the original game ever did. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to From Software’s decision to keep the focus on the last generation’s aging consoles, but it certainly would have been interesting to see them tackle the game world with bigger and more ambitious goals in mind.


Call me a sore loser, but...

A bigger problem and more unfortunate offender to this feeling that the game is less fair than before is that the AI enemies sometimes appear as though they are cheating the rules of the game. In Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, the key to success was always in learning the various patterns of the impressive suite of different enemies. Once you nailed that down, you were practically unstoppable. This time around, enemies will sometimes diverge from their normal pattern, causing situations that are sadly unpredictable and that can break the otherwise stellar balance of the game. For example, a large knight may attack you with a specific move where he runs in a straight line with his spear squarely aimed at you. Of course, if you study his pattern, you’ll quickly figure out that your mobility is your strength in this battle, allowing you to roll out of the way before he plunges his weapon through your heart. However, trying this manoeuvre may prove spotty, as the enemy will somehow break his own rules and start unpredictably swerving in your direction as you roll out of his way. This kind of situation was certainly absent from Dark Souls, and it’s disappointing to see it pop up in the sequel. Despite that, the game is still very fair in most situations, leading us to believe that those rare moments of unfairness have more to do with buggy AI than with flawed game design.


A revamped user interface

 The most noticeable improvement made to the game comes in the form of its UI, most of what was moderately confusing in the other games has been revamped, and it’s never been easier or quicker to access and manage your inventory. Instead of it covering the whole screen every time you press start (and no, it still does not cause the actual game to pause when you bring it up), the UI now only shows you what you need to see, is more responsive and slick, and does a better job explaining where everything is. In other words, it’s a lot more intuitive and easy to use. Another difference is related to how the weapons and moves of your character actually handle. While everything remains largely unchanged in terms of actual features, there have been a few tweaks related to the timing of each move. For seasoned Dark Souls players, this will take a while to get accustomed to. However, all of it has been done in the interest of balance, and considering the arsenal of new weapons, armors, as well as enemy types that the game provides, it’s probably for the best.


Death sounds great but isn't pretty

In terms of presentation, the game stays true to the rest of the series. While the art and design of the environments, weapons, enemies and armors all shine remarkably, the technical side of things isn’t so hot. The much touted and promised new lighting engine is nowhere to be found, much to the dismay of some fans, and image quality simply isn’t great. The variable framerate of the Xbox 360 version used to review the game has its highs and lows, and can sometimes be quite distracting. All in all, there is definitely a sense that the game is held back by its aging hosts in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Purists who want a pristine presentation may want to opt for the PC version which is just around the corner. On the bright side, the sound design is absolutely fantastic, and the various refinements made to the way weapons sound really help sell the empowering side of the gameplay as the player progresses through the gloomy world of the game.

Final Focus

If you have the patience and are willing to give the game a chance, Dark Souls II becomes a masterwork of player empowerment goodness. After several hours grinding through the opening hours and learning the cold, brutal ways in which the game operates, you’ll find yourself yelling victory chants and grinning in satisfaction throughout most of your lengthy journey. Dark Souls II succeeds in giving fans more of what they want, while providing just enough tweaks in functionality to make the experience worth the hundreds of repeated deaths worth it in the end. Its focus on the last generation of consoles seems to limit it in more ways than one, which remains a disappointment, but the core gameplay and unique, rewarding satisfaction you’ll only find while conquering these games make it easier to forgive its few shortcomings. 



+Familiar yet refined and satisfying gameplay

+Great level design

+Fantastic art direction

+Varied enemies and environments

+Hours upon hours of gameplay

+It never gets old

+Great sound design that adds to the empowering gameplay


-Buggy AI

-Disappointingly "safe" at times

-Presentation is a little lacking

Final rating
9.1 / 10
More Xbox 360 reviews
2013-11-12 :: Alien Rage
2013-09-17 :: Grand Theft Auto V
2013-09-15 :: Lost Planet 3
2013-09-13 :: Splinter Cell: Blacklist
2013-08-07 :: Grid 2
2013-07-26 :: Remember Me
2013-07-23 :: (XBLA) Sanctum 2
2013-06-05 :: Star Trek
Special articles
The Forest: Exclusive Game Focus Interview Special articles

The Forest: Exclusive Game Focus Interview

  Earlier this week, Ben Falcone and Anna Terekhova, two of the three main developers of Endnight Games’ The Forest responded to some questions I had about the project and provided some insight into the development and what comes next.  I asked everything from whether or not The Forest would be released on the Xbox One or Playstation 4, what the developers were most worried about before release on Steam, to whether or not they could disclose any more details about The Forests ending.  
Lire la suite...
Marking The Mid-Point of 2014: Highs, Lows and Hopes Special articles

Marking The Mid-Point of 2014: Highs, Lows and Hopes

  Here we are at the half way point of 2014. According to the Chinese zodiac 2014 is the year of the horse; the wood horse. It is to be a year of conflict; wood will fuel the fires and lead many to clash headlong into battle. How fitting it is then that my video game highlights, disappointments, hopes, and dreams for the year are directly in conflict with one another: Lightning quick interfaces vs a lack of new-gen experiences, game costs vs value, PlayStation vs Xbox.   Read more
CFL Mode in Madden 15?  Please Make it Happen EA. Special articles

CFL Mode in Madden 15? Please Make it Happen EA.

  Maybe it’s my Canadian pride and the fact that Canada Day is just around the corner, but I want a CFL football game.  For you folks out there who don’t know what the CFL is, well it’s a sports league, it stands for: Canadian Football League.  That’s right, Canada has its own football league, and trust me, it’s a good one.  So good, in fact, it deserves its own video game.   Read more
Impressions: My Date with Destiny Special articles

Impressions: My Date with Destiny

…see what I did there? Whatever dudes, I thought it was clever.  Anyways, I had the opportunity to spend my weekend with the Alpha Beta of the upcoming Bungie shooter, Destiny. Read more

Game details
Dark Souls II
Release date : March 2014
Platform :
Publisher : Namco Bandai
Developer : From Software
Gameplay : Action-RPG

DLC Talk

DLC Talk: Bioshock: Burial at Sea Ep. 1

DLC Talk: Bioshock: Burial at Sea Ep. 1

Here we are. The next generation of consoles is among us and it is finally time to start thinking about finally unplugging our beloved current-gen systems. Could there be a better swan song for one of these systems than taking a trip back to Rapture?

Read more

DLC Talk: Dishonored - The Knife of Dunwall

DLC Talk: Dishonored - The Knife of Dunwall

Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall is an impressive little bit of DLC. I should emphasize “little” though, as it is a relatively short experience. Just when the story seems to get going it ends - or, rather, it “kind of” ends.

Read more

DLC Talk: Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

DLC Talk: Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

Dragon’s Dogma was released last year on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Read more
GF Blogs

Gamefocus Feature: T'was the Night Before Gamescom

Gamefocus Feature: T'was the Night Before Gamescom

All eyes are on Cologne Germany for Gamescom 2014 as the biggest videogame industry event in Europe, second-largest gaming event in the world. (Game Show Asia is the largest in terms of attendance.), is set to begin.

Read more

Destiny Beta: Thoughts and Impressions

Destiny Beta: Thoughts and Impressions

The Destiny Beta has come and gone and now that I have had a chance to actually play what is, perhaps, the most anticipated game of 2014, I have some thoughts about it.  Here is a collection of what I liked, what I hope changes, and why I am worried.

Read more

1080p and 60 FPS? I Don’t Care

1080p and 60 FPS?  I Don’t Care


It seems these days that whenever a new AAA title is announced a strange thing occurs. The internet lights up with people clambering to find out if the title will support 1080p and 60 FPS. The MicroSoft and Sony fans boys hurl insults back and forth if one console supports these features while the other doesn’t.

Read more
GameFocus Radio

GameFocus Podcast: December 16, 2013

GameFocus Podcast: December 16, 2013

Game Focus is proud to present its new podcast episode, a weekly casual talk between GameFocus staff members about the gaming industry. In this show, we talk about mostly the Xbox One and the PS4. Vince explains in details what happened when he reached Microsoft support for a problem with his Xbox One that unexpectedly died after less than 2 days of use.

Read more
GameFocus Radio

GameFocus Podcast: December 16, 2013

GameFocus Podcast: December 16, 2013

Game Focus is proud to present its new podcast episode, a weekly casual talk between GameFocus staff members about the gaming industry. In this show, we talk about mostly the Xbox One and the PS4. Vince explains in details what happened when he reached Microsoft support for a problem with his Xbox One that unexpectedly died after less than 2 days of use.

Read more
GameFocus 2014 Top 10
Dark Souls II (Xbox 360)
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Child of Light (Xbox One)
Tropico 5 (PC)
EA Sports UFC (Xbox One)
Watch Dogs (Xbox One)
Trials Fusion (Xbox One)




Recent comments

Powered by Disqus