Today I want to talk to you about my first 15 hours or so with Dark Souls 2 on the PlayStation 4. I can truly say it is a game like no other I have ever played, that isn't to say it will be everyone's cup of tea, I myself have avoided the series for a long while as I thought it wasn't what I was looking for in a game. However I bit the bullet, so to speak, and here I am, an enlightened man, someone who has come out the proverbial tunnel and seen the light. Dark Souls 2 took my by surprise(and continues to do so) like nothing I was expecting. When I hear that a game doesn't hold your hand, I usually expect no tutorials, or a game that makes it hard to discern where to go next. However Dark Souls 2, really doesn't hold your hand, even after 15 hours of playing, I don't feel much more enlightened about the "story" than after I watched the intro cutscene. I thought this would be something that I wouldn't like, however I don't think a game like this would suit a traditional narrative story line, instead what you will fill your hours with is exploration and trying new theories of how to achieve something. Again I thought I would find this hands off approach from the games narrative annoying, however it just works. I know as a games journalist I should be able to put my finger more on why it works, but it just does. You will, as I have, lose hours into the same environment progressing bit by bit, until your heart lifts at the sight of a Bonfire. These act as the fast travel points in the game, and also resting at them refreshes you health and Estus Flasks(the games main source of health regeneration), but also resets the enemies. So if you want to explore further into an area but are out of Estus Flasks, then you need to weigh up your options about whether you go back to a bonfire at the cost of resetting all the enemies, or continue on and risk death in a hard to reach area.
I wish to put forth to you a fly-less ointment, so to speak, this game does have its problems, namely how damned hard it is, I don't mind dying to an enemy stronger than me, I don't mind making a mistake that costs me my life. What I do occasionally get frustrated with, however, is the fact that death doesn't merely set you back to the last Bonfire you rested on, no. It takes away some of your health bar so you are weaker, it will take all your souls off you and leave them on the spot where you died, and you will not get back any items you used in your previous life. It is perhaps this last point that I have the largest gripe with, as I have never liked a game where it feels like you collect all these resources, then risk losing them every time you want to use them. What I would like instead, is your health still goes down per death, you still drop your Souls on the place of your death, but any items used since your last Bonfire visit are replenished. This would mean that if I haven't used any Throwing Knives in a few hours and have built up a dozen or so, if I want to experiment by trying to take down a boss from a safe distance with said knives, those few hours of collecting aren't lost if I die to that boss. That is the only thing that I would like to see implemented to make the game a touch easier and also a tad more enjoyable I might think.
The environments and level design are some of the features of the Dark Souls series that I had heard most about. This also has lived up to expectations, there is one area, which I won't spoil other than to say it is Pirate themed, which upon first discovering, I didn't like going to, this was due to the fact that I felt very uncomfortable there, it is a dark environment(as many of them are) and enemies would leap out of said darkness and scare the living proverbial out of me. However as I have conquered this area, I now feel perfectly at ease with my environment. I have explored every nook and cranny, and defeated the boss that is lying in wait. I have triggered one of the secrets which has made the area much more pleasant to wander around. So now it is a the stage where it is one of my favourite places in the game so far, because the ambience of the area has been totally nailed by the developer, From Software. So far, I have defeated 7 bosses, and I am aware of the location of an additional 3 bosses, all of which have been very unique, and the environments they are in, are simply wondrous. There have been 2 boss encounters that I have come across so far, that I am aware of the fact that by exploring the surrounding locale, you can make the plain of engagement a notably easier one. However some, or even most people may not find these features, and that goes to show how the game feels about exploration, it is necessary, without the game telling you this.
Don't get me wrong, despite the fact that I have been gushing about this amazing game, it is still a brutally hard one, at the time of writing I have died over 200 times in those 15 hours! The learning curve is so steep that I wouldn't think less of someone for leaving the game because of it. Within the first 4 hours along, I went from thinking, this is a really good game, onto thinking it had been a mistake to buy the game, then sure it had been a mistake to buy the game, then after 4 hours, and I had defeated the first boss on my second attempt, I was hooked. There may be ups and downs in the game, but I believe on balance Dark Souls 2 is an amazing game, that I would recommend anyone at least trying. These are my impressions after 15 hours with Dark Souls 2, I do hope you check back in the future to read more coverage as I play through more, and eventually leading to my full review.
Thanks for reading,
Friends of The Games Critic:
My name is Ed, I write everything here, covering all kinds of games, but I only play them on the PS4!