Why I like Dark Souls II

The following is a document dedicated entirely to explaining why I, LoveGame, hold a positive opinion toward the incredibly polarizing game known as Dark Souls II. Its primary purpose is so that I no longer have to write out multiple paragraphs explaining why I prefer the game over the other games in the series. It is, to be blunt, really fucking long. If you were linked to this and don’t want to read it, so be it. I probably still missed a few things, but I did my dead-level best to get every possible thought out there. This document primarily contrasts elements from the first two Dark Souls games, but comparisons to Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls III will be made as well.

I. Introduction and first experience

So, I’ve noticed that every now and then a new post will show up in the Souls community talking about Dark Souls 2 getting way too much hate. Back when the game was fairly new, I myself made one such post. While it did become slightly popular and spark a fair amount of discussion, I feel like I didn’t present my thoughts as well as I could’ve. At the time, I’d only played through Dark Souls II twice, and only had a single, rushed playthrough of Dark Souls I under my belt. Hell, I hadn’t even played Demon’s Souls. Fast forward to now, and not only have I played DS2 a total of eleven times (and its DLCs), I’ve completed the first game seven times, with a few Demon’s Souls runs as well as having completed 3. With this knowledge, I feel more “qualified” to discuss this and sound like I know what I’m talking about.

Over the years since I got into the Souls series, I have made several attempts to wrap my head around why the majority of the community hates DS2, while hailing the first game as an untouchable, flawless masterpiece. I personally like all the games, but not only do I vehemently consider 2 to be the best one, but were I forced to choose, I’d call the first game my least favorite. Essentially, what I want to do with this post is talk about why I like DS2 more, the issues I had with DS1, and bring up points from Demon’s and 3 now that I’ve tackled those. Let’s start with my personal experiences with the games.

I had always wanted to get into the Souls series, especially when one of my favorite LPers, Diabetus, began discussing it awhile back, but I typically can’t afford games very often so it kinda sat on the backburner. In late April 2014, a friend I’d known since first grade showed up at my house and gifted me the 360 version of the game out of the blue. Needless to say I couldn’t have been more thankful, so I popped it in and went in mostly blind, save for a few bits of DSP’s “This is how you DON’T play” fail montage I caught when I was bored.

What ensued was one of, if not the best gaming experiences I’d had in years. This was around the time I started to get that jaded feeling of “maybe I’m finally outgrowing video games and need to find a new hobby etc etc” and I’ll be damned if this didn’t turn it around. Every location, from Things Betwixt all the way to the Throne of Want had me immersed in a way I never had been before. After laying down my sign a few times, I ran into some people who had game chat turned on and for the first time since early 2011, I added someone to my Xbox friends list. The people I met went on to be some of my closer internet friends, to boot. I was convinced that things like party chat and Netflix had killed online console gaming, but I was partially proven wrong here.

Now, that isn’t to say I had no complaints with the game either. Particularly, I had a lot of the same gripes with the mechanics that everyone else did at first. The hilariously disjointed hitboxes are still something I hate, and I couldn’t help but feel like even medium-sized weapons were too slow. After a myriad of deaths and beating the Last Giant, I found myself adapting to these things rather quickly, along with the rest of the mechanics. I continued to have my fair share of deaths along the way, but I never actually hit a full-on roadblock until I reached Belfry Luna and found myself getting double-invaded before I could even reach the boss, starting the trend of me being trash at any and all PvP.

In all fairness, I did take a three-week break from DS2 after finishing up Iron Keep. That place was hell on a melee-only build (homing arrows? Seriously?) and it was the point where I realized just how damn long this game was. For those three weeks I mostly played Saints Row then picked the game back up in due time. To my surprise, the other great soul areas weren’t as hard as Iron Keep and I did feel like the difficulty went downhill from here, at least until I got to the final stretch. But all in all, it was still a fantastic experience and I was already really pumped for the DLC to come out.

In one of the worst moves I could’ve made, I attempted to get more involved in the Souls community, and I was considerably taken aback by how fans treated the game like one of the worst things they’d ever played. It got to a point where I couldn’t watch so much as a lore video without 80% of the discussion being about how bad the game was and how anyone who likes it is objectively wrong. Stealing a page from the Pokemon fanbase, I wrote these types of fans off as “genwunners”, particularly toward the ones who refused to acknowledge DS1’s flaws. However, not one to ignore criticism, I made it my next goal to obtain DS1 to find out why it was worshipped so endlessly.

II. First impressions of Dark Souls 1

As luck would have it, the Xbox games with gold program had the first Dark Souls as their free game of the month, so I eagerly snatched it up. Took an age to download with my then-shitty internet, but I eventually started up, ready to continue to feed my hunger for souls. While I liked the game overall, I did almost immediately notice things that disappointed me. Movement felt sluggish. Weapons swung considerably faster, but in exchange, walking and running felt slowed. This was further highlighted by DS1’s incredibly strict equip load, which I still loathe to this day. It’s hard, if not impossible for me to enjoy that game unless I’m fast rolling, as even the mid-roll feels awkward and clunky. I’m more of a fashion souls guy, so armor stats didn’t mean much to me. Coming from DS2 where I could wear whatever I thought looked cool within reason, this was kinda jarring and I eventually gave up on trying to find a cool set.

Perhaps my least favorite thing about this game, though, is how painfully bland and unengaging the early game is as a whole. After the tutorial, I find it hard to be immersed in the game the same way I was in DS2. Firelink was a mediocre, unmemorable hub compared to Majula, and I could probably write five paragraphs alone about why I dislike Undead Burg and Parish. This always comes to mind when the community collectively praises “the first half” of DS1 being the best content in the entire series. Undead Burg and Parish bore me to tears with their bland aesthetic and generally bare feel. Nothing about this area ever makes me feel immersed or interested in the slightest.

I personally think Forest of Fallen Giants is a better first area in every possible facet, but especially after playing Demon’s Souls, this place feels like a hollow (lol), cheap attempt to recreate the feel of Boletarian Palace. Remember how that area had barracks and living quarters with details like food and wine sitting out, and weapon racks with a few of the weapons taken off? It gave it a recently-abandoned feel and an unforgettable atmosphere. I feel like all that was lost here. Rooms feel bare and exist only to contain enemies or get you to the next part of the level. Lore for this place barely exists and we can only speculate as to where those soldiers came from. Not to mention the boss is thematically the same thing as what we faced in the tutorial; a bulky demon creature with a blunt weapon, easily defeated by plunging attacks.

The Parish is aesthetically the same thing, except with a church in the middle. Though the area is just as boring in my eyes, I admit I liked the boss here, and the view from the top of the church gave me a much better sense of height than anything in DS2 ever did. In terms of early game, another area I hate is the Depths. It feels like a very basic “video game sewer level” that’s easy to get lost in because most of it looked the same. Were it not for the amazingly unique boss here, this would be one of the most forgettable places in the franchise. I have since dubbed these areas, especially Burg/Parish, “the cure for insomnia” in subsequent playthroughs. This is arguably the main reason I just don’t understand how people can call DS2 worse in this regard.

While that game obviously had some areas I liked more than others, I can’t think of a single location I outright disliked. Although there are some segments I really only liked the first time through, no area in DS2 makes me feel like I just took a shot of thorazine like places such as Burg and Izalith. And that, in turn, is why DS1 feels like the odd one out for me. With Demon’s, DS2, and DS3, I can pop the game in, start a new character, and know that I’ll immediately have fun. When I begin a new DS1 playthrough, I become filled with a sense of absolute dread that I won’t be having a good time until a few bosses in. For a game that prides itself in immersion, these areas fundamentally suck.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the Forest segment, save for the tree canopy often obscuring my field of vision during combat but… for full disclosure, this is where I dropped the game for about a month. I assumed it wasn’t going to get much better, so I put it on indefinite hiatus and went back to DS2, which had the first DLC out by this point. DS1 sat on my hard drive until I finally made myself finish the game in perhaps my most rushed playthrough ever. I summoned for nearly every segment, skipped a good amount of sidequests and even some dialogue, and overall went in with a bad mentality.

Even still, I’m not trying to call DS1 a bad game by any means, nor am I trying to insult the tastes of those who enjoy it, unlike genwunners who insist on doing so do fans of the second game. So let’s focus on the positives. Even with that first, rushed playthrough I was able to appreciate quite a bit. For one, the game did in fact get exponentially better after the Depths. In addition to the Forest, I quite enjoyed Sen’s Fortress and especially Anor Londo, my favorite area in the whole game. Hell, even the infamous Blighttown was more atmospheric than those first few areas. As for the loathed second half of the game, I actually really liked both the Catacombs and the New Londo paths. Demon Ruins was bland as hell and the Archives always fell in the “painfully mediocre” category for me, so I can see why people dislike this part.

The characters were also a high point, for the most part, but also something of a mixed bag. Solaire, Seigmeyer, and especially Lautrec stood out to me and immediately became favorites. I was very invested in their storyline and rather entertained by their personalities. It’s hard to disagree that these three had way more depth than the DS2 cast.

On the other hand, I found most of the rest of the cast to be generally forgettable. Their stories all end the same way; with them going off somewhere and becoming hollow. I understand that this is supposed to be a punch to those who grew attached to them, but I felt like they ran this plot point into the ground. It would’ve been different if they only had this happen to one or two characters, but it happens so much that it almost becomes predictable. By the way, this idea completely shits all over the idea of hollowing being a gradual process.

The cast of DS2 on the other hand, didn’t have quite the depth of those three characters brought up, but I did like them more overall because I found them memorable or entertaining in one way or another, be it Straid’s overly condescending demeanor, or Licia’s façade (she ended up being my favorite character). It did annoy me quite a bit that most of these characters had a ton of wasted potential. I couldn’t help but be disappointed when Rosabeth didn’t interact with Carhillion upon being reunited, ditto for Lenigrast and Chloanne. Even though I cite Licia as my favorite character, I especially wish her story went further and had more to it. The only difference is, I cared about most of the DS2 cast enough to at least want them to be expanded upon, whereas for a lot of the characters in the first game, I didn’t care all that much.

I also found the selection of armor and spells infinitely better in DS1. Not only did it have some of the absolute coolest looking sets, most of them were easily found as a full set in a particular location. DS2’s Alonne Captain helm was bitchin, but having to grind kills for it wasn’t. Others were buyable in shops for a reasonable price. Same for spells. Max out my rank in the Blues or get to endgame in NG++ for WoG? Uhh, no thanks, I’ll just buy it from Reah… Of course, the point about spells was largely moot considering caster builds are completely unviable for even the basic PvE.

III. Replaying DS1

My opinion on the first game did change somewhat when I decided to pick it up again in 2015. I had just gotten back from A-Kon and recently finished Demon’s Souls which had been sitting on my shelf for almost a year, so I figured I’d boot it back up and start anew. This time I did things right – a full solo run where I paced myself, listened to all the dialogue, and didn’t skip anything. I didn’t hate Undead Burg any less, but I was able to run the area in about 10 minutes and it was gone before I could finish my rant on why I disliked it so much. I had so many great experiences with this playthrough, be it getting picked up by a friend while I was in the middle of doing Blighttown and heading to his place for a few bong hits and rounds of Smash 4, then coming back to finish the area at 3am blazed off my ass, or the eerily quiet moonless night when I first went through the Catacombs.

In essence, this playthrough gave me something of a “new respect” for the game. I set my negative views aside, gave it a fresh look, and got much better results. On the other hand, that run made me notice something I hadn’t previously – DS1, for all its bravado, feels lacking in build variety. Bows feel severely nerfed, dual wielding is a joke, and a good deal of the melee weapons simply don’t feel like what they are in Demon’s and DS2. For clarification, I went with a strength build for this run. It didn’t take me long to realize how limited my early-game choices were. It seemed as though the game was showering me with dexterity weapons while starving me of anything suited to a strength build. As a result, I spent a good amount of time upgrading multiple weapons to +10 and still felt like I was doing chip damage. I eventually bit the bullet and picked up the Zweihander, forcing me to either give up on fashion again or slow myself to a snail’s pace. It made me miss how in DS2, not only was the mace more readily available, but starter gear like the Broadsword and other C-scaling weapons felt viable enough. Nowadays I either try to get one of the Black Knight weapons (and reset if I don’t), grab the Claymore, or start with a cleric just for the mace because I’m trash at navigating the catacombs early.
Yet another thing I have to harshly criticize DS1 for is the endgame segment leading up to the final boss. To put it into perspective, DS2 has you obtain the four Great Souls in whatever order you want, after which point the final stretch of the game opens up. It’s a long segment of new areas and bosses with some of the best variety seen in the game, and even has a couple of optional paths open up near the end before your showdown with the final boss. DS1, on the other hand, has a similar objective for the second half of the game – you must collect four Lord Souls and feed them to the vessel so you can open up the path to the final boss. This is already not as cool as 2’s execution because you can’t even use the Lord Souls to make into weapons or gear, but when you do open the path, it’s just a single, short walk dotted with about four enemies. This is almost painfully anticlimactic. Every time I play this part of the game, I feel completely blueballed and it’s yet another thing 2 pulled off infinitely better.

Something else I found rather fun in the second game was running a pure caster build after I finished the game with my melee character. In DS1 however, you’d have to be pretty dumb to consider this. I know I’m basically the only one with this mentality, but I just don’t see magic as the “easy mode” it’s drummed up to be. Even in Demon’s Souls, I had an arguably easier time with my melee build, either using the DBS’s high base damage and long reach, or the Meat Cleaver’s insane scaling. I personally think people who whine about magic either don’t know how to adapt, or won’t admit that a lot of enemies and bosses are better at closing distance than you think. DS1 has no method of restoring spells, which immediately turned me off from any sort of wizard build. I’ve done both pyromancy and miracles as secondary offense methods which was actually pretty fun for mixing up combat, but sorcery never piqued my interest. Hell, I’d rather fight a magic spammer than some guy who fishes for lag-stabs all day…
IV. Adventures in PvP

Which brings me to my next point, an important one for most people in the Souls community: PvP. Now, just to get this out of the way immediately so I don’t give the wrong impression on my level of skill, I fully admit that I’m generally no good at fighting other players. I like that it’s a feature, but I personally never cared about it nearly as much as most people and never saw it as the only thing to do after you beat the game. Making new builds, helping people in co-op, DLC, and discovering areas/bosses/items I never had before was more than enough to keep me satisfied. Let me say this – I can’t be thankful enough that my second, more thorough run of DS1 was done offline (I had long since stopped forking over the insane price they wanted for Xbox Gold), because playing online really stops being fun after a while. At first I honestly liked DS1’s PvP scene; I was running into a pretty big variety of mixed builds, had my wins and losses, and tried new things to adapt and learn how to counter stuff. Unlike DS2 and 3, healing wasn’t the safest/campiest shit in the world, so fights were usually quick. Unfortunately that changed when I picked up the PS3 version a bit later.

I admire that even in mid-2015, the online community, especially for a console version, was as active as it was. But there was a point where I could not spend five minutes in a new area without being invaded. As if this wasn’t bad enough, nearly everyone I ran into used the same build or a facsimile of it; a dex build with the hornet ring, a high crit weapon, stacked stamina regen. The strategy was more or less the same too, just roll around like it’s Smash 4 and mash R1 near its breaking point until they magically teleported onto my back. This usually one-shotted me no matter how much I pumped VIT and got better armor. Every Souls game seems to have one strategy that I personally believe people only forego using because they either don’t know about it, or refuse to use it out of honor or the desire to be unique. This kind of build has no hard counter. If you beat it, you got lucky. This is usually the point where I’d be told to “git gud”, and the truth is, I fucking tried. I made an honest effort to try to adapt to this spammy, low effort playstyle and nothing worked. I tried stacking more armor, changing weapons, timing rolls and attacks differently, all to no avail. Say what you will about DS3, but at least they tried to punish mindless R1 mashers.

2, while generally agreed to have better PvP content, did have its fair share of bullshit, easy-mode tactics to employ. I still remember my hatred of Great Magic Barrier every time I got invaded on my pure caster. The key difference here was that DS2 lacked a full Red Eye Orb, meaning I could often go through areas at a steadier pace. 2 is the only game in the series where invasions are the “wildcard” mechanic they were presumably meant to be. Being limited to Cracked Red Eye Orbs means having to pick and choose where you invade, meaning newer players could at the very least learn some basic tech before getting into the serious shit. Invasion in DS1 and 3 might as well be a scripted event because every time I enter a new area, it happens in less than five minutes. To make things worse, my invader was usually someone who had (presumably) spent a lot of time invading and learning all the ins and outs of the meta. I didn’t feel like I should have to drop whatever I was doing to grind the meta just so I could get to the next area. As a result I felt like DS1 discouraged exploration. More often than not, I would simply make a mad dash for the boss fog and then come back to do actual exploration if I felt like it enough.
V. Difficulty or lack thereof

Come to think of it, the constant invasions were by far the hardest aspect of the game for me. A lot of people constantly go on about how DS1 is the hardest game in the series and I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t know if strength builds are considered broken or something, but every boss in that game went down on the first try for me, with the exception of the Four Kings, who I’ll touch on more in a bit. With my steady supply of fire resin and my claymore at my side, it didn’t take me long to realize that almost every boss in this game felt like a glass cannon. Even Ornstein and Smough, one of the most talked-about bosses in the series, didn’t give me near as much trouble as people said they would. It was definitely a challenge keeping both of them onscreen at once, especially with constant invasions every moment I spent in the city of the gods, but Ornstein went down easy with a few fiery combos, and after that it came down to dodging Super Smough’s very slow, predictable, and punishable swings. My friend still refuses to believe I did this on the first try.

I’ve never understood why it’s these guys everyone complains about, and not the bullshit fest known as the Four Kings. I always save these guys for the last out of the four Lord Souls, just so I can be as OP as possible. Whereas most other (non gimmick) bosses reward patience and strategy, I still don’t know what to do against these guys other than run up as fast as you can, mash R1, and face tank hits. Then there’s that ring you have to wear that forces me to give up either my Havel’s or F&P, so I usually have to strip down so I can keep fast rolling. Oh, and did I mention they have that laughably disjointed grab attack that wastes too much time? On NG+, these guys took me around 20 tries with 50 faith and strength, a fully upgraded Grant, and a summon with 50 dex and a +15 PGS with fire resin, and we only won because we got good enough RNG that they didn’t spam the grab. Four Kings is an interesting boss conceptually, but is completely full of jank.

I haven’t brought up music yet, because there really isn’t a whole lot to speak of. In every game in the series, most of your journey isn’t accompanied by any sort of musical score. I think this is a good thing, as it helps you immerse yourself. A few areas in the game do have music, but the only time you’ll be hearing any songs on the regular is during boss fights. As with everything else, DS1 is often cited by fans to have better music, and yet again I disagree. While I don’t actually dislike DS1’s score, a lot of the songs are a bit samey. Nearly every boss theme includes a loud choir vocalizing, which evokes some serious Star Wars vibes, particularly Duel of the Fates. Again, this is not a bad thing on its own, I just find it repetitive and find a lot of the songs boring as a result. DS2 opted for a more traditional, orchestral score for bosses, and I think that was a good choice. Admittedly the game has its fair share of forgettable tracks, but it had just as many that I liked enough to listen to on their own. Executioner’s Chariot really stands out in particular. Oh, and guess what, fanboys? Gwyn’s theme isn’t all that great. It’s the “Wily Stage 1” of Dark Souls. This theme has been remixed, featured in videos, and ran into the ground far too much for me to enjoy anymore.

I’ve mentioned it a few times already, but Dark Souls 1 and 2 both received downloadable content packs a while after their initial release. Regardless of what you think of the practice of making more money with DLC, you have to admit From Software pulled this off fairly well. DS2’s trilogy of DLC packs are some of, if not the best content in the entire franchise, sporting creative level design, a myriad of new, fashionable armor, challenging enemies and bosses, interesting lore, and generally a fuckton of variety to appeal to different kinds of players. Even the genwunners have sometimes praised this part of the game.

DS1 only got one DLC pack, known as Artorias of the Abyss. This addon actually restored some of the ideas that were cut from the base game, and added plenty of new things to boot. The story and lore itself is very interesting and expands upon the eponymous Artorias, a character repeatedly mentioned in the base game, but never shown. The bosses here are also generally pretty great, although Black Dragon Kalameet can be pretty bad if the RNG decides to screw you and have him fly up over and over before you can land a hit.

…on the other hand, the locales you travel through within this DLC are boring as all get-out. The idea is that you went back in time, so, for example Royal Wood is just Darkroot Garden in the past, which is pretty mediocre. The bulk of the DLC takes place in the township and its surrounding areas, which blatantly reuse the aesthetic of Undead Burg and Parish, two areas you already know my extensive thoughts on. Nothing about these areas fills me with any sort of sense of wonder, and it’s because of this that I often skip the DLC on repeated playthroughs.

VI. SOTFS changes everything?

One thing I’ve neglected to bring up was that DS2 did get an updated re-release in the form of Scholar of the First Sin, and many consider it superior. At first, I was content with playing the vanilla version of the game. Even by 2015 I was still left in the dust of last-gen consoles, and there was no way in hell the dying PC I was relegated to at the time could hope to run it. I watched a few videos of this updated version in action, and it didn’t do a whole lot to draw me in. However, during fall of 2016 when I finally had a PS4 for the third game and Bloodborne, I was given DS2 Scholar as a birthday present, and I soon learned that this was a game you had to play to fully appreciate.

The most obvious difference is the considerable leap in overall graphical quality. 60Fps on a console looks much nicer and even seems to help with precise inputs, and holy shit did they improve the lighting in spades. One massive complaint that DS2’s detractors like to bring up was that in the pre-release material, DS2 was shown to have a unique, dynamic lighting system. This was a heavily advertised feature, so many fans were understandably upset when it turned out to be completely absent from the final product. I’m not sure whether this was removed to make the game capable of running on the aging PS3 and 360 platforms, or just cut for time constraints, but it didn’t really make or break the vanilla game for me. It was somewhat dismaying to see the main use for the torches more or less gone, and the best graphical updated in SotFS has to be the improved lighting. It’s not quite as dynamic as what was seen in the early builds, but it’s a massive leap forward. Areas that should be dark are, well, dark. Torches feel much more useful, and getting good screenshots of those characters I spent hours on is so much easier.

At its core, Scholar is merely a remix of the original DS2, with reworked item and enemy placements. For example, many armor sets and weapons that were relegated to late-game tools in the original are now available much earlier, adding onto DS2’s already unrivaled build variety. The new enemy placements can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it adds variety to previously repetitive areas, puts enemies in places that make sense in the lore, and moves some enemies out of areas that might be considered a little unfair. On the other, the huge crowds of enemies that were already a glaring flaw of vanilla DS2 are even bigger in some parts of this version. Overall though, it is definitely the superior version of the game. All but the most hardheaded of genwunners have conceded that it did change their opinion on DS2, if only a little.

VII. Lore

I haven’t even talked about any of the lore, have I? Okay, so Dark Souls is well known for its cryptic style of storytelling. A lot of it is learned through things like reading item descriptions, rather than having cutscenes every few minutes like a lot of other modern games. The lore is yet another reason I repeatedly hear DS1’s fans bring up as something that makes it so infinitely superior to 2. Again, I just don’t see it. In addition to the aforementioned characters having somewhat bland stories with repetitive, anticlimactic endings, there are other things in the first game’s lore that just don’t resonate with me. Perhaps my least favorite story element is the demons coming from the Witch/Bed of Chaos thing. This sounds stupid and contrived. I actually made up my own headcanon about the Old One from Demon’s Souls granting the Witch power when she tried to recreate the First Flame and the Demons, including the ones in DS2, originating from that. I call complete bullshit on DS2’s lore being even the slightest bit bland. This was one of the few games to get me heavily engrossed and invested in the lore; before I knew it I was coming up with all sorts of my own theories. It greatly saddens me to see just how much of the fanbase outright doesn’t care about it. Oh, yes. Because 7 different characters all going off to go hollow in the blink of an eye really fascinates me.

There’s just a lot about the first game I have a very hard time taking seriously. The basic hollow enemies look like dollar store Halloween decorations. I’ll take 2’s generic green zombies over that any day. Frampt and Kaathe look like some kind of ironic meme face. The otherwise tense and interesting atmosphere of Sen’s Fortress is marred by a bunch of floppy bright green snake enemies. I could go on, but you get my point. For all the weird design ideas 2 had, I can’t remember anything that looked that immersion-breakingly stupid.
VIII. Dark Souls 3 and playing it safe

And then there’s Dark Souls 3. The game most people play after skipping 2, the one that’s automatically better than 2 because Miyazaki. This was a game I went from being hyped for, to being on the fence about initially. I have no way of actually confirming this, but I have reasonable suspicion that the whiny, vocal DS1 fans had some sort of influence on this game’s dev cycle. At first, I was confused into thinking that this worked all too well. I was about 4 months late getting this game, and I didn’t like what I was hearing from people who beat it. Many fans called the game nothing more than an improved rehash of DS1, with very little original ideas. When I finally got around to playing the game, I didn’t feel the same way. While there are a lot more obvious references to the first game here – it’s much more of a traditional direct sequel – original ideas are definitely still there. There were some references I was confused by, but okay with (Andre still being alive because fuck logic), mildly annoyed at (all the mentioned locations were just the same ones from DS1 instead of new or a mix), and a very small amount that I admittedly hated.

The first glaring example is an optional area called Smoldering Lake. The first part of the area is actually very cool – a shallow lake with veins of ember running along the walls. It looks straight out of Gears of War, complete with a giant worm. However, the part that pained me was the area after the boss. It’s a painfully bland maze segment that blatantly re-uses the aesthetic of Demon Ruins. Complete with the return of the most immersion-breaking, goofy cartoon that somehow passes as an enemy: the stone demons. My only question is why? Who asked for them to reuse the worst part of DS1 and somehow make it just as sleep-inducing as the original? Sure, the place is optional, but it contains incredibly good items that you’d be very worse off without, so avoiding it is nothing less than a detriment.

The other thing that didn’t sit well with me happened near the end of the game, during the cutscene right before the final boss – for context, the Fire Keeper is saying some kind of spell to transport you to the kiln – and I kid you not, I physically cringed when she mentioned Lordran by name. I know it sounds like such a minor thing, but this line exists for the sole purpose of giving DS1 fans a handjob. Even within the lore itself it’s iffy; wasn’t the name of that land supposed to be forgotten to time?

Zero-effort fanservice aside, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had an absolute blast with my first playthrough of DS3. Most of the areas were fun and challenging even for someone like me who played the other games. I can’t recall too many bosses that were outright bullshit, and the new armor and weapons were definitely pleasing to the eye. In fact, the whole game was gorgeous. One thing it did retain from 2 was the lenient equip load, and thank Gwyn for that. I was able to have DS2’s movement combined with the attack speed of Bloodborne – truly having my cake and eating it too.

The main inherent problem in DS3, however, shows itself as soon as you jump into your second playthrough. Holy wow, this game is as linear as it gets. I was having too much fun to realize it in my first run, but this game is severely lacking in the replay value outside of hardcore PvP meta. For most of the game, you’re on one big rail towards whatever your next goal is. Maybe one or two times, you’ll get to choose between two areas to take on first, or the game’s sole optional segment for the entire first two-thirds; the Smoldering Lake I mentioned before. Near the late-game, you can take one fairly long optional path with four extra bosses to take on. It’s one of my favorite parts of the game – you even get to fight the King here – but it just gives a general feeling of “that’s it?”

Contrast DS2, where you could feasibly take on any of the four great soul bosses from the get-go, discover several optional segments off the beaten path, and even get a few more choices near the endgame. Even the first game, where taking on different areas first requires running past everything, had more choice than this. Trying to replay DS3 gives me a serious case of burnout. The only thing that keeps repeated playthroughs fresh aside from new builds is the PvP, and it’s back to being just as obnoxious as it was in the first game.

Hoo boy, where do I begin? The full Red Eye Orb is not only back, but even easier than it was to get in the first game. I didn’t think that was possible, but here I am writing this. Beyond the first few areas, I just wait for the invasions to happen within the first 2 minutes, one after the other like clockwork. Even when I do win, they just keep showing up, and sometimes its a dual invasion, because 2 on 1 fights are the best. The PvP itself is mediocre at best. A general rule for this game’s PvP is “everything cancels into everything”. Healing is unpunishable, rolling takes no timing or skill to use, and even a whiffed attack can be cancelled into a roll or something.

Oh, and apparently somebody down the line complained about parrying being too hard, because a three-year-old can do it consistently in DS3. Any sense of timing or skill needed to parry an attack in the first two games is down the toilet. Mashing L2 is an entirely viable tactic, and the damage itself is buffed so that it’s almost always a one-hit kill. The hornet ring returns too, and is effectively the easy-mode of the game by far. I’ve taken to exclusively using heavy weapons for PvP because their strong attacks can’t be parried, and there really is no counter once someone starts waving their shield around, especially since stamina tends to regen faster than it’s used up. Sometimes, even that doesn’t work because 3’s PvP is the most hilariously unbalanced in the series barring Demon’s Souls. In the previous games, you could only invade someone within your level range. Sure, they could be a little higher or lower, but not to DS3’s degree. Many of my characters around level 40 get regularly invaded by or pulled into the worlds of players who I can only assume are twice my level at the least. More than half the people I match up with are decked out in full endgame gear, boss weapons, and can’t be scratched by my attacks, yet can down me in two light attacks. Trading down items is the same thing as cheating. I don’t care if it’s in the game, you can’t convince me otherwise. Overall, it’s a campy, defensive mess and fights tend to go on forever because of the constant rolling and both parties having full use of estus this time around.

All this aside, I still loved DS3 as a whole. At the very least, the things that did return from DS1 weren’t the things I hated. It also received a pair of DLC packs that turned out pretty great in their own right, with the second one in the pair even making several callbacks to DS2 and tying its lore together. At the same time though, I feel like the game could’ve been so much more if they weren’t so primarily focused on appeasing the fanbase. I never like it when a game plays it safe and takes next to no risks, because in almost every instance of this, it’s doing so in an attempt to pander to a part of the fanbase that I don’t belong to. This is the same reason I don’t care for games like Sonic Colors, it plays it just a little too safe.

IX. Conclusion

Well, there you go. One insanely long post containing the culmination of over three years worth of my thoughts. I did my best to get everything out there that I was thinking, and probably still missed a few things along the way, but if you don’t get my point by now, you never will. It’s no secret that I consider the Souls fanbase to be the worst one overall, and the overwhelming praise for the first game, and hate for the second, is a large part of why. These guys are a complete circlejerk with hardly any unbiased opinions or views of their own, only choosing to adopt the views that will allow them to be accepted within the community. Seriously, that skeleton ball enemy in the third game has more individuality than these guys.

Either way, however, these genwunners seem to be a dying breed in more recent years, just like their namesakes. I have vivid memories of my favorite generation of Pokemon, the fourth generation, being trashed for one reason or another on every other YouTube video, but now many people consider it one of the best. In that same vein, Dark Souls genwunners once made up the majority of the fanbase, but in recent years have thinned out, and I’ve been noticing far more positivity toward DS2. As it stands now, DS1 fans are still present and incredibly vocal, but they don’t have the standings they did back in 2014, and I’d relish the thought of never having to hear from one of them again.

One thought on “Why I like Dark Souls II

  1. Nice! The hard part I find, when trying to review or compare Souls games, is the incredible amount of subjectiveness that’s present in nearly every part of the experience.

    It’s a tight package, with very compelling gameplay…if you’re not afraid of some difficulty (again, milage here will vary)

    Some praise the vauge, non-formal form of story telling, others don’t (I personally find the games hard to follow, as I’m not particularly good at the games, and I tend to miss lots of items)

    All in all, certainly worth playing. DS 2 SOTFS is, I feel, objectively the best souls game, from most angles, including the purity of souls formula. DS 3 is certainly the game to play, if you wish to play with others, due to it’s prevalence, and speed of gameplay.

    I’m going to be playing Bloodborne soon, so I’ll see how my opinion stacks up, soon!

    Liked by 1 person

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