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April 2, 2014
Dark Souls 2 - PS3 Review
Release Distributer Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
14/3/2014BandaiNamcoBandaiNamcoFrom Software11
Media HDD Install Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Dark Souls 2 is out now on PS3.
The ĎSoulsí franchise has gone from strength to strength since the original title, Demonís Souls, was released in Japan back in early 2009. Initially there were no plans to release the game outside of Japan, but thanks positive sales and review scores, it was eventually released all over the world. Its success encouraged From Software to develop a sequel, Dark Souls, which went on to sell nearly 2.5 million copies worldwide. Sales numbers like that guaranteed another sequel, which brings us to Dark Souls 2.

Welcome to Drangleic, a murky, forgotten land. Itís a place where souls may heal a troubled mind. You bear the mark of the curse, a curse which has left you undead (or hollow as itís known in the Souls games), and drawn to Drangleic like a moth to flame. Youíre not sure why youíre here, and your past is long forgotten. All you know is that you must search for the king, the one who built this once great kingdom.

Youíre told all of the above in a gorgeous cinematic intro, before being thrust into Drangleic to begin your quest. After creating a character youíre let loose in a small area that acts as a brief tutorial. Signposts tell you basic commands; the square button uses an item, R3 locks on to enemies, R1 swings your weapon, and so on. There are some easy enemies to fight - just donít stray too far toward the water where two large trolls are lurking, they pack a heck of a punch.

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This isn't an easy game, be warned.
As you make your way out of the area you end up in the small town of Majula. Majula is an important location as it acts as the hub area in the game. It is the only place in the game where you can level up, and merchant NPCs you bump into while exploring Drangleic will set up shop in Majula as well.

Where you go from Majula is entirely up to you as, unlike other Souls games, Drangleic is an open world. There are multiple paths open to you from the get-go, though the difficulty of each path is not exactly equal. This makes bonfires, which have ever played an important role in the Souls games, even more important than previously. Thatís because as well as healing you fully, and restoring all gear to full durability, bonfires allow fast travel to any other bonfire youíve discovered. If youíre finding an area too tough you can now fast travel back to Majula and try a different path.

Being able to fast travel from bonfires is just one of many changes made for this game, but there are plenty of others. Now, every time you die your max health drops a few percent. This continues all the way down to 50%, so if you thought the game was tough when you had full healthÖ Getting access to the full health bar is as easy as using a Human Effigy, but these items are semi-rare, so youíre going to spend some time running around with a reduced health bar.

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Pretty sure fire won't help you live!
There have been some changes to general gameplay too. You can now equip three weapons (including shields, staffs, bows and crossbows), to each hand. Obviously you can only use one weapon in each hand at a time, but itís as easy as flicking left or right on the d-pad to switch between your equipped weapons. This means you can finally, properly, dual-wield if youíre so inclined. Left-handers will get a kick out of being able to play as a proper southpaw too.

While carrying all those weapons sounds like fun, each one adds to your equipment load, and that load directly affects the speed and distance of your evasive roll. Youíll use the roll often, so keeping equipment load as low as possible is definitely to your advantage.

Another big change is enemies no longer re-spawn after a certain number of deaths (around the 12-15 mark). This change has been implemented to ensure any player can progress if they put in enough time and effort. Some have worried this change will remove the ability to Ďfarmí souls and grind levels. Thereís no need to be concerned though, as there are plenty of enemies throughout the game, and with the ability to fast travel from bonfire to bonfire there are always more areas to collect souls.

Brave gamers can opt to burn a bonfire ascetic which increases the difficulty of nearby enemies (permanently), and also re-populates an area previously cleared out. Note that ascetics canít be burned until youíve killed an areaís boss however. Enemies in these areas occasionally drop rare items and gift increased souls, but whether itís worth the increased difficulty is up for debate.

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Dark Souls 2 is an improved sequel.
While many things have changed, rest assured the heart and soul of the series Ė challenging combat and tense exploration Ė remains intact. Enemies seem a bit smarter this time around. Theyíre less likely to walk off edges, and theyíll rush you if you attempt to use healing items during combat. As a result, time management becomes just as important as stamina and health management, and youíll have to learn when there is, and isnít, enough time to heal up.

Further to this, each and every one of your numerous deaths remains a learning experience. You learn enemy moves and timing - when to attack, when to lower your shield to regen stamina faster, what you can and canít block with your shield, or roll out of the way of. That feeling of satisfaction you get when you feel like youíve mastered an enemy or boss is just as big as ever.

The Soulsí unique take on multiplayer remains intact too, and is perhaps more encouraged than in previous titles. Throughout your journey you can join up to various Covenants which reward you for certain behaviours, such as invading other worlds and killing the host, or summoning members of the same Covenant to help you in your journey. PvP has always been popular in the Souls games, and that is sure to continue here.

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Now that's an enemy!
Players can still leave messages that show up in other playersí worlds too. Most of these messages are extremely helpful, pointing you in the direction of a bonfire or other useful item. Youíll come to rely on these messages more than youíd expect by the end of your journey. Other messages are more devious, encouraging you to jump off edges for items that instead results in falling to your doom. Youíll also chuckle at some hilariously juvenile messages, such as ďTongue, but holeĒ. All in all the message system adds a great deal to the Souls experience.

The game isnít without issues however. Collision detection can be a bit wonky, or at least skewed in the favour of enemies, particularly bosses. Which is to say some attacks that have no right to hit you will do so. Fighting on stairs and uneven terrain can be iffy too, with most of your attacks pinging off stairs or missing inexplicably.

The camera remains a bone of contention, especially in close quarters combat near walls, or when youíre fighting a very large enemy. In each of these cases the camera zooms in, sometimes into a wall or enemy, so that your view is completely obstructed. This is rarer than in previous games, so at least thereís been some progress, if not enough.

The open world can result in problems too Ė some areas become very easy if you approach things Ďout of orderí. On the flip side you can go ages without finding improved weapons, spells and armour, making some areas much harder than they could be. And finally menus are neater, and provide much more information than in the past, but disappointingly you still canít compare your equipped weapons and armour to items in shops. This is a big no-no for any RPG!

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Dark Souls II has improved, lighter, visuals.
Moving onto the visuals, and one of the first things veterans of the series will notice is that Dark Souls 2 is much brighter than its predecessors. This makes the tone of the game less melancholy in general, though there are still many gloomy areas and areas where you need a torch to see clearly.

The developers seem to have focused on giving the player as many glorious panoramas to view as possible. Youíll often find yourself fighting high up, and if you stop to look around youíll be greeted with gorgeous views, lit by the setting sun. The last area in the game is especially good looking in this regard.

Characters and enemies alike move more naturally, and overall the animations look better. Combinations also flow more smoothly, allowing you to move from light to heavy attacks fluently, which hasnít always been the case. Another plus is dead enemies no longer to stick to you, though they do sometimes stick to the environment. I saw one zombie fall off a cliff but get stuck halfway down, with his head embedded in the rock. Enemy design is excellent throughout the game, though if we have one complaint itís that none of the boss fights, or bosses themselves, are quite as memorable as those of previous games.

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Character movement is improved too.
From an aural point of view itís the sound effects that take center stage. Great effects add weight and feeling to every scuffle, amplifying the clang of weapons on shield and armour. Characters grunt with the effort of hefting their weapons, and scream when they are vanquished. In other areas youíll hear footsteps before you see any enemies, or youíll hear the creepy crawling of spiders or other beasts. Thereís not a whole lot of music, but itís used very well during boss fights, adding tension to what is invariably a gripping fight.

With Dark Souls 2, From Software has attempted to make changes that refine rather than redefine whatís worked in previous Souls games. The reality is that no game can stand still and expect to remain successful, so changes are inevitable. For the most part the changes to Dark Souls 2 are positive, though some series veterans may not agree. Thereís still room for improvement, but Dark Souls 2 immediately becomes one of the best action RPGs on the market.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSBrighter lighting makes for a less oppressive vibe, while character animations are improved. The camera is still a work in progress, but itís getting better.
SOUNDThe music heightens the tension and great effects make every battle and enemy come alive.
GAMEPLAYWhile there have been some changes, the core gameplay Ė tense exploration and gritty combat Ė remains intact.
VALUEIf you donít mind dying (often), Dark Souls 2 has a lot to offer. The main game took me fifty hours to complete and thereís plenty more to do and see in new game plus.
OVERALLDark Souls 2 is another great game in the series, and while not everyone will love all of the changes, this is still one of the best action RPGs out there.

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