It's no secret that I'm biased when it comes to Souls games, I was one of the few that played Demon's Souls back when hardly anyone knew about this peculiar game. It was dark, dreary and unforgiving and we loved every second of it.
Then came Dark Souls, which expanded on the ideas of Demon's Souls, fixing some problems, creating some new ones. It was a memorable game, full of weird NPCs and unique areas for you to explore. It attained a robust PvP community over time and even made it to PC after a while. By then, the Souls series gained fame and notoriety for being a complex, difficult series that has much to give if you learn to play by its rules.
Then the sequel, Dark Souls II, was announced and a new director stepped in to try and recreate the alchemy that made the first two.
Dark Souls II has big shoes to fill, it will take time and a lot of player feedback for us to know how it truly compared to the first two. The game has a strong presence but it stumbles and hollows here and there.
The combat is more diverse and the weapons are plentiful, giving options to players with all kinds of preferences. The upgrades are more streamlined, giving you the opportunity to infuse your weapons in all paths with two blacksmiths, the third being available only for normal upgrades.
The new animations work in harmony with the chaos of battle and most skirmishes feel unique since there's so many ways of approaching a battle. The new spells are imaginative albeit overpowered.
The NPCs come in a wide variety of warriors, lunatics, killers and maniacs. The overall theme seems to be their fading memories due to hollowing or depression, possibly both. You will come across NPCs who will prove useful as Phantoms or will provide you with valuable gifts. A few of them are excellent characters, others will, ironically, fade from your memory.
The bosses come in flavors of ohgod, jesuschristhowhorrifying, damnyoulookcool and meh. They lurk around every corner and you're never quite sure if you're going to be greeted with a smack across the face when you go through a fog gate. Some will have you writhe in agony from rage, others will make you feel truly badass when you defeat them. There are two or three I really like design-wise and two or three I really enjoy gameplay-wise but I won't spoil it.
The areas, unlike Dark Souls 1, get better as you progress through the game. They come in a huge spectrum and are mostly imaginative, fueling the atmosphere. There are "Anor Londo" moments which I won't spoil. The game's central hub, Majula, is really a top contender for the comfiest hub in a Souls game. Things Betwixt became my favorite tutorial area for a Souls game too. That said, some areas that had a lot of potential felt too short, probably due to time/technology/money constraints.
The problems with Dark Souls II are mostly connected to the philosophy of how this game was made. More areas sacrifices larger, more memorable areas. More NPCs and Phantoms sacrifices fleshed-out characters and their story arcs. Same with bosses.
However due to the sheer amount of content, some areas, bosses and characters truly stand with the best of them from Dark Souls and Demon's Souls, the game manages to redeem itself multiple times before the final credits roll.
Other issues DaS II has are technical issues and gameplay issues, most of those get fixed by From Software through patches (hopefully).
The poise system doesn't seem to be working properly, forcing a lot of players to ditch their armor, occasional latency problems plague the arenas.
Dark Souls II is a big, mean, killing machine but as Souls games teach us, these big monsters can be slow and clumsy. However, they can surprise you by how fast and graceful they can be when low on health. Dark Souls II gambled and won, bruised and bloodied in true Souls fashion, it stands victorious with his older brothers.
What did you guys think of the game? Did it fulfill your expectations? Did it leave you wanting more?