This is where Game Over is just a fact of playing.
Are you looking for a new game that's more than just a challenge? Then look no further than Namco Bandai's Dark Souls II.
A follow-up to the impossibly difficult Demons' Souls from Atlus and Dark Souls from Namco Bandai, Dark Souls II continues the trend of trying to display the phrase "You died" across your screen as often as possible.
Taking place a millennium after Dark Souls, this game takes place in a realm called Drangleic. The world itself is so distant from the first Dark Souls game that it makes you wonder why it is a sequel. That's until the first game over screen. And the second. And the third. And so on. In fact, in about 10 minutes, it's quite easy to tell that this is a Dark Souls experience through and through -- even if the game does only carry a "T for Teen" rating rather than the "M for Mature" like the original two.
Those expecting long, drawn-out dialogue sequences or neon signs telling you where to go should look somewhere else. The minimalistic game design approach, which includes gruesome combat, leaves much of the work to the player.
Developer From Software proves to be one of the masters at visual storytelling, yet again -- relaying on a mix of foreboding locations, breathtaking vistas, level design and the player's actions to progress the game's bare-bones story rather than standard-issue plot progression.
Upon starting a new game, the player's journey will lead them through fissures and towers -- both filled with baddies that will take an adventurer's life at the bat of an eye. One unfortunate thing, however, is that some of the game's bosses are less of a challenge than the rabble faced to get that far. Perhaps that's because boss fights can be anticipated whereas an unseen unexpected lesser enemy cannot. That stated, there is no real "easy" boss, just some that are vastly more difficult that most.
Outside of the challenging-yet-not-impossible single-player campaign is the option for player-versus-player gameplay. In PvP play, one player enters a fight to the death with another where the winner of a bout gains Souls or Humanity -- both crucial to the single-player experience -- and the loser is sent back to their last campaign checkpoint. It's strikingly similar to Dark Souls, but has been tweaked to emphasize the use of magic and lessen the effectiveness of standard melee-focused characters. It may have been tweaked too far, however, as PvP seems anything but balanced between the two archetypes.
As far as how Dark Souls II holds up in the audio/video department, it's not bad. Not great, mind you -- simply not bad. While visually quite nice, there are times where the game's frame rate seems to suffer where it is choppy enough to notice. Furthermore, there are times where a surface's texture doesn't render quick enough, causing it to distractingly snap into focus mid-play.
The soundtrack also has it's issues and it isn't quite up to par compared to the game's two predecessors. No one track is all that memorable, and the tracks themselves seem much to short in duration.
Even with the A/V complaints, Namco Bandai's Dark Souls II is still a game that is a joy to play. Perhaps hardcore gamers are just gluttons for punishment, but this game serves up a buffet of perilous action that's too good to pass up.
Dark Souls II
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: From Software
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC (as of April 25)
Rating: T for Teen
Score: 3 out of 4
Follow Barry White on Twitter: @sactogamer