Dark Souls 2 screenshot
Dark Souls 2 screenshot

I’ve been working on the Dark Souls 2 guides for some time now, and consider the original my game of its generation. I couldn’t wait to dive into the sequel, but after over 50 hours, and having explored much of Drangleic, I’ve come to realise the game is almost creatively bankrupt.

Dark Souls 2 rehashes old enemy types and behavioural patterns from its predecessor, disguised under a veil of ‘nostalgia’ and ‘homage’ with the misguided ethos of 'more equals better', creating a frustrating overall experience that doesn’t come close to matching what came previously.

I know what you’re thinking: 'Dark Souls is supposed to be frustrating, it’s one of the most challenging, controller-eating games around!' but, with Dark Souls, there was a method behind the madness. Take the Bell Gargoyles, for instance, a memorable early boss in the last game. Once you learned the attack pattern of the first Gargoyle, finally feeling a sense of empowerment, zapping half of the fiend’s health, another spawns, creating that knot in your chest.

This boss battle is recreated in Dark Souls 2, only this time, the Belfry Gargoyles spawn based on time, and rather than learn how to deal with two of them, the game simply throws a fuck-ton your way. Before you know it, there’s five on the roof of Belfry Luna. How are we supposed to develop a strategy for five fire-spitting, spear-wielding, FLYING gargoyles? There is simply no learning curve here, with victory determined by luck and circumstance rather than strategy.

Had this been the only example, DS2 could be forgiven, but these ‘homages’ are too frequent to be called that, and quickly become disguises for a lack of creativity in boss design. While this can be claimed as 'inspiration', others are simply carbon copies. In Heide’s Tower of Flame we’re greeted with the ‘Old Dragonslayer’, a nerfed version of one of Dark Souls’ toughest bosses, Ornstein, minus his brother Smough. Once again, Ornstein’s attack patterns are almost identical to his first appearance, and doesn’t offer anything new or interesting other than memories of previous encounters.

Then we come to the world of Drangleic. While it’s inarguable that Dark Souls 2 is certainly a more graphically impressive game, it definitely isn’t a prettier one. Many of the different hub worlds seem to simply be hitting the same beats: here’s the fire world; here’s the poison forest; this is the castle and so forth. Every environment in Dark Souls was exquisitely detailed, with a floor plan to rival Doom. It also felt like a much more explorable environment.

Dark Souls 2 grants the ability to fast travel between bonfires almost from the outset, and while this makes for a more streamlined method of traversal, it also creates a disjointed world. I enjoyed finding different routes to areas while exploring Dark Souls, or running away from an overwhelming dogfight, whereas now I’m simply zapping to and from Majula.

Dark Souls 2 screenshot

To speculate on why it fails to live up to expectations, it’s important to have a bit of context. Dark Souls 2 featured an almost completely different development team to both Dark and Demon’s Souls. A wonderful NeoGAF post demonstrates very clearly how much changed between the games, from the director all the way down to programming staff, as well as role changes for those still on the team. To go out on a limb, it could be argued that, being a reshuffled line-up, it could have been a hesitance to reinvent the wheel: with such a loyal and passionate following, any strong decisions could lead to either incredible praise or ferocious backlash. A risk averted.

Again, that is speculation, but the proof is in the pudding. This is a game that offers little extra to Dark Souls, with minor tweaks hoping to satiate appetites until the next-gen offering rolls around.

But why accept the project and not make your mark? This is a game where every moment relies on your memories of the past, so much so you forget this isn’t an add-on, but a new game entirely. Imagine FIFA 15 with line-ups from the first Premier League season, or Peter Parker getting bit by the spider at the beginning of every movie (aactually, that does happen... all the time. Enough of that, Hollywood)?

Dark Souls 2 isn’t fundamentally a bad game, but that’s due in large part to the foundations on which it has been built. Rather than take those solid building blocks and move the series forward the developers, perhaps through fear of doing just the opposite, reverted to type hoping for fans to rely on memories to enjoy the present. Rather than forge their own path, they’ve walked along old ground, burning the forest as they went.

Want another opinion? Check our original Dark Souls II review here.

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User Comments

DaveSimonH's Avatar

DaveSimonH@ DaveSimonH

Well, I'm still playing the game after completing it a few weeks ago. After The Pursuer the only bosses that really gave me trouble were The Rotten & Smelter Demon, and I have a feeling all 3 were tricky due to me being low level.
I "completed" the game, but there are still 3 optional bosses I haven't beaten.

Also started a 2nd character, Sorcerer this time. Compared to the Knight class it feels like easy mode. Wasn't too surprised though, Magic always felt way too overpowered in my first playthrough.
Posted 14:36 on 20 July 2014


I replayed through Dark Souls 1 after finishing the 2nd game, and beating some of these bosses for the 2nd or 3rd time has still been more satisfying than some of the DS2 bosses.
Posted 10:44 on 13 May 2014
qwertyuiopo's Avatar


I don't know how you can say Dark Souls 2 is un-original compared to Dark Souls...The first Dark Souls is extremely derivative (almost every area is analogous to another area in Demon's Souls) of its predecessor. Comparatively, Dark Souls 2 seems pretty original in my opinion.
Posted 13:59 on 12 May 2014
DaveSimonH's Avatar


I've only played Dark Souls 2 (and a bit of Demon Souls) so its still pretty new to me. I went with DS2 as I had read it was a bit more user friendly, with fast travel etc. from the start.
Have to say though, 18 hours in at about level 44, I've beaten The Last Giant which wasn't too tricky and The Pursuer who was a bit draining. I had to resort to using the ballistas, as I'd been killed so many times the enemies on route from bonfire stopped spawning...

I have to be honest here, not sure I have the patience required to finish these games. I can appreciate them, but if all games were this hard I probably wouldn't play as many games.
I have a lot of PS3 & 360 games at this stage, so I'm unlikely to replay a boss hundreds of times. By then I will have just swapped to something else.
Posted 19:00 on 11 May 2014
IronMit's Avatar


Whilst I agree with this article, the game is called 'Dark souls 2'.
It's in the title, it's not a new IP or spiritual successor. It's an incremental improvement like those boring annual games.

The nostalgia vibe comes from playing it safe and 'continuing' the story/lore from Dark Souls 1.

I didn't mind the simplistic first 4 bosses I fought 'giant, pursuer,ornstein and the dragon'rider'. They felt more like 'intro' bosses. The Gargoyle was another throw back- but I hadn't had one in a while so I didn't mind it. That boss was an optional secret boss anyway and was pretty easy, I barely needed to strategise for it- my small shield could tank their hits- one of the few bosses I solo'd.

However the bosses move sets got stale quickly though. The same delayed vertical attack to throw off your dodge rolls..etc etc. You would think they would have some awesome 360 attack moves to mix up co-op battles when you surround the boss but no, just more health.

The paths through Lost bastille, Ruin Sentinels, Sinner's Rise & Hunstmans copse to iron keep had me hooked (eventhough the locations made no sense and Earthen Peak should have been flushed out more).
Then it got extra disjointed. Drangleic Castle was decent but Aldia's Keep was a lobby and one corridor. Dragon Aerie was a set of bridges with some dumb dragons followed by back to back difficult enemies just shoved in your way.

The undead crypt and Shrine of Amana were 'look at this cool range of locations' that you will not stay in for too long because this isn't dark souls 1. Accessing the memories was even more tedious. The black gulch was so pointless - Apart from the hidden areas you can literally reach the boss in 2 minutes.
Posted 23:48 on 10 May 2014
rstorabb's Avatar


Pretty much nonesense from someone who doesnt know how to play or fully understand the game. The gargoyles do not spawn in time but by energy dealt. Each gargoyle has an individual health bar floating above them (which makes up part of the larger boss life bar at the bottom of the screen) when the individual health bar reaches 50% it spawns another gargoyle. Its not unfair just a more extreme version of the originalgargoyles. I agree the 2nd does not reach the dizzy heights of the 1st but the writer is not as good a player as he likes to think for someone writing guides.
Git gud filthy casul.
Posted 16:51 on 10 May 2014


Crikey, I waffled on there a bit didn't I, sorry about that.
Posted 12:40 on 10 May 2014


I've played it for 30 hours, which I managed to squeeze in over a week before moving back to uni. In dark souls 2 I fell like I'm walking down a series of narrow culs de sacs before warping back to the hub. It feels disjointed. In dark souls, there was more the sense of a cohesive world. I thought early on 'is this like, far future Lordran?" The initial surprise of, "OH MY GOD ITS ORSTEIN" fades quickly, I felt. I was annoyed by the gargoyles boss, because its both ***** and yet another call back. One reference particularly annoyed me because it doesnt actually make any sense, I flew in to a white hot rage and almost punted my ps3 out the window- The Lightning Spear miracle description. URGH! I didn't know how to feel when I saw Seath...

The changes to combat are actually good I think, you know how everyone said about dark souls "it feels deliberate, oooh you have to be careful, pick your swings or you get effed up" etc etc. That's more true of this one, I feel. It's also harder to back stab and those AI black phantoms are GREAT I've had some great duels with those guys.

I still think it's a great game and I don't want to judge it wholly on 30 hours having played the predecessors for fifty times that, especially since a lot of the discovery of cool ***** you make in Dark/Demon's happens after repeated play, Lore, NPCs etc. I am not too disappointed, this is pretty much what I was expecting. Souls used to be fresh and exciting but now? It's too familiar. Demon's, terrifyingly bleak, lonely. Dark Souls, plonked in an open world with a similar feeling of dread. Dark Souls 2, I'm not afraid any more(except for that bit with spiders f*ck spiders) [its not just fear, of course,]

With that rumored project beast I hope Miyazaki has something up his sleeve to change things and take it in a new direction. We don't need more of the same.
Posted 12:39 on 10 May 2014

Game Stats

Technical Specs
Release Date: 14/03/2014
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Genre: Action
Rating: PEGI 16+
Site Rank: 297 20
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