Gaming: Dark Souls II

Dark Souls II: Third Person Fantasy Combat Perfected

For those of you who are fans of either the first Dark Souls (Xbox 360, PS3) or its spiritual predecessor Demon's Souls (PS3), you know exactly what you're getting into with Dark Souls II. If you are one of the rare fans put off by the announcements that this sequel would be more "accessible" (translated as easy), put your worries to rest. Dark Souls II is just as wonderfully brutal as ever. Go out and get it now. You'll love it.
For the rest of you who are either unfamiliar with the cult hit series, or have been put off by its intimidating difficulty, here are some things that make the Souls series so great. It features brilliantly unique artwork: some of it grotesque, some of it beautiful and vast. The combat is a never ending process of steadily improving your skills that can never quite be mastered.
As developer From Software loves to brag, you will die in Dark Souls II. A lot. This is a game that punishes players who charge into battle, hoping to button mash their way to success like in so many other run of the mill titles. It also punishes you for not paying attention to your surroundings. Many times, key items that will make the game a whole lot easier are hidden in plain sight, and only the clever, patient, and observant gamer will obtain them.
If you're looking for a compelling narrative, you won't find it in Dark Souls II. The series has never been about telling a story; it's about challenging you again and again with seemingly impossible combat scenarios and a mind-boggling array of weapons, spells, and statistics to figure out.
When early reports came out that Dark Souls II would be more accessible to newcomers, they simply meant that, compared to the first two games, at least a FEW things would be explained in the beginning of DS2. Unlike Demons and Dark Souls, you get a few hours to get your bearings and figure out what the heck you're doing in this game. But the second you find yourself getting comfortable, having talked to a few NPCs in the game, the difficulty ramps right up to where it belongs.
The key feature of all the Souls games returns in Dark Souls II: You collect souls when you defeat enemies, and you use those souls to level up your character, making him stronger/faster/better at spells etc., or you use the souls to buy precious equipment and weapons. The catch is, every time you die, you're returned to the last bonfire you rested at with ALL OF YOUR SOULS REMOVED. You have to make it all the way back to the spot where you died to reclaim those souls. If you die on the way, sorry sucker! Those souls are gone for good.
My lone complaint about Dark Souls II is that they added yet another obstacle to overcome that's more of a headache than a fun challenge. Now when you die, you not only lose whatever souls you had obtained, but your maximum health level is slightly lowered. You can use items to recover the lost max HP, but those items are very rare.
I'm only about 20 hours into Dark Souls II, which means I'll probably put in another 480 hours over the next sixth months. That's how rewarding the combat and progression are to me. From Software had a vision with Demon's Souls in 2009 that they've stuck with to this day: Make an excruciatingly difficult game that rewards players for getting better, always tantalizing them to try, try again. It's addictive, and when you combine it with the breathtaking artwork and fixed frame rate issues from the first Dark Souls, the game is a total winner.
I'll leave you with one brief piece of advice. If you're new to the Souls universe, get yourself a guide. There are just too many things you can easily miss, and too much space to explore without getting lost. There is no shame in this; the guides will not help you in battle. Just google Dark Souls II walk through or FAQs, and you'll be on your way. 

-Tom McDaniel