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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dark Souls 2.

TranscriptEdit

I worry I may be a little too far in to review Dark Souls II with any kind of detachment. I know I only just got on board the Dark Souls pain train, (Choo-choo, all aboard for driving straight into a brick wall!) but no-one's more critical of drinking than a former alcoholic. And yes, I did just imply that not being into Dark Souls is equivalent to a major, destructive personality flaw. I've just gotten through a big box of lovely jam doughnuts with cream on top, and now someone's come in with another big box of jam doughnuts and asked for my opinion. Good or bad, that second box isn't gonna get a fair assessment, is it? 'Cus I've still got jammy hands and type-2 diabetes. Oh well.

Dark Souls II is the third game in a series that began with Demon's Souls (which I was thinking I should go back and try again sometime, but apparently we don't count it anymore), in which you play a cursed being on a quest for some kind of enlightenment, and must best a series of castles, dungeons, and bosses by doing the equivalent of firing yourself at them from a cannon an infinite number of times.

Your quest at the outset is to find a cure for your undead status, 'cus fuck all this "being immortal" shit, a quest that takes you to the land of Drangliec, which is different to Lordran because it's got the "dran" part in the front bit this time. And after a rather over-long opening cutscene in which a bunch of old women talk at you like a pack of slightly tiddley aunts at a wedding asking why you haven't found yourself a nice boyfriend yet, you set out to acquire four Great Souls which will in some way help.

Full disclosure, I've not finished the game yet, 'cus I've only been playing for about a 30-hour stretch at time of writing, or as it's known in the Dark Souls community, a "sample". I've gotten three of four Great Souls, and so far DSII is much less about the world and much more about you, globe-trotting soul-harvesting reverse Santa Claus. Rather than Dark Souls I's potted history of the world for you to think about as you murder all the participants, the Dark Souls II intro cinematic merely depicts you, deciding that blindly jumping into a portal is exactly as topping an idea as it first seemed. And I don't care about me, I'm just some fuck with a halberd. I want to know about the world. 'Cus that's the thing that I'm stopping to look at whenever the "gorgeous view" message appears.

An unspecified amount of time has passed since the first game, which was already about the last gasp of a dying world, so that last gasp seems to be lasting long enough to inflate a fucking bouncy castle. It makes me wonder what sequel camp this is pitching its tent in: Camp "Let's boldly evolve the concept up a notch with a story that demands to be told", or Camp "Let's put out another of that thing people liked and carry our money home in a freight train". Don't get me wrong, if Dark Souls II is just "more Dark Souls", then it's still welcome, if not as revolutionary, but I can't shake the sense that ideas are getting recycled with varying degrees of blatancy. The Gutter is just Blighttown without the view, there's another boss fight with a big dog that starts limping when it's about to bite its last Boneo, and it seems like a large percentage of the boss encounters are just variations on a theme of "a dude in armour". Fuck dudes in armour, you can wallpaper your house with dudes in armour in this world, and many frequently do. I want more shit like the incomplete-open-heart-surgery dragon! Things get more imaginative later, though. This time, for example, you fight a topless lady with a scorpion for an arse! Push that motherfucking boat out!

It's supposed to be easier on the noobs this time around, but obviously, I can't gauge that, because I already know what I'm doing. Certainly, the tutorial's longer, and instead of the introductory "You ready yet? You'd better be, 'cus here's my warty-arse boss fight", there's just the old lady thing. Although I was ready to carve up some warty arse nonetheless, I'll tell you that. And instead of the game starting with only one path and then opening up when you're going after the four Lord Souls, now it's the other way around. You start off with multiple paths, and it gets linear later. So if one area is feeding you your own eyeballs, you can maybe leave it for now and look for a gentler one. And good fucking luck, you shrieking mimsy.

Fittingly, for a game that opens up earlier, you can teleport between bonfires from the outset, which meant I utterly missed a certain character who only appears in an area you've got no reason to go back to, and who is needed to open up a way to an entire fucking vital section of the game. From Software, are you getting backhanders from the GameFAQs people?

In the category of "It's different and therefore it's RUINED" complaints, you now lose maximum health each time you die, so as you bang your head on the brick wall of a hard boss, your head becomes softer and more delicate and cracks with increasing ease. You can get it back by reverting to human, but the items for doing so are finite, which adds an annoying "ticking clock" element, when before you could just bash away infinitely until the boss submits out of pity, just like in my sex life.

Still, at least you can revert to human from anywhere, not just from bonfires, but that's it, isn't it? When Dark Souls gives you chocolate buttons, it has to take away heart medication with its other hand. There are healing items you can use when your estus runs out, hooray! So you start out with only one measly estus flask, boo! Weapon degradation now resets at bonfires, hooray! So the weapons now degrade faster than biscuits in milky tea, boo! Enemies disappear if you kill them enough times, hooray! So now you can't grind them! And if you die, and fail to recover your souls, then all those senseless killings were just pissing in the wind. Oh, and remember how the jumping controls were shit? Well now they're mapped to L3. That's even worse, Dark Souls! Well good thing you can switch it back in the options, isn't it?! But if I hear any more lip, I'm gonna map them to the Kinect! Hey Dark Souls, your daughter got a B+ on her coloring assignment. "Oh, well then, you must have a SMACK AND A SMACK AND A SMACK AND A SMACK AND HOW DARE YOU HOW DARE YOU HOW DARE YOU!" Ah, that's what I love about you, Dark Souls. You don't ask for a lot, but... um... all right, you do ask for a lot.

Remember how I said Dark Souls I often looks like they designed the maps first, then figured out the gameplay second? I don't get that so much from Dark Souls II. Certain sections of it feel very, for want of a better word, "video-gamey". Like the lava castle that feels like an adaptation of Super Mario Bros., right down to the tortoise guards, and the boss is a giant goat-demon waist-deep in lava hitting you with very, very slow punch attacks. That's beneath you, Dark Souls! That shit's video game shorthand for "insert boss fight here."

Overall, though, this is like the Portal vs. Portal 2  thing. Taken as wholes, the first one is better 'cus it's tighter. And I do love a nice, tight hole. But for all one can quibble about a few extra layers of flab, Dark Souls II can still power-bomb you like a champ. I might even buy it again when the real version comes out.

AddendaEdit

  • Got too greedy with his follow-up swipes: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Anyone else notice that "The Rotten" had a rather distinctly onion-shaped head? Wonder if that's supposed to mean something
  • Really need to replay Symphony of the Night one of these days

ScreenshotsEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II

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