I gave this game another shot several months later. Please consult the full review I wrote for it.
Despite having a poor initial introduction to the series, I came to love Dark Souls in due time. Its mechanics, atmosphere, world design, and so forth are all what makes it an incredibly memorable and ultimately excellent game. As such, I was quite eager to play Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, but after spending roughly 16 hours with it, spread across two playthroughs, I felt myself lose the will to continue playing, as the game was simply making me depressed and resent myself as a human being.
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin Review (based on 16 hours)
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), XBO, PS4
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
One of the most endearing and also frustrating elements of Dark Souls is how it lays out its lore and overall story. It focuses on a series of grim fantasy concepts that are ultimately well thought out by the development team, which leaves it up to the players as a collective to determine and uncover what the actual storyline is, as it can be difficult to piece together as you play. Though if you only care about the basics, they are pretty much identical from the first game. You are an undead who is tasked with exploring a region in hopes of allowing the world to exist for a little bit longer before it is consumed by neverending darkness.
The core fundamentals are naturally unchanged as well. It is an action RPG with a reputation for challenge, a world that is often harsh but seldom truly cruel with its enemies and hazards, all of which can be ultimately overcome by a degree of patience, practice, and determination. Every actions you do while fighting an enemy has repercussions, missteps can hurt your dearly, and there is a general intensity that is applied to the majority of enemies, at least when you first encounter them. It is ultimately a fair and challenging game that, ideally, encourages players to carry on and muster the skill, strength, and so forth in order to overcome any adversities that stand in their way. All while exploring a carefully constructed world, filled with memorable environments that you become intimate with just by progressing through, and seeing several times as you come to master that area.
What holds all of this together are souls, a mix of gold and experience that are your primary resource, can easily be lost upon death, but can always be retrieved shortly thereafter. All as part of a gameplay loop that prevent the player from experiencing the feeling of failure or loss upon death, and encourages them to develop a sense of determination upon defeat, with the end result being up to the player’s patience and skill level. All of this sounds great, until you learn that enemies are only permitted fifteen respawns before they are gone.
This could be done to prevent grinding, which I find to be absurd considering how much grinding I put in Dark Souls 1. This also means that players are not encouraged to master the area at their own pace, but rather use brute force to achieve victory, disregarding the challenge the game should be built around. Plus, with a limited number of enemies, your number of souls are limited too. If you do not retrieve, say, 10,000 souls, then you will not be able to bring that back unless you use a Bonfire Ascetic. These items reset the area, making the enemies stronger, and allowing the player to get more souls and items, technically an infinite amount of times by using Bonfire Ascetics to get more Bonfire Ascetics, but only near the end game.
I also feel I should mention how the game is far harder than Dark Souls 1 because of how it directly punishes you for having the audacity to become overwhelmed by enemies or falling off of a carefully place cliff. When you die, you not only lose your active humanity, if you have any, and have your souls left where you died, but you also lose some of your health, up to fifty percent, twenty-five if you get one very useful ring. Thereby making the game objectively harder if you are worse at it, as opposed to giving the player extra abilities if they are careful and manage their easy to grind resources well, like in Dark Souls 1.
So you are directly punished for participating in the learning experience that defines Dark Souls. The best way to play the game is to go back and forward, gradually killing everything in your way, one or a group of enemies at a time until they no longer appear. Or in other words, be cheap, never die, enjoy the repetition as you invest well over 100 hours into each and every playthrough, never even bother with the Bonfire Ascetics mechanic. Never die, never truly master an area, always fight bosses with damage sponges while you spam magic attacks, never once lose your humanity. That is the foundation that Dark Souls 2 is built on, as it is the conclusion I come to after reviewing its mechanics.
I hate the fact that I view this as an objectively correct way to play the game. I hate the fact that I cannot accept what this sequel is doing as different and leave it at that. I hate the fact that, after going through No Man’s Wharf, delighting in the pressure and invigorating nature of the dingy environment, I felt compelled to go through it fourteen more times. All so that I may ensure that I get all the potential souls in this area, and quickly invest them into my character. All because, in my mind, it was the right way to play the game. I am sorry Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, but I need to place you aside, as I cannot bare the emotional strife playing you has put me through.