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Dark Souls II: 7 Years Later

How to see active players on steamsteam deck compared to switch DARK SOULS™: REMASTERED review some shoes are not easily filled by new feet the emblematic dark souls carved out a masterful adventure in 2011 an entire decade seems like a lifetime ago but its echoes still strongly pervade game culture today dont they it had flaws like any other game but it left an iconic footprint thatd be hard to follow for any title when i initially played dark souls 2 i had mixed feelings about it i wanted to love it but i had a hard time coming to terms with the new direction of the game with a depressing graphical downgrade and the general vibe surrounding it fairly negative i ended up dropping a cold turkey halfway through and just never looked back i knew id be revisiting dark souls 2 eventually as years went on as we all tend to circle back to things in life that we leave unfinished and today ill see what i missed all that time ago with dark souls 2 good or bad video game worlds can often be summed up as a culmination of three essential parts level design how enjoyable a single area is to play world design how well do those areas come together to form a whole and game structure how does the player actually interact with that world dark souls 2 was designed in a way that is most intriguing drangleic is the mashup of various things the series would ultimately be remembered by some work very well and some perplexed the mind theres plenty to love about dark souls 2 and much to criticize the world design seems to be the most conflicting element across the board the game has so many areas to visit actually more than any other game in the franchise the initial goal being that you must slay the four old ones and collect their souls this is achieved by setting out from the majestic majula which acts as the games centralized hub this sunswept cliffside is the most beautiful place in any dark souls game and i always enjoyed my downtime here thanks to the tender somber music like many things in dark souls 2 its a little contrived and boxy it presents a plot that is so obstructs that theres many reasons to question why were setting off on this perilous journey and im sure a better obstacle could have been drawn up than a pile of rocks that would compel us so dark souls 2 is immense and the game is truly massive but little things like this do make you wonder the enter and intra connectedness is for the most part gone from dark souls 1 but the areas do feel much more distinct from one another here you get a sprawling set of environments that truly make you feel like youre embarking on an epic journey they dont always make sense hydes tower looks so tiny for majula yet its only a short jog to the entrance no mans wharf has a c-level quandary the elevator that takes you up to an invisible fortress of lava floating in the sky is a little off-putting and perhaps dragonary should be visible from certain areas of the game geographically speaking i mean im no cartographer but i think you should at least be able to maybe see the giant pillars from where you defeat the looking last night the approach to drangleic castle itself displays the bizarre and capricious nature of the game almost perfectly outside the tunnel towards majula its a muggy afternoon and then suddenly on the other side its almost pitch black and raining i mean what the  __  is going on here its really up to the player though if these things actually annoy them in fact many players will probably not even notice as were not all putting the game under a microscope however its not pedantic to scrutinize it as objectively incoherent most focus a great deal on how the dark souls games are different to some degree how dark souls 2 is so blatantly inferior but the fact is it was trying to be its own thing its true that the aries dont connect in the same way they do in dark souls 1 but what many people often forget is that dark souls 2 is actually a microcosm representing and miniature the characteristics of something much larger than lordran ever was dark souls 1 was smaller in scope and benefited from the interconnectivity as the game had a very strong sense of logic behind it drain lake on the other hand spans a much more vast amount of space a whole country even that in itself makes it nearly incompatible to maintain a logical sense of exploration without a variety of concessions by design of drain lakes massive scale itself either the player is going to have to walk for 20 minutes to get to one area from the next or geographical irregularities and harsh level transitions have to exist to confine it to a smaller game space in essence dark souls 2 is squished into a mold that is 10 times too small for it no wonder why it doesnt make any sense dark souls 2 was simply fighting a battle that it couldnt win to be fair to the series it was a challenge unique not to the game itself but to the actual franchise as they all tackle it in a different way demon souls has the nexus lordran was smaller and dark souls 2 permits geographical anomalies each has their own charms and each has their own disadvantages the end result with dark souls 2 is that it provides a set of sprawling landscapes squashed inside what would have been an ocean of a map but again its not an issue if youre not looking for it to the games credit though this issue was 100 percent remedied with the fantastic dlc such as braum tower frozen alien lois and shulva these are arguably some of the best zones in any souls game giving you that wide sense of looping exploration with the use of elegant shortcuts and environmental manipulation and obstacles which if you think about it supplements dark souls 2 in the best possible way because thats exactly what the game was missing the main reason dark souls 2 turned out the way that it did from a world perspective is probably because of the fast travel implementation fast travel is a hell of a convenience but what it really does is encourage shortcuts no pun intended to be taken when connecting areas logically literally theres less need to have things quote unquote make sense when players mostly warp around rather than walk between which is something surely important to distinguish thats because players are not going to be reusing the entrance and travel pass between areas more than once since they can just warp back to another bonfire which isnt an excuse for the incongruity but might be one of the reasons why frum was lackadaisical with world cohesion teleportation also spills another quandry onto the table again looking at world design and that it can kind of make players lose sights of where things are at from a navigational perspective warping can be seen as a giant crutch leaned on too heavily because all we need to do as players is simply find the next bonfire we never need to actually know how to get back to anything for the most part this makes drain lake feel even more confusing because the player isnt held responsible for understanding how the game is actually laid out and even if you get lost you can just use the homeward bone or aged feather to get back to where you were not ironically this is exactly why dark souls feels almost always coherent because without warping for the first half of the game we have to figure out how its physically laid out by first-hand experience trekking out into the unknown dying discovering the aha moments it repeats its an effective cycle at building world knowledge while being also intrinsically motivating as in a sense we develop a natural mental map of the game when you finally get the option to warp in dark souls 1 youve already basically figured out most of the game layout i think this is why its a lot easier to try and sketch out how lower drawn looks versus drain lake dark souls 2 was designed to have players complete areas versus encouraging curious or natural exploration which is a lot different when you stop to think about it if lordran is the wheel drain lake are the spokes on the wheel you travel from majula down one spoke till its end then head back up to the hub before traveling down another if at any point you need to go back to where youve come from you never turn around and walk you simply warp maybe this is why its so easy to get lost in drain-like i really enjoy the structure of dark souls 2 in that you have a lot of freedom at the start of the game and the linear levels give you that steady feeling of progress but there were a lot of times where i said to myself where the hell am i where was that thing and how did i get here one of the most interesting elements of dark souls 2 that i think could have really helped out in this regard that ultimately failed to a degree was the brazier system personally i absolutely love the contrast of lighting a torch and watching it light up a room as the shadows play on the walls this appeals to our inner dungeon crawling fantasies as gamers marching out into the very recesses of what we call the unknown unfortunately dark souls 2 doesnt capitalize on this feeling even though i think it wanted to to be fair to the system i think using a torch in dark souls 2 is actually very viable and very valuable especially in the undead crypt and the gutter which is actually one of my favorite areas theres something incredibly immersive about carving a path through the darkness in a game and it feels even more satisfying knowing that youre foregoing a shield to do so which cripples your ability in combat dark souls 2 is actually really beautiful when you light a torch but i dont think it was just for aesthetics though there are many pieces of evidence in dark souls 2 that point to braziers being an important element throughout the entirety of the game that ultimately for whatever reason was dropped off the face of the moon for one braziers stay lit even if you die this reinforces the idea that they were meant to be your guide through each area and help find your way back to places youve already been or havent been 2. some enemies react to fire there are spiders in brightstone cove that are scared of fire and they wont attack you if you have a torchlit in the dukes dear freya boss fights you can even ward off all the spiders with a torch which helps reduce the difficulty number three in the shrine of amana if youre using a torch you can see enemy silhouettes in the water that await you in ambush also in this area torches can be used in a clever way to illuminate drop zones and chests in the water amana is notorious for being one of the most difficult sections so again its very useful to use a torch here number four in aldias keep you need to light four braziers to awaken the bone dragon which rewards you with a valuable key and lastly theres a benefit to lighting the braziers prior to fighting the last center especially on new game plus oddly enough though brazers seem to disappear further on into the game its a big mystery as if the torch mechanic was added after the levels had been made and then they simply couldnt figure out a way to implement them throughout the rest of the game this coincides perfectly with the fact that youre given so many torches that youll essentially never run the timer out its as if they planned it being a huge mechanic fill the maps with all the torches you would ever need and then they stopped putting in the braziers i think this is one of the games biggest missed opportunities and definitely a contributing factor to the graphical downgrade the game had received before launch which just so happened to increase the overall brightness of the game significantly not ironically making the torches much less of a necessity in terms of level design the game does fare better but its still fairly inconsistent dark souls 2 has some of the most impressive looking levels in all the series and best classified as linear dungeon crawls i really enjoyed most of the areas particularly impressed by the sea of flying dragons the evervesting glow of amana and iron keeps aesthetics despite it being an absolute ass of a level you can tell the developers almost got it right with many of the areas the best example i can give is the gutter which has an excellent layout with cool and interesting gimmicks and a series of ladders and bridges and jumps in between two opposing bonfires the area is a masterful labyrinth of extreme verticality setting upon the scantness of oblique light it has a great atmosphere to it but the major flaw is that it doesnt loop back around to the original bonfire when you finish it there is a lot to miss in this dimly lit cave so when you finally get to the end and realize you havent found everything you needed or want to light the braziers to summon a valuable npc at the bottom of the cave you have to warp back to the previous bonfire respawning every single enemy and erasing all your progress in the process all they had to do was open the shortcuts but they just didnt iron keep is visually interesting and the layout is fine enough but the encounter and enemy design is horrendous hydes tower is beautiful but its nothing more than a few winding staircases from start to finish other areas like the black gulch are downright atrocious a short yet very aggravating corridor crammed with endless poison statues theres nothing fun about this this is just a pain in the ass what dark souls 2 does really have though is a great feeling of progression it excels at one upping itself with levels being more grand and epic as the game goes on you start off as a pile of crap fighting off hollows and meeting others of similar depressing journeys and most of them meet their ends somewhere along the way by the end though youre scaling giant gothic castles and fighting fire-breathing dragons on the top of the world its vital for games to give us that sense of forward momentum and progress something that was actually a little bit lacking in dark souls 1. the original gave you the sensation that you were growing in power but the game didnt necessarily grow alongside you dark souls 1 peaks very early on in anor londo its by far the most interesting level with the best layouts the best environmental design and the best boss later levels such as lost izalith and the dukes archives are very underwhelming compared to the fantastic first half of the game dark souls 2 on the other hand never has that drop-off in quality the game simply gets more exciting grand and epic as you go marking it as one of the most compelling in the series to finish in my opinion on the gameplay front dark souls 2 does not play the same as other souls games and i want to try to make an argument for it being one of the most satisfying to play long term first and foremost the combat was designed to be methodical deliberate and calculating all of which seem to be at the core to dark souls 1 but honestly its taken much much further in two dark souls 2 seems clunky at first because its very slow but the truth is its not exactly clunky its just very intentional its meant to be approached more carefully than other souls games even the first and its very conscious of that as its changed three important things healing movement and combat speed they come together to really change up the dynamic of this game the first major difference is that it takes a lot longer to effectively heal in dark souls 2 versus any other souls game this is without question the most important change to dark souls 2 because it fundamentally affects how players engage in potentially every single combat encounter heres a comparison of healing from dark souls 1 to 3. it takes approximately 1.03 seconds for the healing animation to finish and dark souls 1. it takes approximately 1.01 seconds for the healing animation to finish in dark souls 3. and it takes approximately 2.8 seconds for the healing animation to finish in dark souls 2. the difference feels like a lifetime the adaptability stat in dark souls 2 does lower this time to heal a little bit depending on how many points invested however the speed at which it fills up your hp bar does not decrease this means adaptability simply reduces the time between when you hit the heal button and input your next action with your character so think of it this way the more adaptability the quicker you can start moving after you drink a flask which is absolutely critical of course at 27 adaptability which i consider pretty much the sweet spot it takes me approximately 1.75 seconds to finish the healing animation and 3.87 seconds for my potion to finish healing me healing in dark souls 2 thus takes forever it adds a very different flavor to the combat one that is more focused around awareness rather than simply pure reactions though of course those are important too where you are and when you can heal safely is paramount dark souls 2 ask you to be very intentional and calculative which makes the gameplay feel much more like a chess game at first it kind of feels like youre moving in slow motion and it feels almost unfair but the more i played it the more i came to appreciate the feeling of groundedness that accompanies it especially after playing dark souls 3 which gives you so much leeway in every department that encounters end up looking like a circus life gems and consumable region healing are an interesting inclusion for this game and one could imagine they might hurt the core philosophy of what a souls game is supposed to be after all the entire points of souls is built around having players tightly manage their potions to get from one bonfire to the next if they run out its time to head back to last bonfire and try again its the mini-game of attrition additional healing items on paper break this tight resource control partially this is true with more healing options players can essentially stay in areas for far longer hypothetically though as really thats only the case if they survive each combat encounter if you dont it doesnt matter how many life gems you have youre still dead as previously stated most animations take a while using a flask at the wrong time is actually a great way to get yourself killed dark souls 2 features a lot of groups of enemies more surprise moments more tracking and much more sudden lurching attacks that are difficult to estimate how far theyre going to reach these things close the window for healing in a safe manner arguably more than any other souls game what i found in actual practice is that its much more common to use a life gym after the fight is already over its just not worth the risk especially when you can be killed from a single attack before the life jam has actually heals you stacking them does help but that takes even more time to execute you can try and run away and use one but theyre still risking that all the same environments are often cramped and full of traps poison lava curses pitfalls etc youre only ever going to want to retreat back to where you came from as well not where youre going cutting down the opportunity for safe zones even further if you absolutely must heal youre more likely to use an asterisk in combat as it simply heals you faster so life gems dont actually help you that much when it comes to overcoming the fundamental barriers of dark souls 2s combat at least in my experience the point im trying to make is that you still have to win fights in dark souls 2. no amount of life jims is ever going to beat the game for someone thus i dont see the healing system of dark souls 2 better or worse its just different life gems give struggling players a helping hand but are never going to actually help them get past difficult bosses which are the gating mechanisms in this game and they do this without changing the difficulty of the encounters as again healing is slower than watching paint dry so youre gonna have to be skilled enough to defeat enemies without the crutch of potion spam another big system that has dramatically changed is rolling like healing rolling is dependent on another attributes called agility the more points you have into agility the more invincibility frames you have while you roll this is why the combat system does feel a little bit clunky at first considering you start with very little agility considering the absurd levels of enemy tracking in this game one would think these two systems belong in two different games tracking is hard to justify in dark souls 2 especially enemies who replay inputs and have unrealistic recovery times for weapon swings hitboxes are also another problem in dark souls 2 which only serves to amplify this issue so why  __  the player early on if i had to guess its likely agility and adaptability were implemented solely for making the game seem a little bit harder at the start especially since how much the game was hyped up on its difficulty it might also be that there was so much circle strafing backstabbing going on with dark souls 1 hence the increase of large sweeping attacks countermeasures tracking and lingering hitboxes its important though to remember that souls tries to create some degree of realism with its combat and stamina system things have animation times and recovery frames you shouldnt be able to instantly heal attack and then roll dodge with no delay between your actions like your sonic the hedgehog taking actions should have a cost you should feel vulnerable which adds to the games sense of heaviness you have to find an opportunity to heal the game shouldnt allow you to do it freely and you have to decide when to attack and how to approach each combat encounter it forces you to learn the game and get better instead of mashing the f out of the roll button these are the things that make dark souls 2 so unique and as you progress through the game it clicks and arguably it feels more rewarding than any other souls game the combat dark souls 1 still embraced this mantra and it was quite good albeit it was basic but it worked the combat system though lacked the versatility that is present in dark souls 2 among things like power stancing more weapon categories more spells more consumables more weapon specific moves which is why i believe its more interesting in dark souls 2 all the while keeping enough restraints onto the player to make the game feel grounded dark souls 3 was a game where the world was your oyster excellent recovery and instant heals a generous stamina system and the ability to move while you drink a potion i enjoy many things about dark souls 3 and it has some incredible bosses maybe ill revisit that game someday in more detail too but no one can say that the game wasnt a circus rolling estus guzzling r1 spamming bonanza especially in pvp on a tangent note id also like to briefly mention the interesting twist to the lock-on mechanic which makes the combat in dark souls 2 feel initially fairly unintuitive in every single souls game except 2 if you lock onto an enemy roll in any direction and then immediately attack after the roll youll attack towards the enemy no matter what direction your character is actually facing this is very commonplace and many action games as it helps with orientation if the inputs are coming from a place of player relative space rather than the characters in dark souls 2 if you again lock on an enemy roll to the side or back and then swing youll actually attack in the direction youve rolled instead of towards the enemy this tiny little mechanic actually sums up dark souls 2 pretty well its a game that asks for a lot more intense and every command you input awkward as it may seem at first moving on to the stat system i think it flat out puts dark souls 1 to shame allowing you just enough to make the character you want but never more than that and thats a good restriction some stats and souls games are completely imbalanced such as endurance equip load being tied to the same status stamina and dark souls 1 was ridiculous it meant you could have your cake and eat it too endurance as a result was way overpowered and there was little trade-off between choosing whether to go light but nimble or slow but tanky you could have it all stats dont function like this at all in dark souls 2 which is great everything is useful and for the most part its pretty balanced theres a tremendous amount of variety in dark souls 2 and nearly everything is viable the upgrade and fusion and consumable systems work perfectly together and allows you to make any kind of character you want and still have it fairly practical for pve to an extent obviously without letting you be overpowered in every single major stat and on a side note dark souls 2 is fashion souls period and i love it its debatable though whether respecting has a place in souls as it takes away the feeling of permanency on the other though its skated behind finding soul vessels out in the world many of which are very well hidden and they are finite as well the game has an enormous and varied amount of builds and weapon combinations that perhaps its more appropriate in this game if you think about it this way not everyone is going to build 10 different characters when a single playthrough can run up to 50 hours for a brand new player what always has a place in any dark souls game though is great bosses and overall i think this is an area in dark souls 2 that maybe didnt pan out that well theres about 40 bosses in dark souls 2 and theres around a bakers dozen 30 percent of traditional big armored guy with huge weapons and multi-hit combos i dont have a problem fighting night style enemies some of them are pretty good actually and truthfully dark souls 3 had about the same proportion its just that dark souls 2 tends to homogenize how they function while dark souls 3 did not the humanoid bosses of dark souls 2 typically boil down the basic gameplay staples that are repeated over the course of the game overhead swings two hit swiping combos and a jumping or lunging attack if the player backpedals too much conversely youll also find a lot of proximity attacks that trigger if the player gets too close such as a sudden spinning counter-attack that whips in the players direction the issue with this setup is that some of the bosses can feel very samey as the game goes on which is something dark souls 3 remedied with bosses like the dancer of boreal valley they simply have more mechanical diversity granted the presentation is typically phenomenal dark souls 2 with dramatic boss introductions epic environments and tantalizing cutscenes that really get you in the mood to throw down i dont think im ever going to forget some of the bosses in dark souls 2 from this perspective alone especially king vendrick the looking glass knights sir alone and the burnt ivory king watching this guy emerge from a fiery portal like a total  __  badass was nothing short of amazing and i just wanted to kick his ass so  __  bad like any game its a mixed bag even though one could say that dark souls 2 actually has some of the best one-on-one fights like dark lurker and the fume knights they just happen to be in the same game as the old iron king sin the dragon the stupid rat boss the last giant which sets a very awful tone as its one of the first bosses the twin dragon riders and the snooze fest that is the coveness demon the issue i had with my first playthrough seven years ago was the fact that so many bosses though in this game are multi-enemy it felt unfair at first as i was still new to the game and i didnt have a grasp on the base mechanics nor did i ever bother to level up my agility stats but hey thats on me yeah okay some of them are not designed all that well but you cant blame from software for experimenting as dark souls 1 didnt really have that many multi boss fights at all so it was the time to see if it worked the versatility of the combat system is much better suited for one-on-one engagements thats for sure but if youre going to put 40 bosses into a game youre obviously going to want to throw some curve balls at the player i just wish that they would have done this with an emphasis on mechanics such as with the executioners chariot boss fight which gives you lots of different enemies and a main boss at the same time without it seeming unfair 51 hours after starting dark souls 2 for the second time i watched my character take a seat on a throne buried deep within a fortress the giant doors ever so slowly entombed me drenching my warrior in a shadow and then the game ended much to my surprise i had an incredible time going back to play dark souls 2 so much so that i now consider it my favorite dark souls game to go back and play it definitely wasnt at first but now giving it a proper go it really is superb despite it being rather hit and miss in some areas the combat is intentional and exciting the world is dreamlike and intriguing and the adventure from start to finish is just fantastic there are many moments in dark souls 2 that are frustrating some uninspired some half finished and i would shove shards of glass in my eyes before i made the run to the cool ranch smelter demon again but hey games will always have their flaws the question is can you look past them and see an amazing game on the other side og dark souls will forever be a special time in my life and something that the series never recaptured that naive nightmarish first playthrough where everything was new dark souls 2 doesnt recreate that feeling as it never could it does something different though a lot different removing itself from the story of what came before being more all-encompassing and providing a huge exciting adventure that is still tantalizingly abstract mysterious and dreamlike at its heart there was a lot that was left on the table thats for sure covenants still need more work and permanency soul memory was potentially the wrong choice here as well hitboxes never seem to work right and the game had many half realized elements like torches and world continuity some things were improved in dark souls 3 others were not but as always you take the good with the bad in any video game the soulsborne series is one of my favorites of all time so it was important for me to go back and see what i had missed with dark souls 2 but more importantly to see if i was wrong about the game when i initially wrote it off and the truth is i was dark souls 2 is actually a really great game that i can easily recommend to anyone who missed it Music you steam wood bending Essay on Dark Souls II (SOFTS Edition). Mostly PVE discussed - the PVP is also great, prob the best in the series. 51 hours played, mostly solo (summoned for help on 5-6 bosses out of the 40ish). Totally stoked for Elden Ring btw.0:01 Intro 0:58 World/Level Design & Structure 12:55 Combat & Bosses 25:11 Final Thoughts Video available in 1440p. Thumbnail Credit: #darksouls #fromsoftware how many carbs in steamed broccoli spider man game steam playing games on steam monopoly game steam epic games key to steam