Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: From Software
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release date: Out Now, PC (April 25th)

The feeling you get playing Dark Souls II is akin to someone who can’t swim suddenly without warning, gets tossed into murky shark infested waters and is expected to survive. Just like in its predecessor Dark Souls, you will die a thousand deaths in one of the most frustrating yet exhilarating RPGs that have ever graced consoles.

Dark Souls II opening lets you know right away what kind of hellish ride the gamer is in for when a smiling, gap-toothed crone, tells you that you're cursed. Players take on the role of a character who doesn’t speak (it’s kind of funny hearing your voiceless character groan when he takes a kill shot despite never talking) who has been exiled to a strange land called Drangleic. As time passes, the main character's body and mind will give in to the process of hollowing which means he becomes undead. The only way they can stop it is to hunt down four great souls and discover the truth of why this kingdom fell. Becoming hollow or undead is a fate that can’t be avoided considering how challenging the game is. A single death strips a character of his optimized human state, rendering him hollowed. Each death leading to hollowing and death after hollowing reduces a character's maximum HP.  Health recovery is attained by collecting and utilizing both Estus potions and life gems. Essentially you slow down or reverse your character’s hollow state by consuming a Human Effigy, a fairly rare and precious item. This makes resource management even more important, especially during the early stages.

Everything in the world of Drangleic is new, with an endless amount of blind corners for you to stumble about until you meet your death. In fact dying is the only thing that is certain, but Dark Souls II encourages you to die so that you can learn from your mistakes in battle. The world is huge. Developer FromSoftware has stated that the world is five times larger than the first Dark Souls, and even though a lot of that is the fact that many zones now have more lavish real-time backgrounds. Exploration is vital in this game and you will use bonfires to travel through an expanded fast-travel system. Fast travel between any bonfire you've kindled is unlocked right from the beginning of the game but it was kind of irritating when you have to warp back to the hub area whenever you want to exchange souls for stat upgrades. I would’ve liked if we didn’t have to backtrack so much, but it is a small gripe in the grand scheme of things.

The fight system (and there are a ton of weird monsters you will have to battle) while simplistic is one of the most endearing things about Dark Souls II. Always favoring an old-school style of hack and slash, there are hordes of enemies to fight, tons of traps to spring, and locations that are deliberately designed just to kill you. You’ll have to be careful where you tread in some places lest you fall down a thousand feet to your death but as always, patience will be rewarded. Boss battles can be brutal as a few fights are just damn hard. Expect a lot of humanoid encounters and a few bosses that will make you want to throw your controller across the room in frustration. One big difference from the first Dark Souls is the fact that enemies stop respawning after killing them 10 times in a zone. This serves two purposes: shutting down soul farming, and removing the frustration of making a mistake against a creep you’ve already killed a dozen times on the well-travelled route from bonfire to boss. The main appeal of Dark Souls II is that while difficult, you are rewarded for perseverance and good strategy. It’s very satisfying to triumph over adversity and beat that boss you struggled with because you finally picked up his attack pattern. Unlike most other RPGs, where you can typically level up your character until a fight becomes easy enough, or button mash until you get lucky, in Dark Souls that strategy doesn’t exist. You have to level yourself up as a player, devise a strategy which will work, and execute it successfully before you destroy the controller in frustration. When you do, the adrenaline rush is intense.

The XXL Endgame

People worried when FromSoftware said they wanted to make their game more accessible fearing that would translate into an easier game. I’m here to tell you that isn’t the case at all. Dark Souls II will still keep you up way into the wee hours of the night as you try to defeat the roughly 60 hour campaign. Dark Souls II is a smart, massive, and incredibly rewarding sequel.—written by DJRhude (@DJRhude)

XXL Rating: XL

Dark Souls II was reviewed on a retail copy provided by Namco for the PS3