Great atmosphere; Good graphics; Challenging; Fun multiplayer
Mouse and Keyboard not optimized; Input delay; Weapon glitch; Plot is boring and vague
I’m fighting against a skeleton wielding a large greatsword. I roll out of its way to dodge its first attack and immediately parry a second one with my shield. With my enemy off balance, I quickly get in a couple of slashes with my broadsword and get his health down significantly. At this point, I’m feeling confident that the fight is almost over as I roll out of the way of the skeleton’s next attack. But, to my horror, I anticlimactically fall off a cliff and die which forces me to lose all the souls I've collected.
Mouse flies in one direction, the keyboard flies in the other, and somehow there is a fist-sized hole in the monitor.
It seems to us that frustration is the currency that From Software likes to deal in when it comes to the Dark Souls franchise and Dark Souls 2 is no exception. There were many times we became frustrated as we played the game. But perhaps not for the reasons many who have played, or will play, the game will expect. But we’ll address that soon enough.
Praise the Sun! The graphics are good!
There are various reasons to like Dark Souls 2, with graphics being one of them. The game’s visuals are pleasing to the eyes with great lighting and shadow effects. The scenery looked good and is certainly a cut or two above its console counterpart. PC gamers will certainly appreciate the fact that they can go into the video settings and adjust resolution, texture, water surface, effects, and shadow quality, among other options. However, we are disappointed by the game’s limited character creation. To be fair, there are a lot of awesome-looking armor sets that will cover your character up anyhow.
Coupled with the graphics is the tone of the game which is depressing, foreboding, and scary. We never knew what was going to happen whenever we stepped through a door or walked around a corner. As if fighting all the undead, monsters, and bosses in the game aren't hard enough, there are traps and ambushes in Dark Souls 2 that kept us on our toes the entire time.
In addition, there are a plethora of secrets and hidden areas to be found that are not immediately noticeable. This made the journey through the land an enjoyable one since we liked to explore and discover things that would go unnoticed to the casual eye. It also added to the mystique and terror we felt as we pondered the risks and rewards of straying off the beaten path in hopes of finding useful items and souls.
Those souls you collect are the currency to the game. Not only are souls needed to purchase gear and level up, but it also helped our undead Knight maintain his humanity. As an undead character, there is a curse that slowly erases our hero's memories unless they can collect these souls. So we are tasked to collect many souls throughout the game. While the reasons for the soul collecting eventually become unraveled through the game, it ends up being an almost forgettable and uninteresting story.
Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?
Yet, while the game looks good, has a great atmosphere, and kept us occupied and challenged the entire time, there are many frustrating components to the game. Reasons beyond us dying over and over again, which is an experience that, for those who play challenging roguelike games, will be familiar with.
One aspect we were really annoyed with were the button prompts. All button prompts in the game are for a controller setup rather than for mouse and keyboard combo. For example, we often found ourselves having to open up the menu to see what something like the "A" button was (shift + left click, in case you were wondering). Considering we're confident many keyboard and mouse users will also be bewildered by this, it's a major oversight.
As for the M/KB layout, reconfiguring will definitely be required for a better gameplay experience. That is, unless you were born with three hands because the button layout ranges from the WASD keys, to the “O” button if you want to lock on to an enemy during combat, to the arrow keys for scrolling through equipped items. We were also left scratching our heads at the fact that the developer hadn’t even utilized the number keys above the QWERTY keys. If that isn't enough, we couldn’t even bind any actions to the fourth and fifth buttons on our mouse.
This means that Dark Souls 2 is only partially optimized for the keyboard and mouse. While the game may work better with a controller, there is no reason to alienate PC enthusiasts in this fashion. There is simply no excuse, especially not when other third-person action games such as The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (which can be played first-person as well), and Clan of Champions can do a good job of utilizing the versatility of the mouse and keyboard.
Then there is the issue we had with the game’s combat, a key selling point for the franchise and its acclaimed difficulty. For a game that requires perfect timing to parry an enemy’s attack, or land a blow of our own, we noticed about a half-second delay between mouse clicks and attack executions. While this might be attributable to the fact that the light (one click) and strong (two clicks) attacks are bound to the same key, it once again shows the developer’s error for not properly utilizing the control scheme. Especially since a special attack like Bash requires the player to press “W” and the light attack button (left mouse button) at the same time.
Dashingly handsome undead Knight reporting for duty!
Another reason for our frustration is a glitch we encountered in our very first attempt at playing the game. At the time we thought nothing of this glitch, or even considered it such. But eventually we discovered that we could only equip the starting weapon in our left hand and that, whenever we would try to do the same with the right, nothing would register and we would fight with our bare hands. The weapon would be equipped but, as far as the game was concerned, there was nothing there. So when we finally found a shield several hours later, we discovered that we could equip the shield in our left, but couldn’t equip a weapon in our right.
Suffice it to say, we had to start the game all over.
While at first this seemed to be a glitch that happened at the start of a new game, we discovered that this is not the case. During another playthrough, we recreated the same glitch simply by equipping a shield in our right hand and trying to equip a weapon in the left. Then, when we switched both items, the glitch returned. Which meant we had to start all over again if we wanted to play as a sword-and-shield-wielding Knight.
(We’ve also heard that quite a few players have experienced crashes with the game. However, we never experienced a single crash during our playthrough.)
Finally, we come to Dark Souls 2’s limited combat system. At first, we disliked it. It felt contrived to create an unnecessarily difficult experience. We also didn’t like the fact that you need to carry two different types of swords: one for open environments and one for enclosed spaces. Seems a bit contrived to us, but maybe we’re just being nitpicky.
However, we will admit that as we continued to play through the game, we became attuned to the way combat works. Maybe this is a case of Stockholm Syndrome because we did get to a point where we did appreciate Dark Souls 2's combat. But, it is nowhere near the best we have ever experienced. Not when we compare it to the aforementioned combat systems of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. But it is hardly the worst combat experience we've had.
We got so frustrated by the combat that we smashed this guy into the wall!
Those who enjoy the combat system, however, will certainly like Dark Souls 2 for both its singleplayer and multiplayer campaigns. We were able to work together with other players to fight the game’s bosses and even invaded someone elses' game and fought them.
Overall, Dark Souls 2 is a fine game. But it will be frustrating for many PC gamers who use a mouse and keyboard to play (unless modders or the developer itself improves it). It will also be frustrating for those who might not have the patience to learn the ins and outs of the game. But those that enjoy it will find that they will be spending a lot of time in the land of Drangleic.