This is an unrepentantly ruthless dungeon crawler aimed squarely at hardcore players. Read on for our Dark Souls 2 review
Three years ago Dark Souls caused something of a stir within the ranks of the gaming community. In a time when many games were aimed at empowering and entertaining players, Dark Souls adhered to an old-school aesthetic.
Here was a game that was hard - rock hard - and made absolutely no apologies for it. Its submit-or-die demeanour repelled as many players as it attracted. Those players who were seduced by its brutal delights became torchbearers, while those who weren't dismissed it as a needlessly nasty taskmaster. When it came to Dark Souls, players took sides.
Dark Souls 2: Difficulty
To a degree the series' history - which began with the PS3 exclusive Demon's Souls - makes this review redundant. If you ever played and disliked Dark Souls, close this browser and leave; there is nothing for you here. While the developers have talked a good game about making their dungeon crawler more accessible they've made sure the game's hardcore appeal remains intact. Dark Souls 2 is a beast of a game.
In the opening ten minutes there's no helpful tutorial. No set of guidelines that lay out the mechanics and the game's structure. There's just some dialogue from a group of snaggle-toothed crones who cackle about how hard everything's going to be. We urge you to listen to them. They aren't lying.
Dark Souls 2: Features
In truth, that's exactly the way the target audience for this game wants it. Oh sure, there are features in Dark Souls 2 that look like concessions - such as the ability to fast-travel between levels using bonfires - but they're balanced by hideously harsh new aspects; the player's health bar, for example, drops slightly every time they die until they're respawning with half of their health unless they burn an effigy. Oh, and effigies are in short supply so good luck with that.
Dying also means you're stripped of any souls you've collected, which, as was the case with Dark Souls, means failure carries a very immediate cost. Like its predecessor, Dark Souls 2 isn't a game players can button-bash through. There's a very real need to work out timing, mechanics and enemy attack patterns if you don't want to end up infinitely frustrated. Dark Souls 2 rewards only those who are prepared to put the work in.
Covenants are back, but they're more open ended this time round. Depending on which Covenant players choose to enter into, they can find themselves either working to the detriment of other players or calling on them for help against other human players.
Dark Souls 2: Gameplay
The key to playing, or enjoying, or surviving Dark Souls 2, is wrapped up in knowing what you're signing up for. While it may look like an RPG, Dark Souls 2 is actually a series of spring-loaded deathtraps, each one more punishing than the last.
You only progress in this game if you're prepared to learn attack animations, leverage clunky controls and take a vested interest in applying pieces of equipment and every XP point you earn in exactly the right faculty. You have to give yourself to Dark Souls 2 or it'll eat you right out of the gate.
Dark Souls 2: Verdict
If this doesn't sound like fun then, well, we can't blame you. Like all great art, Dark Souls 2 isn't for everybody and one shouldn't feel deprived if they don't immediately feel like signing up to its arduous pact.
But for those players seeking a challenge, Dark Souls 2 offers an experience few can match. It is, when all the hyperbole is bagged and tagged, superb at what it does. And what it does is roll a red carpet to hell out to any player brave enough to take up the challenge.
Dark Souls 2 release date: 14 March 2014
Dark Souls 2 price: £39.99