Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Dark Souls 2 PC - My Impressions

Let's start by saying this is not a review as such, just my impressions, so if you want a proper pro review it's probably better to go elsewhere.  However, I will be talking about what I like and dislike and a few of the issues that need to be fixed, but probably won't be.

So, here goes:

I've been playing this game every single day for hours upon hours since it was released and I was able to activate it on Steam.  If I'm not playing I'm thinking about playing and what I'll do next, where to go, what upgrades I want to do, different strategies for a boss I'm having difficulty with etc, etc.  I think I've already played this game, and will play in the future, more than any other game I've ever played before. 

I currently have two characters.  One a pure strength build, although I am now leveling her to add some magic, ie Lightning Spear, to help deal with the harder areas now she's reached Castle Drangleic.  My +10 Claymore and Great Club do amazing damage, but my reflexes aren't what they were years ago and having arthritic hands doesn't help sometimes.  However, I take things carefully and I'm ultra aware of my surroundings and having an upgraded bow using poison arrows has saved me many a time.   I will admit that I bypassed one main boss because it was so irritating, but I had the requisite number of souls to enter the Shrine of Winter so I could progress.  More on that boss later.

Now I've started a second character, a mage/melee hybrid, my melee skills have improved which I've taken to my strength character with more success.  Playing a mage makes me paranoid as any enemy, even the lowliest hollow can one hit me if they get close enough.  I use Hexes and Miracles as well as a +10 magic Bastard Sword but I may upgrade to another weapon later.

I don't do PvP. I'm not good enough, although I have managed to kill most invaders, which in fact have been very few.   I think I've only been invaded half a dozen times in all the time I've been playing, except when I've wandered into PvP zones by mistake, for example The Grave of the Saints, or the Belfries.  Going there is asking to be ganked by not just one, but two or more players so it's not worth the effort unless I choose to play offline or burn an Effigy and they aren't easy to come by.   It's just annoying to me not to be able to investigate an area because I'm continually being summoned as a gray spirit or invaded in those areas.

I played Dark Souls 1 for many, many hours and loved it, but I'm finding I like Dark Souls 2 even more and I don't miss GFWL(Windows Live) and it's issues.  So far on only one occasion have I not been able to login to the Steam servers and that was a global problem.  There are so many cheats and hackers playing Dark Souls 1 now that it's become unpleasant to say the least being in human mode and trying to reach a boss because you'll just be invaded and ganked either by cheats or low level players with high level gear.  There are cheats making their way into Dark Souls 2 which, I believe was blocked by VAC, Steam's anti cheat function, but for some unknown reason VAC had been disabled for the game allowing more cheating.

The second half, or more the last third, of Dark Souls 1 was more of an annoyance, for me, in some ways though.   I didn't much like the Lost Izalith levels which even the developers admit wasn't well optimized.  I'm not a fan of red and black lava levels for ages and the bosses in that area were just irritating and reiterations of previous bosses in numbers, rather than challenging.

I don't own a console so haven't played Demon Souls although I have watched some Let's Plays.  I like the way some things were brought forward to Dark Souls 2, although at times having to travel back and forth to level up so I don't lose a ton of souls can take me out of the game, so to speak.  I'm not sure how I feel about being able to fast travel from the start, but since the levels aren't connected in the same way as in Dark Souls 1 it's become a necessity.  Not to mention as I said, carrying around a lot of souls is asking for trouble, so it's always back to Majula to level or buy and upgrade gear to be safe.

A word about summoning help.  I know a lot of players look down on people who summon help for bosses.  Well, good for you, get over it.  It's part of the game, and in the Lore, just like invading other players, and I have summoned help several times, usually after trying it for myself first.  After I do though I always spend a lot of time paying back by helping others with those same bosses.  It's rewarding as well as a way to get rewards and souls.  The boss I will always summon for, even if it's just the NPC, is the Ruin Sentinels, this games answer to the New Londo Archers.  It's an optional boss but that area has a lot of hidden stuff to find otherwise I would avoid them altogether.

There is so much I love about this game but here are just a few things that stand out:

A minor thing maybe, but I love that the game never crashes, unlike others I could name, and I personally have had no issues at all with stability.  I use a SweetFX Preset to give the graphics just that bit more depth and richness, otherwise I think the graphics are pretty good, if perhaps faded looking. 

I like that I now have to watch my weapons durability and have other weapons upgraded and in my inventory just in case.  I always carry repair powder, but except for the very early parts of the game on my first playthrough I haven't really had a problem with a weapon breaking.

The changes to the "Lock On" mechanic.  I much prefer the way you have more freedom of movement while being locked on and not only being able to circle the enemy.  I can still keep them in view while being able to direct my blows the way I want.  It took a little getting used to early on, but it's become instinctive.

There are no useless stats.  Adaptability is an essential and getting it to at least 20 is a huge bonus to resistances as well as faster usage of consumables and dodging i-frames.

You can't farm indefinitely now as enemies stop spawning after a certain number of kills.  But, you can use an item at a bonfire that re-populates an area, including bosses.  However, this makes the enemies harder and is permanent.  I haven't neeeded it yet as I haven't de-populated all areas but by this stage you know what you're dealing with so it shouldn't be that hard.

Exploration is rewarding.  So many hidden things to discover.

You can aim spells with the binoculars although they don't have a cross hair, but you get used to it.  The binoculars are in the weapon category as well so that's a plus.

After a critical you can now hit enemies while they are down instead of waiting until they recover. 

After the first playthrough, as in Dark Souls 1 you can got to New Game + multiple times where new items, enemies and other events happen.  I haven't got there yet but am looking forward to at least NG+ once. 

Anyway, there's so much to like, in my opinion, I can't list it all, but there are a few annoyances, as with most games.  No game is perfect.

 A few Cons:

One of my biggest bugbears, and this included Dark Souls 1, is the way collision boxes on geometry block obvious visible paths to fire arrows or spells, especially when sniping, how an enemies weapon will pass through walls to hit me but my weapon hits the geometry, (as it should,) and other attacks, especially things like the beam attack from one boss in particular, kept passing through brick and rock walls to hit me.  It really frustrates me when I'm sniping an enemy above or below me, and I can see them clearly, but my arrows hit a wall or the floor.

Next most annoying...Irritating cheap bosses with extra minions that are often the cause of death before the boss even has a chance...ie the Dukes Dear Freja.  The bonfire is so far from the boss and you have to kill so many enemies to get there, but then it has all these minions that swarm you.  That can be dealt with though with care, but having to trudge though all these enemies just to get to the boss isn't actually hard,  but is damn tedious when all I want is to get there and fight the boss.

Input is sometimes (often) unresponsive, for the 360 controller at least, creating dead zones where input is not recognized.   Jump attacks and Block Break are so inconsistent as to not be worth trying because they only work erratically, if at all.  The controller doesn't appear to recognize the input which can result in a quick death.  Chaining actions doesn't always work either.  There are a lot of complaints about it so it's not just me.

The big one that everybody hates...Soul Memory.  Why they did this I'll never know.  Supposedly it was supposed to stop high level players from preying on low levels ones as in Dark Souls 1, but all it does is prevent co-op and people who want to play together being able to connect at the same time.  There are a ton of threads about this so I'm not going into detail except to say it's a pain and is not stopping cheats which are the ones who need to be stopped, but that's probably impossible.

Some areas of the game absolutely require the use of a torch or some other light source, eg the Light Spell if you're a magic user, but torches cannot be purchased from vendors.  The only way is so get them from enemy drops or sometimes in chests or other loot, so if you run out before going to The Gutter (hellish place, second only to Black Gulch and it's poison spitters) you'll be running around in almost pitch black darkness.  And that is a real nightmare.

A couple of very minor things that should be mentioned are the NPC's who continually repeat the same lines of dialogue when you go to them.  The worst offender is the Emerald Herald, someone you have to speak to to level up.  Vendors do it as well so it becomes a clicking race to get through the repetition to actually do what you wanted.

When exiting the game you have to once again go through logging into the servers and another menu.   It should be a simple return to the Menu and "Do you wish to Save and Exit"  Yes/No and that's it you're back at your Desktop.  It's totally unnecessary.  Maybe there's a reason for it, but I don't know what it is.

In general though, this game is the best I've ever played and the complaints, except for Soul Memory can be overcome.

Thanks to FROM SOFTWARE for a great game.  Looking forward to the next one.

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