But those veterans amongst us will already know what to expect from a Souls game. The biggest changes for those returning sadists are slight deviations in the game's setup. The hub of Majula serves as both a safe haven and a place to spend your souls. No longer do bonfires allow you to level up at, but instead a mysterious cowled woman leads the charge for the essence of those you have killed.
Grind has also changed somewhat. The rinse-and-repeat process of farming certain areas is now contained to a limited amount respawns. Each time a bonfire is lit to reset the environment of its foes, an invisible counter is ticking to an inevitable end, meaning that level grind takes on a different, and somewhat more forced-to-progress edge.
But the most substantial of the changes are simply within the game world itself. Drangleic is an eerie and awesome spectacle to behold. The landscape haunts you, without ever feeling too daunting to explore. Outlast this isn't, but it still holds its own mesmeric horror within.
DS2 isn't without faults though and some might question if this is enough of a change. The list of tweaks and modifications are fairly light, and in many respects this is the same adventure told through different textures.
It’s this familiarity however that makes DS2 such a refined product. From Software have the formula down to an art form, with the varied environments bustling with interesting and surprising moments. This isn’t a game that suffers from glitches or many wrong moves. There’s a heft, weight, and purpose behind the design, and for the most part, it’s a pleasure to play.
Unfortunately though, this doesn’t always stretch into the visual department. DS2 is now a last generation game, and as such is seems old long before its time. The assorted treats of the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and always progressive PC, has somewhat mired the new tricks that this latest instalment can perform. Lighting is better, but there’s a general jaggy and murky edge to proceeding this time around. If it wasn’t for the sheer amount of time spent on my character, I’d suggest a next-gen ‘enhanced edition’. Pipe dream?
Interestingly for a game that often feels eerie, mysterious, and scary, you never fall completely isolated. Messages and bloodstains litter the various stages always reminding you of a combined struggle enjoyed by everyone playing the series. It builds a strange camaraderie between players that have such little contact and summoning someone into your world for either help or a fight adds to the proceedings.
DS2 is essentially as long as you want it to be. The game scales is difficulty meaning the number of locations on offer may seem at first limited, but the time taken to get there is especially long. Add into this equipment and character grind, you have a game that will take you in excess of 100 hours to completely exhaust.
With all of the above in mind, it’s hard not to deem DS2 a total success. It’s just a well designed adventure from start to finish. Having once been an ardent hater of the series, I feel like I have discovered something within the code that has revealed the game’s charms to me finally.
So for the past couple of days, I've spent my time in the dreary fantasy world of DS2 developing a fear of corners and attack patterns. Tight corridors now make my legs tremble ever so slightly, and I've taken to building bonfires in 'safe areas'.
I now no longer look at the world with simple eyes. I'm weighing up the pros and cons of venturing down that road, that path, or that slightly ropey looking foot bridge. Friends are no longer, just souls that could be harvested - if I should wish to go down a 'stabby' route - but really, for the most part, I'm just spending a hell of a lot of time playing Dark Souls 2.
I hated the first two, but From Software's ever so slightly softer edge has ensnared me this time around. If you're a fan of character development, frustration, and mechanics that hark back to the 8-bit era, then you might have found your latest gaming beau.