Review: Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin (PS4/PS3)

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Title: Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (12.1 GB)
Release Date: April 7, 2015
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games America Inc.
Developer: From Software
Original MSRP: $59.99 (PS4) / $39.99 (PS3)
ESRB Rating: M
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is also available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
The PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 disc versions were used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena

Arthur Schopenhauer hit the nail on the head. Normally we do not understand the importance of something until we have lost it. Dark Souls II takes this mantra to heart – in death and in life.

Dark Souls II is without a doubt the perfect sequel to one of 2011’s best titles, Dark Souls. Throughout the journey from announcement to release date, Dark Souls II came under a lot of scrutiny due to the news concerning the level of difficulty of the game. Comments made by the two new directors of the series were leaving fans of the original pulling their hair out in anger, thinking that the game would lose that special combination of unforgiving difficulty, no hand-holding, and uncertainty. At the time those concerns were warranted, but now with the final product out in the world Dark Souls II is just as hard as the original, maybe even harder.

From Software set out to make Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin a new experience not just for newcomers to the franchise, but even for the people who have already beaten the original game. With new enemy placements, new weapon locations, and alternate routes, there is a lot that has changed from back when the game initially launched on the PlayStation 3.

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Gameplay:
Dark Souls II has a tendency of enjoying watching you die – and trust me, you will die, and die a lot. Even when you think you have mastered the game it will still find a way to kill you. The enjoyment of your death is so important to the game that there is even a statue in the main town that keeps track of worldwide deaths.

Though the title does indeed instill a sense of continuation regarding the story from Dark Souls, the story and setting in Dark Souls II stands separate from the events of the original game. Drangleic, the once stunning kingdom home of the great King Vendrick, has given way to the darkness of the undead. You’ll travel the land, searching for a way to save yourself from becoming a hollow while also uncovering the history of this once great kingdom.

While the story is a lot more fleshed out and easier to follow than in the original game, there is still a high level of uncertainty when it comes to truly understanding the story of Drangleic and the story of the world you are playing in. It makes you create a lot of the story for yourself based on what you have found (which come on, trying to figure out the lore for yourself is one the most enjoyable things of the Dark Souls series. Trust me, go look some up.). Most tidbits will be learned through the multiple NPC characters you encounter along your journey, but there are countless other things you need to pay attention to in order to gain a grasp on what is and has transpired in this universe of terror.

… the ability to play literally however you want …
Drangleic is a massive world full of interesting, creepy, beautiful, and dreadful locations all brimming with enemies ready to end your life. In your quest to stave off becoming a hollow you’ll travel to these various locations throughout the kingdom and do battle with all sorts of terrors. Even with the countless enemies keeping you an inch away from death, don’t let the beautiful locations fool you as they can be just as deadly if you underestimate them. While your journey will be long and hard, taking your life hundreds of times, it is all important on the quest to your final goal.

The various enemies you will come in contact with, from the first you run into to the massive bosses, will challenge your skill and patience while giving you the necessary knowledge to continue your quest. Be prepared not only to face off against some very difficult enemies, but to be swarmed by a group at one time. The inclusion of having to fight off two or more enemies at once has really upped the difficulty from Dark Souls.

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One of the best things about Dark Souls II is the ability to play literally however you want. Yes there are classes, eight to be exact, but you are in no way pigeon-holed into playing how your class is meant to be played. A perfect example is that during my original playthrough, my class was a Swordsman. The Swordsman is built, as the name suggests, to use swords in order to deal with his foes. On my New Game+ run I have turned my character into an unstoppable wizard, full of powerful destruction magic. This freedom of really deciding for yourself how you want to play the game is fantastic and a lot of other RPGs need to take this approach to non-restrictive classes.

For people who have not played a game in the series before, be that Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, you will be in for a big learning curve to fully gain an understanding of the fighting system. Yes, the standard attack and block mechanic are easy enough for anyone to do, but those are just the tip of what is possible when you go into battle. Once everything clicks, which could take a while, there is no other game that offers the same satisfaction of laying waste to your enemies than Dark Souls II. The fighting never gets boring and even when you trod through the same location time and time again you’ll still stop at every enemy to take them out.

… visually one of the best games available for the PlayStation 3 …
As I mentioned before, Dark Souls II is nothing like the original Dark Souls. There are countless things that the developers have tweaked and changed that initially scared a lot of people yet ended up being wonderful. While I could tell you everything that has changed, that would take away some of the allure of Dark Souls II – the unknown and discovery.

With the release of Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, From Software wanted to change up some key things to make it a new experience for everyone, not just new players. From the very beginning you’ll come into contact with baddies that normally didn’t appear until far later in the game. And don’t be fooled, just because these certain enemies appear earlier in the game doesn’t mean they are weaker versions of themselves… for they are not.

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Additionally, if you remembered specific weapons/items locations, be prepared to be let down when you try to find those again. Again, From Software wanted to make the whole game new for everyone and they even went so far as to move the placement of weapons/items. A certain key item that I wanted to find early in the game has made a move, resulting in multiple deaths as I tried to locate it.

Along with the original game, From Software has packaged in the three DLC packs that released after Dark Souls II hit the market, adding around twenty extra hours of fantastic content to the game.

Visuals:
From the opening cinematic to the closing credits, Dark Souls II is stunning. While the visuals were obviously downgraded in order to work on the older generation of systems, the PS4/Xbox One versions are the exact same as the PC version.

Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is highly detailed and looks fantastic. Character models, enemies, and NPCs each have their own unique and distinct look, never giving you the feeling that you have seen the same thing more than once. Looking at everything in the game and realizing how detailed it all is coupled with the game’s ability to run smoothly is a true feat of engineering on From Software’s part and it makes my mouth water at the thought of a future PlayStation 4 Dark Souls game.

… the game has received a substantial content update …
While the game is visually one of the best games available for the PlayStation 3, it isn’t without the occasional hiccup. Fortunately they are so minuscule that they rarely even matter. The first frames I noticed being dropped were in a late portion of the game while I was playing it safe by sniping an enemy way off in the distance. When the arrow would hit you could see the drop. Other than that small issue, the game ran smooth and never stuttered.

The game received multiple enhancements to the graphics and frame rate. Over on the PlayStation 4, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin runs at a smooth 60 FPS and the new, enhanced graphics really shine. While the difference in graphic fidelity isn’t anything impressive (it still looks like a PlayStation 3 game) the improvements are noticeable when the two versions are compared side by side.

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Audio:
Personally I am not a big proponent of video game soundtracks. Yes, some can be nice and really pull me into the game I’m playing, but I usually forget about that aspect rather quickly. Not so with Dark Souls II’s soundtrack. Needless to say, I have added the whole thing to my iPhone and I am constantly listening to it even when I am not playing the game. The whole group of songs is fantastic on their own and adds so much to the emotions you experience during your time with the game.

I did experience random occurrences of the audio being drastically delayed from the actions on the screen. The normal satisfaction of landing a killing blow on an enemy and hearing the particular sound of your sword hitting them, them making some noise of pain and then the sound of them decaying into a mass of flying souls will occasionally be gone, removing most of the satisfaction that you normally would experience. Thankfully the de-sync of audio rarely happens, so this wasn’t a big issue at all.

… invades will happen a lot more …
Online/Multiplayer:
The multiplayer portion of the game has received a substantial content update from what was present in Dark Souls. The basic structure is still there, but the developers wanted to make it easier for people to connect to each other.

While walking around the world you will come across various images displayed on the ground which will allow you to interact in some way with someone else in their game. Depending on the color of the text or icon that you see, you can go into their world or they are able to come into yours, which the game refers to as ‘Summoning’. The color or icon also dictates what the rules of the Summon are. One color may mean that you can bring someone into your world to help you get past a particular area or a specific boss while another color may mean that a person can be Summoned into your world with a sole purpose of killing you.

The big caveat in Summoning a person into your game is that the other person has to meet certain requirements based on your character’s level and Soul count. If the person you want to bring into your world is far weaker or stronger than you are, it will be almost impossible to Summon them in.

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Possibly the best part of having someone else in the game, besides making the difficulty slightly easier, is that you can witness how other people build out their classes. You can gain insightful information just by watching how the person has crafted their class and it could give you help on how to build yours.

One aspect of the multiplayer portion of Dark Souls that I could never wrap my head around was the Player vs. Player (PvP) world. I rarely invaded or got invaded by someone looking to kill me so when it did happen, I annihilated them each time. Though you may not like it, invades will happen a lot more to you in Dark Souls II. There are even specific areas that you have to go through where people will automatically invade your world, forcing you into a fight with them. While initially I didn’t enjoy the game making me fight another person, I now believe that it may be one of the best parts of the game.

Conclusion:
Dark Souls II continues the brutally difficult series brilliantly and takes it to new heights that its predecessor could not. Everything about the game is fantastic and will keep you playing for hours. I’ve already spent just under sixty-four hours in the world of Drangleic and I can’t wait to spend countless more. Dark Souls II shows just how good an RPG can be when every element works together – it produces an amazing game.

The new additions and upgrades that the original game received for the Scholar of the First Sin version are substantial enough to warrant a re-purchase for fans of the original. As an added bonus, the included DLC is some of the best content of the entire game, so getting that for free is amazing.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Kyle Jessee

Kyle Jessee

Your lone Kentucky writer on staff. Loves the Big Blue Nation, rock music, and Resistance 2 (the best in the series).

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