Right, now the formalities are dealt with, let’s talk about Dark Souls II.

Dark Souls was released in 2011 and its sequel, Dark Souls II, has been hotly-anticipated since its announcement in 2012. The original won universal critical acclaim and has been dubbed not only one of the best RPGs, but one of the most difficult games of all time.  As anyone who has played Dark Souls will testify, it was a punishingly-frustrating game, which divided many. The hard core RPG fans of the world relished the challenge, whereas, the more casual gamers, who play video games for actual enjoyment, soon tired of the constant failure that riddled the game’s campaign. So, does Dark Souls II offer anything different? The short answer is no. If you’re looking for a longer answer, it’s nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

I don’t consider myself a RPG enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination. I do, however, understand the draw of the genre, and appreciate the scale, intricacies and technical achievements of a good RPG. Dark Souls II falls into that category. It’s a fantastic RPG.

The game, as did its predecessor, centres around the mystical land of Drangleic, an expansive, varied and impressive world, wherein our protagonist commences his journey. Unfortunately, he’s feeling a bit under the weather. In fact, he’s not feeling very well at all. Actually, truth be told, he’s a bit dead. OK, I’ll level with you, he’s undead. He’s been cursed and is in Drangleic to find a cure, which is ironic, as it was his little jaunt to Drangleic that cursed him in the first place. Along the way, he meets various others who share his affliction. In order to end his curse, our undead friend must feed from the souls of the Drangleician population, in order to maintain his humanity for long enough to allow him to seek out the source of the curse. As the curse’s grip grows ever-tighter on the undead, their memories fade away and all that is human disappears, leaving behind a soulless husk or ‘Hollow’. This sounds like a bit of a ball-ache, so it’s understandable that he’s keen to avoid this particular eventuality. All in all, it’s a chirpy narrative and not at all depressing.

Very early on, our zombie finds himself at the door of a little tree house, which is inhabited by a gaggle of toothless, cackling old hags that start laughing at him, the second he walks in. At this early stage, it’s easy to assume he’s walked in on a shady W.I. meeting. One of the more frighteningly-ugly ladies explains his mission in a particularly vague and unhelpful fashion. She then gives our character the opportunity to select his identity, in the time-honoured RPG way. However, this time it isn’t quite the same. Instead of being asked to input his name, he’s asked to try to remember it, which cements my W.I. theory. The ugly old moose then proceeds to congratulate him on remembering his name, which would normally be patronising, but in this case, it feels strangely complementary. She then decides to give him a present, which is not a slice of manky Victoria Sponge or a tepid and grey cup of tea, but is disappointingly what appears to be a wicker model of an acorn. Yeah, cheers, love….Don’t worry next time. It’s like going to see you great gran in the home. She remembers who you are, eventually and gives you a sculpture she’s made, which turns out to be a turd on a plate.


It transpires that this seemingly pointless gift is a Human Effigy. Really? I can only assume that people shaped like acorns are the norm in these parts. Maybe the game’s it’s based in Cornwall. Anyway, the Human Effigy restores our character to human form, which is the cue to select his physical attributes.

There are eight ‘Classes’ to choose from; Warrior, Knight, Swordsman, Bandit, Cleric, Sorcerer, Explorer and Deprived. These all offer different levels of ability, outfits and starting inventory. Incidentally, if a player opts to be Deprived, their character is naked and carries absolutely nothing in their inventory, which seems like a completely sensible way to start an RPG campaign. As well as Classes, the player can select from a range of ‘Gifts’, which are essentially special abilities and items the player can opt to start their campaign with. These Gifts range from items like Nothing, which is precisely that, to a Life Ring, which isn’t the anti-abortion activist accessory it appears to be. It actually marginally-increases our character’s HP. Another item is the Seed of a Tree of Giants, which, despite its cool name, is described simply as a seed that’s inedible. Wonderful. My favourite item on this list is the Petrified Something, which is described as a lump that may or may not prove useful. You can imagine the creative meeting at From Software’s H.Q:

“Right, we have seven gifts done, but the boss says we need eight. Any ideas? Terry?”

“Erm, what about some sort of petrified……something?”

“What does it do?”

“Erm, it’s a lump and it…….might come in useful at some point.”

“That’ll do. Pub?”

So, to clarify, if a player opts to be Deprived, with Nothing as his Gift, your character will be naked, empty-handed and devoid of any discernible ability. So, effectively, it’s possible to play as a guest on Jeremy Kyle, the morning after his horrifically-depressing Stag Night.

Once these particular elements have been chosen, the player can adjust the appearance of the character. Now, we all know how this works; we choose a hairstyle, hair colour, skin colour and build. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t end there. The options are exhaustive and, to be blunt, pointless. Have you ever wished to adjust the protrusion of your Glabella? Yes? Well now you can! It’s possible to spend hours choosing from the cornucopia of options here, which is ridiculous. Everyone knows what happens when you’re given the opportunity to build a character; you build a more attractive and heroic version of yourself, which is precisely what I did.

Once the selections have been locked in, the game can actually begin. The ugly old goose lady tells another vague, depressing and dementia-riddled story of souls and sends your character on his way. You might ask:

“Trevor, on his way to what?”

Well, I’ll tell you…..On his way to several weeks of frustration, rage, death, despair and hatred.

Allow me to tell you a story.

The First Hour of Dark Souls II – A Tale of Death

After leaving the tree house, I happen upon a small bonfire in the back garden, which is pretty. I soon learn that this bonfire is a check point, and my opportunity to save my progress. Hopefully, these will crop up regularly. I have a little sit down at the fire and decide it’s time to begin my quest, despite not really knowing what it is I’m meant to do. My only clues have come from that ropey old witch in the tree house.

I tentatively walk along a path and find myself in a forest, in which there are several different paths from which to choose. I make my way towards the nearest path and proceed to fall down a hole, killing me instantly. I find myself back at the last check point, the bonfire I’d only left moments earlier. It appears that my maximum health has reduced. This is an unfortunate turn of events. It transpires that every time I die, my maximum health reduces until it reaches 50%. It also appears that the face I spent twenty minutes building is now that of a zombie. Well, that’s just peachy and not at all a waste of my time. Never mind, on I go. I leave the security of the bonfire, back up the path and back to the point of my recent death. I note that, at the very point of my demise, there lies a glowing orb, which represents the souls I’d collected up to that point. I touch the orb and retrieve the souls, which amount to zero. I’ve learned from my earlier mistake and manage to avoid the chasm that had previously claimed my life. I walk along my chosen path and am confronted by a man, or at least a close approximation of one, who immediately stabs me in the face, killing me instantly. I arrive back at the now familiar bonfire and head back along the path to face my foe, now ready for his attack. I approach my enemy and deliver three swift blows with my sword, killing him and collecting his soul as I do so. I continue in the darkness and turn a corner. As I do so, another enemy lunges at me, killing me instantly. I’m returned to the bonfire. So far, I’m enjoying the experience of being killed every three minutes and respawning with ever-reduced health and an increasingly rotten face. I’ve realised I no longer have the soul I collected from my earlier victim. No matter, I’ll simply return to my last point of death and retrieve it. I walk along the path, side-step the hole, kill the first enemy, turn the corner and kill the second enemy. My retrieval point is nearby, but before I can touch it, an enemy runs at me from behind, killing me instantly. I arrive at the bonfire, weary from my extensive travels. I now have a worryingly-low maximum health and my face now resembles a melting Deidre Barlow. I’d better get back to that retrieval point, quick sharp. I walk along the path, side step the hole, despatch the first enemy, turn the corner, deal with the second, turn around and seek vengeance on the third. I’m getting good at this. Now, where’s that retrieval point? Oh, yes, that’s right. If you die before you manage to reach your previous retrieval point, it’s gone forever. Never mind, I’m sure there are plenty more souls to collect. I turn the next corner and fall down another hole, killing me instantly. Surprisingly, I find myself back at the bonfire, soulless, even uglier and now anxious of further exploration. I notice I’m still carrying the Human Effigy I was given by the old goat in the tree house. I use it. Miraculously, it restores my maximum HP and my face returns to human form. This is more like it. Those foes and holes are no match for me, now. I walk down the path, side step the hole, stab the first enemy square in the eye, turn the corner, poke my blade all up in the second enemy’s grill, turn around, do over the third enemy, turn the corner, side step the hole and continue on my journey. I come to a cliff top and take the opportunity to stop and enjoy the view. Wait, what was that noise? Oh, it was the sound of a sword, slashing my spine in two, killing me instantly. I’m back at the bonfire, back to being ugly and back to having reduced health. I briefly contemplate throwing my controller at the TV. I then briefly contemplate suicide. I then briefly contemplate burning my entire house to the ground but instead opt to turn off the Xbox and have a cup of tea.

The End

As you’ll see, death is the primary theme of this gaming experience. It’s not the player’s mission to avoid death. Death is central to the story, which is handy, as dying is what you’ll spend the vast majority of your time doing.

Playing Dark Souls II is a perpetual whirlpool of frustration, but I’ve barely scratched the surface. Here are some more details:

In this game, souls are currency, much like in the music business. They can be exchanged for goods, abilities and help the player to level up.

Enemies do not respawn indefinitely. Once the player kills an enemy twelve, yes twelve times, that enemy is gone forever. The very fact that this feature exists is evidence that the game has been developed to be too difficult for most players.

For those on Xbox Live, when in the single player campaign, bloodstains will be dotted around the world. These are points of death of other players. There is an option to touch the bloodstain. Doing so will manifest a ghost of that player and will show the last moments of that player’s life, which is an amusing and reassuring touch.

Another fun touch is the use of a messaging system. At certain points, messages will appear, burnt into the ground. These are messages from other players. Sometimes, they’re useful pieces of information about nearby items or forewarnings of peril ahead. Mostly, however, they’re deliberately misleading. In any event, they offer a certain amount of interaction and are a fun distraction.

The multiplayer elements of the game are enjoyable, but they’re certainly not a selling point. There is a co-op campaign, which manifests itself in the single player campaign. Items called White Soapstone can be used to summon another player into your game, which is simply a rewarded, RPGified Invite facility. Player vs. Player duelling is also made possible with the use of a Dark Spirit Summoning Sign.

Covenants also play a significant part in the campaign. Covenants are factions that a player can join, upon a particular interaction with an NPC. Once part of that Covenant, the player must abide by certain behavioural guidelines and can be called upon to defend it from invasion.

Graphically, Dark Souls II is poor. Bit rate stability has been enhanced at the expense of the game’s visuals, which is disappointing. However, it really matters very little how good the graphics are in this game. You’ll spend so much time looking over your shoulder, being killed and subsequently revisiting the same area several hundred times, that sight-seeing plays no part in the gaming experience.

The game is huge. Even a seasoned RPGer will squeeze sixty hours from the single player campaign. Non-seasoned players, however, will die
alone and unloved in their beds, surrounded by their own effluence, having never come near to completing the game, with their Xbox Controller having to be prised from their cold, dead, rigor mortis-riddled hands.

Dark Souls II will split people. RPG fans will love it. Normal people will hate it.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Dark Souls II is the hardest and most frustrating game I’ve ever played and requires a level of patience that I simply do not possess.

I can see the appeal of this game, however. As an RPG, it’s wonderful. It’s expansive, all-enveloping, mystical and completing a particularly difficult section does bring with it a sense of satisfaction. The bosses are varied and brilliantly-made and the sheer variety of items, magic and potential for exploration is breath-taking. However, I hate this game. I hate it with every fibre of my being. When I was told in the opening cinematic that I would ‘lose everything’, I didn’t expect it to be a literal reference to my own life. It’s a ridiculous waste of time of a game. It’s infuriating and an utterly pointless endeavour. It’s a painful exercise in player ridicule and makes me want to set fire to things.  I can’t begin to articulate my hatred for this gaming experience. I gained no enjoyment from playing it. I gained only anger and a sense of a wasted life. If I wanted to be angry and hateful, I’d get a job making tea at BNP rallies. White tea, obviously.