Full disclosure: I haven’t yet finished Dark Souls II. If I’d had it from release, I definitely would have by now, but I was away travelling until just a week ago and when checking Twitter every night I had the excruciating task of avoiding any and all spoilers – and since I wanted to go into the game completely blind to get the ‘true’ experience, EVERYTHING was a spoiler to me. Tough one. Still, at about 20 hours in I’m very much in the swing of things, and the big mechanical shifts are now clear. Us Souls fans like to analyse everything until the bitter end, so let’s do a rundown, shall we?
This is one I actually really like. I was certainly sceptical at first; on one hand, having Lifegems in addition to Estus could be too much, but on the other, their limited supply could mean not enough healing ability if you didn’t yet have an Estus flask. I envisioned myself running out of Lifegems before even getting my flask and having my back to a wall, never being able to progress without running past enemies. It’s great that they’ve found a balance here by giving you more Estus uses very slowly (by the looks of it, one more ‘shard’ per area), a big contrast from Dark Souls’ strategy of blitzing through Pinwheel quickly to obtain 15 or even 20 Estus flasks. To some, it still might seem an excess to have your flasks, your Lifegems (which in theory you could have 30+ of) and, if you’re a Cleric, a healing spell, but now that your HP regens slowly instead of instantly, healing is much more of a tactical consideration.
I’ve yet to really make up my mind how I feel about this. Being able to warp from bonfire to bonfire used to be a privilege hard-earned, and having to hoof it around before that not only made your adventure feel a bit more genuine and labored, but also helped the player learn areas and routes like the back of their hand. I loved those aspects, but then I also can’t deny that once I did unlock the Lordvessel, like hell was I going to walk anywhere. What do you think? Are we being overindulged with an instant fast travel ability, or do you prefer saving that much time?
Like fast travel, this one is all about convenience. Only this time, they’ve switched it around and actually made it a more laborious process, in that you have to travel to the first bonfire and talk to the Emerald Herald to level up. However, like I said with fast travel, convenience isn’t always my top priority and I’d much rather have something that feels ‘right’ in the game world, and I have to say this really works for me. She almost seems like a goddess in a Greek myth, offering help and advice but never directly intervening. Still, I imagine plenty of people will miss being able to just head back to their nearest bonfire to boost their stats. Love it or hate it, really.
This is a big change, and one that really took me off-guard, especially after the pre-release anxiety that Dark Souls II might be going soft on players. Well, try thinking that after finding out your max HP decreases every time you die. You can alleviate the process with a ring, but nonetheless the game means business and in the early game this is seriously punishing, especially when you’ve yet to encounter any enemy that drops Human Effigies (the new humanity item, the restoration of which replenishes your HP to max). As much as this has gotten me killed plenty of times, I have to say I love it. In the original Dark Souls there was so much talk of how the undead die over and over until they finally lose everything, but there was never any evidence of it happening to you. Here, it’s unavoidable.
This is the big one for me. I had heard about it before release, but never really given much consideration as to how it would change the experience for me, but it’s pretty clear now. Once you’ve killed an enemy about 15 times, it will no longer respawn after you’ve rested at a bonfire or died. Travelling to a location and coming back will make no difference, that enemy is gone until you start a new playthrough or enter New Game Plus. Despite this becoming less obvious to me as I’ve got to grips with the game more and progressed faster, at the start this was a real crushing blow to me. Not only would their souls be permanently gone if I’d been working that area for a while, then died and lost them (I could hardly earn them back if they no longer respawned), but on the flip side, it also felt like the game was letting me win if I tried at an area long enough. It was too punishing and too easy at the same time, and it totally does not feel like Dark Souls to me. The series was always firm but fair, but this mechanic speaks to neither of these. I’m glad later areas have made up for the grievance by being fascinating and varied and wonderful, but this feature puts a bit of a dark cloud over it. How about you? Does this bother you or does it just feel like part of the experience? Am I crazy?