This is as spoiler-free a review as possible, but please be aware that there will be a couple of things mentioned that shouldn't ruin your enjoyment of the game. You've been warned.
Here's all you really need to know: Dark Souls II is just more of the same. But the good thing is that it's more of the same. And that is precisely what we, as fans of the original, want from the sequel to one of the greatest games ever made - if you hold the same opinion as me, of course.
For the longest time I've compared Dark Souls
to an abusive relationship; we love the game for its challenge and ability to constantly surprise, but we're also aware that it actively hates us.
However, now that I've spent a good amount of time in the company of the new game, I've been dwelling more and more on the nature of our relationship while wandering the dungeons and plains of Drangleic.
It's more of a masochistic deal that we've got going on, a near constant "Thank You Sir, May I Have Another" thing where if you don't do precisely what the game wants of you, it'll make your life a living hell.
Again, you are undead, a Hollow, looking to lift the curse that plagues your homeland and keeps those branded with the Darksign from eternal rest. Four bosses must be taken down, their souls needed to free Drangleic from the curse and finally let the dead - including you - pass on.
As you make your way through the first hour or so, a tutorial of sorts will get you familiar with the slight differences to the controller set-up. Of all the Souls
is certainly the most accessible but don't think for a moment that just because you're new to the series it will make things easy on you...
You'll eventually make your way to the first main hub, Majula. This is your place of safety, a wide open space that allows you to take a breath and talk with the few residents that have set themselves up there.
Whether telling you about the lore of the world or offering to supply you with a few shabby items, you'll soon come to realise that everything feels at once familar and strange, though there are a handful of minor changes that you'll need to get used to. Estus Flasks are handled in a different fashion, for example, and you'll find yourself reliant on Lifegems to boost your health on a regular basis - at least until you find your feet.
As in the first game, I want to progress further and further each time, to learn from my errors and grow, but From Software have decided that Dark Souls II
will take each failure personally. It sits in the corner, glaring at you in a passive agressive fashion, deciding that it's going to make your life even harder. We've gone beyond the game hating us.
We're in a world where if you fuck up, the game now punishes you by taking a percentage of your life off your bar, and the only way to remove the limitation is to turn human again. Effigies, the replacement for Humanity in DSII
, are in as short a supply as you'd expect, so this vicious circle of dying and losing health is something that you're going to have to learn to deal with.