The Dark Souls games are some of my favorite of all time – and that’s no exaggeration.
I’m not alone, of course. The series’ punishing difficulty, unique storytelling, and interesting game mechanics have wowed countless others. However, it’s hard to get Dark Souls fans to agree on which game is the best. The common thread is that Dark Souls II is by far the worst. I recently completed both Dark Souls II and Dark Souls III (the original Dark Souls I’ve played so many times I don’t need to play it again to refresh my memory). Here are my thoughts on the series. This “review” will assume basic familiarity with the games as it’s meant for Dark Souls series fans.
A classic. I’m not sure how to summarize my thoughts on this game because playing it was such a unique experience. No other game has made me feel that unique, difficult to describe sense of awed confusion. I remember fighting the game’s first boss – The Asylum Demon – at least a dozen times before I realized you’re supposed to run from it and acquire a proper weapon instead of trying to kill it with a broken sword.
The game has so much depth that years later (and even after beating it at level one) I’m still learn new things about it even though it’s been out since 2011.
And the story is the most clean and sensical out of any of the three games. The characters, too, are interesting and either all go on tragic journeys, or their plight is the result of tragic journeys. There are very few games that make you feel emotional dread for killing a boss. The original Dark Souls is one of them.
The areas are all beautiful and unique. It’s probably the best game in that regard, too. Few areas feel and look similar to the others. And the game’s soundtrack is easily the best in the entire series.
There are a few missteps though. The second half of the game is not nearly as polished as the first, with areas like Lost Izalith feeling half-finished/lazy and bosses like The Bed of Chaos feeling quarter-finished. There are also a few areas that when you play through the game again you roll your eyes and just go “this shit again?” There not fun to do once time, let alone several. The Gravelord Servant covenant is also glitchy as hell and basically doesn’t work. Multiplayer in general was inconsistent. Half the time you’d be able to connect, half the time you wouldn’t be able to.
Dark Souls II:
Everybody’s least favorite.
Dark Souls II has some serious – and at times inexplicable – issues. The textures look like they came from a Playstation 1 game. Seriously, they’re as bad as stuff from the original PS1 games like Crash Bandicoot. I have no idea how this could’ve happened. The textures from the first game were fine. How did they go so far backwards?
Another terrible aspect of Dark Souls II is the level design. There are too many bonfires, the levels are too short for the amount of bonfires, and many levels are just ugly. The color palette in the game is not very diverse. Most levels are brown, grey, puke green, or some combination of the three. Not exactly appealing. Another nitpick as it pertains to level design is most of the game feels like it just exists to hold enemies. Nowhere felt like it belonged in a real world and existed for a purpose like many areas in Dark Souls or Dark Souls III. Many areas in Dark Souls II are poorly textured square rooms with enemies inside.
The NPC’s are also lackluster. Few – if any – have compelling stories. And once they wind up in Majula they just stay there instead of exploring the world on their own like in Dark Souls I and to a lesser extent Dark Souls III.
The second game’s overall storyline is also a serious disappointment. The first game’s had depth and originality. The second was boring, derivative, and shallow (I won’t be rehashing all plot points here).
And then there’s the bosses. The only thing more uninspired than the mechanics of each fight are the designs of each boss. The game’s final boss – Nashandra – looks like the brainchild of a high school sophomore who just discovered H.R. Giger. The rest of the bosses are similarly boring: Giant guy with a sword, Giant guy with a hammer, etc. The Demon of Song is the only one in the vanilla game with an interesting design.
The DLC’s ameliorate some of these issue but not all (there is some laziness with recycled bosses and boring enemies but the final boss of each DLC delivered).
The best part of Dark Souls II though is the PVP. The PVP is by far better than any other Dark Souls game due to the versatility of viable builds, game mechanics that make backstabs harder to do, and the fact that you can be invaded even if you’re character is hollow. Some of my fondest multiplayer gaming memories are from Dark Souls II PVP.
Another good aspect of Dark Souls II is NG+. NG+ in Dark Souls II actually changes up some enemy placements, making it a different experience than your first play through. I wish the other titles in the series did this.
The Scholar of the First Sin edition made the base game a bit more difficult which was welcomed but ultimately the core problems couldn’t be fixed.
Dark Souls III:
I don’t have too much to say about the final entry in the series. It was…enjoyable but ultimately forgettable. There was way too much fan service instead of uniqueness which hurt a lot. The story was meh – I hate to repeat myself but forgettable. That’s what describes a lot of Dark Souls III. I can remember nearly every item location, NPC location, quest chain, etc. from Dark Souls I but I can’t remember 1/2 of the stuff in Dark Souls III. I guess the game did a bad job of making me care?
The PVP wasn’t great as the poise statistic was literally useless. Straight swords were very powerful in Dark Souls II but they were even worse in Dark Souls III. Furthermore, there weren’t nearly as many viable builds for PVP. This problem extends to PVE, too, where magic and faith are essentially useless compared to much stronger builds. This was never fixed in a patch or in DLC.
The DLC’s were ok but, again, forgettable.
I love all three games dearly. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had not IRL was playing these games. Were I to rank them: Dark Souls is the best. Dark Souls II and Dark Souls III are tied. In the future as fewer and fewer people are online in Dark Souls II the PVP will be sparser and sparser and it’s main advantage will disappear. So if I write this review again in a few years than Dark Souls III will be a lot better, I think.
I’ll end this post with the disclaimer that my opinion is extremely meaningless and nobody should care about what I have to say about any topic save for perhaps media distribution strategy (which, funnily enough, is the only thing I don’t write about heh).