Dark Souls 2 Scholar Of The First Sin is the definitive version of the second game in FromSoftware’s famous fantasy epic game trilogy. Often called the worst of the three, this game is the first that I’ve seen to an ending.
The plot is vague and hard to understand, however Dark Souls 2 is a little clearer than the other games with what’s going on. It starts off as a quest to light four fires, then it’s a quest to find a missing king. After that the game gets really weird and confusing with memories of giants accessed with a heart that a dragon gives you. Using the memories you can then see your way to one of two endings which make sense within the game world. Really it’s all just an excuse to fight lots of creatures and bosses.
With fighting being so important, combat should be brilliant. Generally it is, however a badly explained statistic system means some actions are performed unreasonably slowly which can hamper the experience. The combat works with a slow and precise melee system which can involve blocking, rolling and parrying along with the use of different kinds of magic and archery. There’s also directional control where aiming the camera towards an enemy doesn’t aim an attack at them, instead an attack will stick to the direction the character is facing which just feels awkward.
As for world design, there’s loads to explore. The map branches out in a few different directions that don’t make total geographical sense but are open enough to give the player a choice of what to do and when. The maps are all fairly unique from one another with many different biomes and environmental effects. We get poison, darkness, curses, water, castles, fire, cliffs and so much more built to punish careless gameplay. The world is both dangerous and beautiful, always as you least expect it. I also like how easy access all the merchants became once found, either in the hub area or near a bonfire.
Enemy placement is often done to be totally against the player, often placing powerful groups together as a puzzle to get past (I ran across maybe six groups that felt unfair). The bosses are a part of the world too, largely using environmental storytelling to further the plot with the placement of certain creatures being really important. I really hate The Pursuer boss fights because I can’t find a good excuse for what feels like bullying inexperienced players.
Boss fights themselves are annoying. Almost every fight has some sort of gimmick going on, meaning all but a few fights require a trial and error approach. The bosses themselves are fairly weak in combat, mostly it’s about knowing the right tricks for battles. Having gimmicks can be an interesting way to keep variety in gameplay but there were way too many in this game so figuring things out became tedious after a while.
Dark Souls 2 has a feature where killing an enemy so many times will make it so that it no longer respawns. This feature can be turned off. The feature is bad for farming items and experience points but does come in useful for making the game more accessible as trying the same bit repeatedly not only lets you learn but will also make the game slightly easier. Imagine getting ganged up on by four enemies where you can only ever beat one, beat that one enough times and there’s only three left, effort gets rewarded but if you “Git Gud” then you’d be able to pass the four. It’s useful for all skill levels.
There’s quite a punishing mechanic where your maximum health decreases when you die. This isn’t in other Dark Souls (at least not to such a noticeable extent). So the fact that you’re supposed to try again repeatedly, for each attempt it will get slightly harder. There are ways to mitigate the effect but losing health for dying just feels unfair and isn’t fun. I’m sure no-one likes how bad this works.
Respecing a character is a simple thing to do in this game so if a playstyle change is needed then it’s easy to manage, just take a special item to the start area. With how many of certain specific items the game gives you, you do get to properly experience the game and mess about a bit, it’s rather forgiving when it comes to learning and understanding.
The Scholar Of The First Sin part of the game involves changed enemy placement from the original Dark Souls 2. It also includes all DLC which are harder challenges for those who couldn’t get enough of the main game. Once the game has been beaten once, a new game plus mode can be activated which changes placements yet again and adds more enemies for an even harder time.
I didn’t run into technical problems in the game other than frustration at slow animations and inaccuracy with a few hit boxes. I spent my time with the game playing mostly offline so missed out on some online features but I’m aware that matchmaking for online play works in a counterproductive way that can make it harder for low skill players to receive help.
Overall, I enjoyed this one to complete a playthrough. I was sick of it by the end but still motivated to win. I enjoyed following the story a bit with this one as I could follow it a bit but did have to look up where to go when I hadn’t paid full attention. The combat could be cruel but I was able to adjust to it and although the game had too much reliance on gang ups or gimmicks I still managed to enjoy it. I do think there is too much in this game to the point that it outstays its welcome a little. With all the flaws, frustration and irritating design choices I’d say this is a potentially great game that loses the fun factor long before the end. Not as bad as it’s reputation makes out, but I can see why people prefer others in the trilogy.
Given that I’ve played this modern day, you can see where a lot of Elden Ring ideas started. Elden Ring is a mix of everything FromSoftware learned but Dark Souls 2 feels like a necessary step towards it.