Dark Souls is definitely one of the most engrossing and well-designed games I’ve ever played, and since it made a bigger splash than the Black Hydra in Ash Lake, the announcement of a sequel isn’t all that surprising.
So, since it’s probably, and hopefully, going to take a lot of time and effort for it to reach the gamers’ thumbs and fingers, I thought I would list the five most important improvements and choices Dark Souls II should make.
5. Give It Its Own Identity
Honestly, I felt pretty uncomfortable when I saw that the title of Dark Souls II is…well…Dark Souls II, and I truly believe that the series would benefit by having a totally different story, completely unconnected to the previous two games.
It’d be obvious and understandable if it was ‘sequelized’ simply to ‘leech’ off the attention Dark Souls received, and even though that is a sound marketing strategy, it comes off as being rather shallow, like we should totally forget about the very first game in the soon-to-be-trilogy.
It isn’t an unpopular opinion to say that Dark Souls is better than Demon’s Souls, but Demon’s Souls still played a part, and was at the very least, a prototype, testing how well rolling balls and dragons worked only for Dark Souls to do the exact same thing. Yet now I get the impression that they believe people will only pay attention to this game as long as it has some currently unknown connection to Dark Souls, whether it be story, locations or similar enemies. But as long as people are aware that it’s ‘next in line’ we won’t care. It could easily be called something like Dragon Souls, and judging by the trailer that isn’t that ridiculous of a title.
It’s virtually impossible that the title itself would change, and there still may be potential in it being made a sequel to expand on Dark Souls’ story, which brings me to number 4.
4. Keep The Mystery
I’ve never really cared that much for the stories in both ‘Souls’ games, and Dark Souls in particular became infinitely more engaging once I stopped trying to give narrative context to what I was doing and simply saw my zombie avatar like the boy in Limbo, a lonely person enduring the trials of an inhospitable land.
The seemingly unexplained logic of Lordran, like re-spawning enemies, bonfires, where you hold your inventory, the Estus Flask and monsters that just seem to be there for the sake of it actually assisted the ‘cold’ and downright ‘alien’ feel of the world, and Dark Souls II should once again restrict context slightly and, if you wanted to be risky, not even have a story at all.
Locations such as New Londo Ruins, Darkroot Garden and Undead Parish were given a great sense of untouched wilderness-ness (that was stupid) by not having a completely knowable backstory, and one of the most exhilarating things about both ‘Souls’ games is opening a door or walking through that random foggy stuff and not knowing what would be on the other side.
Although I’m not expecting Dark Souls II to suddenly turn into Mass Effect, the strange worlds are what has made this series so engrossing…so far, so if you want to tell a story, don’t give it a huge amount of focus and, at most, use scattered exposition tools to tell it, like diaries, architecture or paintings etc.
It’d certainly be odd if Dark Souls II didn’t continue the story of its predecessor, though the developers must remember what made both ‘Souls’ games so engaging: methodical and challenging gameplay, and you don’t even need a story for that to flourish. Speaking of game play…
3. Vary The Challenge
One thing I liked about the ‘Souls’ games is that it wasn’t just combat that was dangerous. Ledges and holes made what could have been a relaxing stroll down a grassy slope into a perilous trek ending in a battle with a black armoured knight with a halberd.
The level design was often the only threat, and instilled panic in the player by giving them next to no idea as to how the area would be set out beyond, making the player prepare for enemies that could come from literally anywhere.
The worlds these games have made truly are massive and brutal, and Dark Souls II should not only keep the beautifully connected paths of Lodran, but have varied and surprising challenges for you every step of the way, and not just resort to creatures, no matter how different they swipe their swords, claws or tails at you.
2. Improve The Weapon Upgrade and The Levelling System
This is probably the biggest issue I had with Dark Souls. The steps required in upgrading armour and weapons are so vague and tedious that I would almost recommend not bothering with them, unless you are prepared to carefully research how it all works online.
The resources needed for upgrading make such an unnoticeable difference it’s just depressing, and even when/if you get to a point where you can make your weapon deal out extra fire, electrical or magical damage, the Ore is either non-renewable or too rare, which, if not researched, can easily result in the player having several crummy weapons instead of one useful one.
It isn’t difficult to fix this problem. Just make all kinds of Ore renewable in some way, and make it more clear how the Ore and even Boss Souls improve/create weapons.
Also, the levelling up system, while useful for the first chunk of both games, becomes rather meaningless towards the end, and even the weapons and armour you use eventually reach their peak, so collecting souls to upgrade your abilities or equipment inevitably becomes totally pointless.
Again, it’s not difficult to fix this. Levelling up should make a more dynamic difference to the game play rather than just buffing up a percentage. Certain characters should be able to do different things, like having a better proficiency in using duel weapons or even something as arbitrary as being able to jump further. Overall, just have more stuff for our hero to improve.
1. Make Dark Souls, But Better
This goes without saying, but the developers of Dark Souls II should always be reminded how much praise Dark Souls got and why.
I put 170+ hours into Dark Souls because of its absorbing atmosphere, intense combat, beautiful soundtrack that I still have on CD and listen to in the car, and awe inspiring scenery. That’s pretty much it, but all of these things were done so well that most of the flaws were barely noticeable.
Dark Souls II truly does have the potential to be the best game I will ever play, but also has the potential to be an annoying and disappointing mess. There certainly have been flaws so far, but when it gets it right, it gets it really right.