Dark Souls / PC / PS3 / Xbox 360

If there’s a better game than Dark Souls 2 this year, I’ll be surprised.

ds21After over a solid week of playing Dark Souls 2, I still haven’t been able to finish it. I’ve had it since the moment it was released, I’ve dropped 44 hours into it, I still have no idea when the game is going to end, and I’m loving every second of it.

I’ve often proclaimed the original Dark Souls to be my favorite game of the last console generation (with Fallout 3 being right up there with it), and I wasn’t sure how a direct sequel could fare against my highest of high expectations. Demon’s Souls was a revelation for me, and showed me a world that nearly ruined me for all other games. When Dark Souls released only to be a grander, more refined version of that, I didn’t know what more I could ask for. It turns out what I needed to ask for was Dark Souls 2.

As a refinement upon a refinement, Dark Souls 2 is one of the most ambitious games I’ve ever come across. It fixes most of the issues I’ve had with previous games, and alleviates problems that I didn’t even realize were there in the first place. It maintains what makes the series so special, while still subverting expectations and keeping you on your toes throughout. As someone who has played through both previous games in the series for dozens upon dozens of hours, Dark Souls 2 manages to stay fresh, and surprises me in ways  Demon’s Souls did a half-decade ago. If there’s a better feeling in gaming than taking down one of these bosses, or seeing a new enemy that you’ve never seen before, or stumbling into brand new location filled with new challenges and treasures, I’ve yet to discover it.

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The world is almost wide open from the introduction, and the amount of paths available at once gives an immense sense of freedom. At just about in point in the game, you have access to three or more bosses and locations that you can be exploring, as long as you’re clever enough to discover where they’re hidden. Any time I was having trouble with a boss or location, I could simply teleport away to somewhere else and begin exploring something I’d never seen before. The fast-travel system allows you to move quickly between anywhere you’ve been, and allows you to zip away from any place you don’t feel like being in, without having to wander for 15 minutes just to find that merchant you think was by that one stump six hours ago.

The world of Drangleic in Dark Souls 2 is massive compared to either of the previous two games. Dark Souls seemed sprawling at times, but it was all connected and looped back into itself, making it actually really compact. Dark Souls 2 seems to sprawl for miles in every direction, with far more locations to fight your way through. With the fast-travel system, you are required to frequent familiar areas less than ever before, and you’re given more time to head straight into unseen territory whenever you please. Each area is so tightly packed with secrets though, abuse of teleportation will only do you more harm than good. Should you run through and area and never return, you’ll probably bypass some great new equipment, characters to meet, or even a few boss fights.

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I can’t say enough good things about Dark Souls 2, and I’m still mulling around the idea that it could be the best game I’ve ever played. It’s way too soon to make a statement like that though, so for now let’s just say it’s pretty darn excellent at what it does. This is probably my favorite game in the series, and no other games makes me feel the constant sense of reward that the Souls games do. If there’s any contender for Game of the Year 2014 looking to take down Dark Souls 2 for me, it’s going to have to be a hell of a thing.

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