Somewhere between Dark Souls II and Dark Souls III, my brother and I started playing the original Dark Souls. I’d heard about it from a friend at school, and what he told me was intriguing: it was a game you couldn’t pause, in which secrets abounded and difficulty soared. Up until then, the hardest games I’d played were probably those in the God of War series — games you could pause, mind you. I was pumped for a new challenge. So it was that we dug out a scratched but usable copy of the game from a GameStop bargain bin, paid something like $3 for it, and stuck it in the ol’ PS3.
I know what you’re thinking: “You fell in love with it immediately, kicking off a years-long journey into the Souls series,” right? Quite the opposite, actually. Dark Souls was — and is, even after falling in love with it and kicking off my years-long journey into the Souls series — confusing, infuriating, and downright weird. The dogs, thieves, and claustrophobia of the Lower Undead Burg were enough reason for me to throw in the towel.
It wasn’t until trailers for DS3 started coming out that the bonfire within was rekindled. It just looked so damned cool, especially in comparison to its clunky predecessor. We bought it, loved it, bought the DLC, loved that, and returned to Lordran to see what exactly we’d missed.
So it was that the prophecy came true, and our Souls obsession began in earnest — with another brother roped in to boot. We played DS3 again, triumphed over the original, swum through the magnificently murky muck of Bloodborne, parried our way through Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (if you count that), and experienced Demon’s Souls in all its remastered glory. Our opinions on all the games differed, but we were a generally united front in our adoration of FromSoftware. To say the absolute least, we’re as rabid for Elden Ring’s release as Artorias was when he emerged from the Abyss. We’ve been replaying its spiritual predecessors in anticipation.
So… what about DS2?
So far as we understood, the game was largely considered the black sheep of the franchise thanks to its overpowered magic, jankier-than-Blighttown hitboxes, and relative ease. We sidestepped it for as long as we could, but I was the one to eventually take the plunge. I found a cheap (not $3 cheap, but cheap) copy of Scholar of the First Sin, booted up the PS4, and gave the game my full attention.
I was not impressed.
My Time with Dark Souls II
I doubt I can incisively critique DS2 in a way that hasn’t been done already, but I can say how I felt while playing it: bored. Like, brain-turning-to-mush, eyes-glazing-over, yawning-every-five-seconds bored. Despite what Andre warned against, I could feel myself going Hollow.
As I mentioned earlier, the first time I played Dark Souls, I found it “confusing, infuriating, and downright weird” — but never once did I slump over as tedium set it. No, I was enthralled by its environs and interested in its gameplay; it was just too much for me to jump into headfirst, is all. DS3 proved more accessible for a beginner while still providing a heady challenge (lookin’ at you, Midir).
But DS2 neither enthralled nor interested me. Majula was relaxing and scenic, and I was glad for the opportunity to interact with new NPCs — that’s where the positives ended, though. At this point, I can’t even remember the names of the locations I visited, but I explored quite a few of them. I wasn’t having fun, but it was only fair to give the game a chance.
As I journeyed onward, I tried to pinpoint what exactly was keeping me in the doldrums, and I think the first part of the answer was the graphics. It looked better than the original, no doubt, but it lacked the same charm, the same eccentric vibrancy. I knew it wouldn’t look as good as DS3, but what can I say? I was biased; that’s only natural after experiencing the rest of the series first. It’s unfortunate, yet it was what it was, and I had to accept that.
That same bias extended to the gameplay. Dark Souls may not have had the speed of its follow-ups, but that didn’t mean it lacked thrill. Indeed, having to be so committal with your every step, roll, and swing made it so that mistakes (for the most part) felt like my fault, not the game’s. Experimenting with new builds, weapons, and spells always felt fresh for that very reason.
DS3's gameplay was smooth as butter, and arguably the best thing about it. It didn’t inspire the same awe that the original’s environments and atmosphere did, but between its bevy of phenomenal boss battles and the sheer variety of special weapons available — not to mention Fashion Souls™ — it practically begged to be replayed.
DS2’s attempt at a sort of middle ground that would appeal to a larger audience while (supposedly) not dialing down the difficulty didn’t do it for me. I tried a couple of different weapons, but there was neither a weightiness nor a smoothness behind them. The ridiculous hitboxes I’d heard so much about really were ridiculous. And the constant boss fights weren’t interesting — just draining. Every Souls game came with its fair share of duds, but DS2 pumped them out seemingly without rhyme or reason.
So I stopped — for a while, at least.
I went back to DS2 more than once, just in case I’d missed something. Each and every time (four, if I recall, not including my first try), my experience was much the same: miserably unfun, to the point where I yearned for Blighttown.
This is not to say people who enjoy DS2 are wrong for doing so — in fact, I envy you, whoever you are! I wish I could see what you see, but I know I’m a lost cause at this point. I also mean no disrespect to the developers who worked on the game. All I mean to say is…
Don’t Feel Guilty About Dropping Games
When Elden Ring was first announced in mid-2019, I was as stoked as any Souls fan. It wasn’t until the gameplay reveal in 2021 that it felt real, though — and that my annual-ish Souls series replay became more of a preparation for Elden Ring. I considered giving DS2 a sixth go, but… come on. Five proved more than enough. I knew, deep down, that I was battering my head against a wall — and not an illusory one.
DS2 isn’t the first game I dropped, and it won’t be the last, but it is the one I feel strangest about, even after copious amounts of reflection. Black sheep or not, it’s part of one of my favorite franchises ever — video games or otherwise. Trying again and again is a staple of the series, and I think that’s why I did so. The guilt of giving up coiled around me like the giant snake from Sekiro, crushing the life out of me and forcing me to gasp for air.
That air I so desperately needed, however, wasn’t doing me any good. I wouldn’t call all my returns to DS2 wastes of time, per se, but I should’ve trusted myself sooner. Trust, after all, is one of the pillars of trumping the devious difficulty of Dark Souls. Trust that you committed to the right sword swing at the right time. Trust that the folks you’re playing alongside have the right idea about how to beat that insurmountable boss. Trust that the man in the feathered helmet isn’t lying about jolly cooperation.
(Just be careful about “Treasure ahead” signs. That’s where the real test of trust begins.)
Elden Ring is barely a month away. I’ve pre-ordered it, and am warming my hands by the bonfire day by day. But, if I’m 20 hours in and my soul is leaking from my body, I’m not going to hesitate. I’m going…to drop it.
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