Let it be marked that I, Chrichton, have finished the main game of Dark Souls II on February 18, 2017 after having invested over 200 hours into it (mind you spread over a year playing it off and on). For the record I skipped the Ancient Dragon and Vendrick and have yet to finish some of the side quests (if that still is possible). Not sure if I will. There is a high chance of me doing a new game plus sometime to see how the experience is then. Although not in the near future. Too many games and too little time to do all of what I want. So what do I think of this game? Let's find out shall we.
Here are some of my thoughts in a reply to someone regarding a review of Dark Souls on Youtube:
"I think Dark Souls is one of those games heavily defended by its fan boys. If you say one tiny thing regarding difficulty, their alarm bells start ringing. I refuse to believe there are this many gamers who put brutally hard difficulty and inaccessibility above good game design. Many things Dark Souls does a AAA game studio wouldn't dare to do because they are bad game mechanics. Sure there seem to be an increasing amount of micro-transactions and season passes; but one thing is for sure: AAA games mostly don't resurrect failed videogame mechanics. There becomes a point where if you cater too much to casual and equally hardcore players; games stop becoming fun. You need balance in everything and DS3 is the same unbalanced shit the previous two games where from the looks of things."
And here is my reply:
"Not a Dark Souls fan. But having played and finished the first two and Dark Souls wannabe Lords of the Fallen I can state that Dark Souls is pretty well balanced and fair. However it takes a lot of time and investment on the player's part. Despite the speed runs and sometimes having the option to run past enemies it is still asked of you to get to know the world, it's inhabitants and it's mechanics. If you are willing to do so then gameplay wise it could be enjoyable or at least entertaining. But yes I do think that a lot of fans of the series go overboard when it comes to the praise of elements in the game that are weak and flawed. Having a rich lore doesn't equal a good story or narrative. However thinking about it there is one hell of an ambiance and atmosphere that compensates the lack of story somewhat. Still I do agree that both Dark Souls 1 and 2 rely too heavy on people reading the lore on descriptions of items or weapons and very conveniently abstract dialogue. You really have to be willing to take the extra effort to get into it instead of being compelled to. And this is the point where fans of the game are incredibly defensive about in the same way they are about other media where things are kept abstract. "You didn't get it? Then you probably are too ignorant or too casual". Often people mistake abstract storytelling for good and deep storytelling. And this only is true for the happy few. Dark Souls certainly is rich in a lot of elements but it's not as deep as made out to be. The character you are playing might develop and progress through events and it could be argued the player does as well. To what extent however? What do you learn at the end of the game? What was the point of it all? What would happen if I ignored what the game was telling me to do? It is here where you will realize that story wise you have very little choice. But worse of all it doesn't matter if you care or not. For me that is very important in a story. Whether as spectator or player I have to care and feel about the actions of the character. Shadow of the Colossus for example is also relatively abstract. But it succeeds in making you care with very few words. Killing the bosses while necessary to progress has a real impact on the player. You feel immediate sadness and sorrow after beating the bosses. In Dark Souls I only felt that with Sif but that was more after I had seen a video on youtube explaining and telling Sif's story using the DLC content. Point is that the original game itself ends as it begins. You haven't really accomplished much. BTW Dark Souls 2 has even less story. Have put in many hours into that game only to find out that you have basically been doing the same thing (a little differently not much) making events of first game even more pointless. So yes first and foremost the appeal of the game is put on the gameplay. And while I can appreciate the attraction I also see that it's very flawed."
And I know this is more about the original Dark Souls but most of it can be applied to the second as much as the hardcore fans want to deny that game's existence. Despite it's flaws and more cheap mechanics it still gives you quite a few options and freedom so to say to overcome obstacles. On top of that most enemies stop respawning after you have battled and defeated them numerous times (usually in between 10 or 15 times). Another major difference compared to the original is that you do need to stick to a certain build. It is possible to combine builds but that requires a lot of soul farming and at one point you will run out of them since like I said the enemies will stop respawning. That is if you fail to progress through the game. As long as you manage to go through the game as intended you will have more than enough enemies and packs to get souls from. There is also a vendor who you can sell items and weapons to for souls. Although funnily enough you will only be able to sell those if you take the time to loot the respawning enemies while you can. Now this might seem limiting if it weren't for one new mechanic that remedies this. The Bonfire Ascetic. It's a consumable item meant to be burnt in a bonfire. With this you will reset an area and exhausted enemies will return including the boss of that area. Certain items will return as well but not all. It wouldn't be Dark Souls if there are some conditions attached to using it. The difficulty will increase to that of a new game plus and it's irreversible. So caution is advised. Only use it if you are confident and prepared enough to take on the now more difficult enemies. Another effective method of dealing with the limitations is an item called the Soul Vessel. With this you can respec your stats and change your build as you see fit. I personally didn't use this although I was tempted many times. Then again, I personally don't like to be limited in any way and rather want to build upon what I have instead of breaking down and changing completely.
Speaking of the difficulty. It is said that Dark Souls II is easier than the original. This might give you the perception it's more streamlined for casuals and beginners. Well, let me help you out of that dream at once. This game is only easier if you have played a Souls game before and even then it comes with a lot of challenges that can be hard, cheap or frustrating. It really depends on how much time you will and want to invest into this game. If you think you can just waltz in and rush through the game like it's nothing then you are sorely mistaken. Like with the original a lot of patience is required. On top of that Dark Souls II has increased the number of mobs coming at you. While the original had a few of them most of them were manageable where you were given enough time to take them on one by one. In Dark Souls II this time is non existent as it often puts you in situations where you find yourself locked in with mobs with very little room to maneuver in and not really possessing a mechanic or skill to deal with them. It is at this moment you will discover how much more slower and vulnerable you are compared to your character in Dark Souls 1. In the original dodging made you invulnerable for a few seconds. It was something you absolutely needed to make it fair. In Dark Souls II the dodging works less efficient unless you increased your agility enough. And even then you are so much slower than most of the enemies. Of course there are some weapons and spells that give you the option to deal with multiple enemies at once but that is dependent of the build you have chosen. No matter how much people are apologetic about this, it's cheap, pure and simple.
In my playthrough I didn't update nor patch the original version. In many videos and guides on the game it was stated that the developers had nerfed faith and magic builds. I understand that this was done to make the PVP more fair. However it also effects the PVE and for someone like me who has very little to no interest in the multiplayer experience this was like a major slap in the face. I don't respond well to things that are forced upon me. By doing this I made the game more fair and fun for me. And before people say that it basically is easy mode. You still have to put in a lot of souls to raise faith and magic for them to be effective. So it's not like it's suddenly a cake walk. Besides there are plenty of enemies where both magic and faith spells are ineffective and you still are required to use other methods or skills.
As you can read I have put most attention to the gameplay and have not mentioned anything about the lore or the story. Like it's predecessor the lore is extensive but very short on story. It's so minimalistic that it's very hard to see what the connection is between the original and this one. Only if you really can be bothered to read descriptions and follow what is said in dialogue will you discover some hints and tie ins. Although most of it comes from articles and videos about the game and not from the game itself. For me this is problematic as I have said earlier but not a total letdown. To be honest I knew in advance of what the game was going to be like. Kinda. I don't think this is a bad game. It certainly is flawed and more unfair compared to the original. Still it has enough to offer gameplay wise. There is no denying that the combat options are deep and that the game is filled with numerous challenges. But I don't feel a real sense of accomplishment. I don't think I have been rewarded enough for the time and patience I have put into this game. I am seriously going to think about whether I should play Bloodborne or Dark Souls 3. Let's put it this way I will only be tempted if those games are on sale.
So to answer the questions I raised in the title. Better suited for beginners? No. Still a niche game? Yes, very much so. If you never played a Souls game and you jump into this adventure you won't know what you gotten yourself into. While it is possible to play this game before the original it is very much expected of you to be familiar with what the games are about. And the original does a good job of preparing you for that. Starting with Dark Souls II feels like being dropped in the water when you can't swim and then drowning with no one to rescue you. I know this sounds dramatic but even Dark Souls veterans will have issues with Dark Souls II. So imagine what it will be like for you if you are new to it? And I am not exaggerating. Especially if you think it's going to be easier.