- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2014

Masochistic players enter a fantasy universe full of diabolical dungeons, undead warriors and death in the finger-cramping, controller-busting terror of a game called Dark Souls II (Namco Bandai Games, reviewed for Xbox 360, Rated Teen, $59.99).

This sequel to the 2011 horrendously difficult, third-person, role-playing epic once again demands a gamer create a character and wield sharp steel, magic and strategy to survive a cursed land polluted by monsters.

Now I asked myself again before diving in to this latest version of an interactive torture chamber:

Can I run a 10K marathon?

Can I climb Mount Everest?

Can I virtually sneak past a stomping, multistory tall wooden creature with only a pair of fists to protect me?

After playing Dark Souls II for a few hours, I have a better chance of conquering the first two challenges. It’s a game that rips to shreds mankind’s incessant necessity to conquer.

A gamer’s spirit will get crushed, but let me offer a strategy that could lead to a marvelous embracing of the struggle.

Pay close attention, knave.

First, start out as the “deprived” class of character. That’s a male or female running around in a loincloth devoid of protection or weaponry.

Now, do not level up your character for at least a dozen hours of playtime. That’s what I typed; do not level up for at least a dozen hours. “Are you mad?” you scream. “I’ll get cut to ribbons by even the most meager minion.”

Tis true, you will die early and often, but you need only stop by a bonfire to regenerate most of your health. As a cursed human, your body begins to whither away verging on the undead and so does you restoration abilities. It’s a brutal process but necessary to toughen up for what’s to come.

During the process, you will also slowly find weapons and armor and start to defeat enough minor skeletal soldier-type enemies to amass coveted souls that act as the game’s currency.

With that currency you will buy lots of stuff such as axes, bows, swords, magical rings and even effigies to restore some of your character’s rapidly withering humanity.

Also, feel free to explore the terrain and sneak such items as a magical fiery sword away from a fire-breathing iguana.

Now with a ton of cool stuff ready to use and your spirit near completely crushed because you barely have the ability to beat up a thorn bush, stop by a bonfire in the town of Majula and talk to the Emerald Herald, a hooded female who never wants to shut up.

Now you can start leveling up through her (via a menu option) as you cash in souls and tweak a collection of nine main attributes, ranging from vigor to vitality and strength and intelligence.

Guess what? The game is not so hard now, is it, Mr. Big Shot? You started at the lowest possible depths and are now crafting a character whose attributes can eventually take the role of powerful warrior, sorcerer or swordsman, to name a few.

So wield that Bluemoon Greatsword, proudly wear elite knight armor and show off that ring of restoration. You deserve it.

A player’s goal is to work through the kingdom of Drangleic and forbidden lands such as the Forest of Fallen Giants, Undead Purgatory and Grave of Saints while fighting a host of formidable minions and bosses with colorful names as the Covetous Demon, Belfry Gargoyle and Baneful Queen Mytha.

This immersion can be enjoyed alone or also shared by others online as a player taps on bloodstains to watch the ghosts of other adventurers that reflect parts of their fate.

Or an online co-operative or player-versus-player combat mode eventually opens up, tied to being part of a covenant with more complex matchmaking.

So with too many hours to count along with fingers and thumbs calloused, I have lovingly embraced Dark Souls 2. Devilishly awesome as well as a punishing experience, it’s a beautifully macabre game worthy of taking the time to appreciate.



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