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Dark Souls II Review: Beautifully Brutal

You'll keep coming back to Dark Souls II, and should you triumph, your victory is one that will stay with you.

Editor's Choice

Live and let die

Graphics and art

"Dark Souls II" is absolutely gorgeous. Developer From Software has revamped the graphics engine somewhat since the first two games, providing detailed character models in addition to fully realized arms and armor and awe-inspiring level design. A castle rising out of the ocean, the lair of the last living giant and a forested realm between worlds where sunlight peeks in through the trees are just a few of the breathtaking vistas you'll explore.

The trouble is that the beautiful artwork strains the current-gen systems to their limits. The frame rate dipped noticeably on the PS3 version, especially when exploring graphically demanding areas, or fighting numerous enemies at once. The tearing and lag correct themselves fairly quickly, but can cause lingering asynchronous sound.

Music and sound

The soundtrack in "Dark Souls II" is, much like the storyline, understated and only there if you really look for it. The game is quiet, and the background is usually silent, save for the clangor of steel on steel, or the footsteps of enemies through the brush as they approach.

The voice acting is idiosyncratic, but also fits the setting well. Characters sound withdrawn and a little bored by the world's ongoing descent into chaos. "Dark Souls II" doesn't feature any bravura performances, but the sparse voices underscore the tone of the game well.

The bottom line

"Dark Souls II" will appeal to a very specific kind of player: patient, thorough and perhaps with a slight masochistic streak. The game is about as opaque as they come. Gameplay, beyond the most basic mechanics, is not clear. The storyline is not clear. How to reach the next area is not clear. However, all of this information is available, if you're willing to find it for yourself.

If "Dark Souls II" sounds frustrating and obtuse, that's because it is. But it's also beautiful, rewarding and unforgettable. If you fall for "Dark Souls II," you'll fall hard. Just don't be surprised if every other game seems a bit too easy for a few months afterward.

Customizable protagonist with precise controlsFrame rate stutters and causes audio lag
Incredible level design with visuals to matchDifficulty can get excessive at times
Grotesque enemies with palpable challenge
Balances frustration and fairness

Developer: From Software

Publisher: Namco Bandai

Price: $59.99

Release Date: March 11, 2014 (Xbox 360 and PS3) / April 25, 2014 (PC)

Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

PC Requirements:

OS: Windows XP SP3, Vista SP2, Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8

Processor: AMD® Phenom II™ X2 555 3.2Ghz or Intel® Pentium Core ™ 2 Duo E8500 3.17Ghz

Memory: 2 GB RAM

Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce® 9600GT, ATI Radeon™ HD 5870

DirectX: Version 9.0c

Network: Broadband Internet connection

Hard Drive: 14 GB available space

Sound Card: DirectX 9 sound device

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Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is an editor for Tom's Guide, covering gaming hardware, security and streaming video. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.