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Patrick Hope: ‘Dark Souls II’ offers challenges

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I have a bit of an, oh, let’s call it an idiosyncrasy while playing games. Whenever I’m fighting any boss that has a visible life bar and I’m preparing for what I think will be the final blow, I say “Die for me, (insert boss name here)!”

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Sometimes, I might wag my finger at the screen ala Dikembe Mutombo and say “Not in my house,” or do a fist pump, but “Die for me” is the real constant.

It’s not unnatural to experience some sense of satisfaction at making progress in a game. Winning is fun, after all. But this satisfaction is usually one-sided. Games don’t take perverse pleasure in breaking you. Usually.

Welcome to “Dark Souls II.”

“Dark Souls II” released on the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 on March 11, with a PC version soon to follow. Despite its name, this is actually the third entry into From Software’s “Souls” games, with the first being “Demons Souls” in 2009 and the second being “Dark Souls” in 2011.

The “Souls” games are medieval action, role-playing games in the vein of the “Elder Scrolls” series, but with one key difference-the “Souls” games are brutally difficult. And “Dark Souls II” is the hardest yet. You know that column I wrote a few weeks ago about games not being as hard these days? “Dark Souls II” is an exception to that.

Absolutely nothing is explained to you. If you miss the tutorial portion of the first area, it is conceivable that you could end up in the main hub, Majula, with no idea how to attack, jump or use items. This gets especially harrowing when coupled with the biggest feature in “Dark Souls II” — the dying.

I’m going to be completely honest. You’re going to die in “Dark Souls II.” A lot. You’ll fall off cliffs. You’ll get ambushed or swarmed by generic enemies. You’ll go up against a boss who will absolutely wreck you — I’m looking at you, Lost Sinner. And every time you die, you’ll lose all your souls, which serve as both in-game currency and the means to level up your character.

And you regain your souls by making it back to where you were killed. If you get killed before getting your souls back, they’re gone for good, which means you’ll have potentially lost a good amount of progress. But that’s always been a feature of the “Souls” games. “Dark Souls II” adds an additional element.

When you die, you lose a little bit of your maximum hit points, which means that you’ll be weaker. And each successive time you bite the dust, your health goes down even more, all the way until you start at half health, which is a massive handicap and means that there’s a decent chance that enemies can one-shot you. This process is reversible through a semi-rare item called a Human Effigy or through exploiting a certain ring you find fairly early, but it’s still a real pain to deal with.

This hasn’t even touched on the multiplayer aspect. One of the most novel aspects of any “Souls” game is how it handles multiplayer, which isn’t a traditional part of action RPGs. In “Dark Souls II,” you can summon other players as phantoms to help you out with particularly tough stretches (read: boss battles) through jolly cooperation or, if you’re unlucky, you can get invaded and forced into a battle with another player. It adds an element of randomness to the game that requires you to be especially prepared.

So what is there in “Dark Souls II” besides the difficulty? Well, believe it or not, there’s a lot. The ruined kingdom of Drangleic, where your cursed character will be fighting legions of monsters, is a massive world with a ton of areas, all offering varied experiences. From the first time that you step out of the cave from the tutorial area to the gorgeous, rocky seashore of Majula, with its permanently setting Sun, you’ll know you’re in for a special experience.

And then there’s the story.

“Dark Souls II” prefers to reveal its story slowly, through your interactions with various characters, instead of dropping exposition on you. All that you really know at the beginning is that you have a terrible curse and you should go see the King of Drangleic, as it’s about the only chance you have to be cured. More or less, it’s your not to reason why, yours but to do and die.

“Dark Souls II” is not for everybody. If you’re looking for something quick and mindless to blow through, this is not the game for you. You will have to work for every little victory and it will be glorious every time you down a boss or reach that new bonfire (save/warp point) in a dangerous area.

My plucky little cleric, Alice, has perished many times on her journey and I suspect she will continue to do so all the way until the end. But when you go through the looking glass, you’re not expecting anything less than a great challenge. If you’re up to it, fire this one up. But I do have a question.

“Dark Souls II,” I want you to do just one more thing for me.

Would you die for me? Please ...?

Hope is a Dickinson attorney and video game enthusiast. To read more of his video game columns, visit http://bonusstage.areavoices.com.

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