The concept of Dark Souls II is that you are a cursed undead soul who must explore a mysterious and majestic world in search of your salvation, encountering monsters and other evil beings along the way. The core blocking, rolling, sprinting, parrying and attacking all rely on the ever-important stamina bar -- exhaust it in the thick of combat and you are dead. Vigor joins vitality and endurance as key skills, so players have to spread their stat point allocations out a bit more than in the original Dark Souls. Rolling is still a viable and important tactic, but it no longer grants invulnerability frames, so don't count on it to pardon the length of a knight's blade.
Dark Souls II has many stories to explore, which it does without heavy-handed explanation or dialogue. The main story is far removed from the original, so newcomers don't have to worry. The atmosphere is all about showing rather than telling, and some of the realizations are wonderful. The game often presents a string of subtle lore bread crumbs to nibble on before finally serving up a main course. Ever wonder what those statues near the well in the starting city are all about? Players who make their way down below may discover the horrifying truth.
Dark Souls II respects you enough to assume you can figure things out. As a result, the rewards and achievements are that much more satisfying. It's only April, but Dark Souls II stands tall as a potential game of the year.
RATING T for Teen
PLOT Curses! You're among the undead and seeking salvation.
DETAILS Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, $59.99
BOTTOM LINE This is really the living end.