Developer: From Software, Publisher: Bandai Namco Games

Price: £49.99, Players: 1-2

Age rating: 16+, Release date: March 14

Version tested: PS3, Also available on: Xbox 360, PC

Ability rating: Expert

Dark Souls II gives you a trophy for dying – an early pointer to new players and a wry smile to those coming back for more. It’s a game that punishes, punishes and punishes, doling out the beatings with alarming regularity and rarely letting up for more than a minute or two here and there.

It’s also a lesson in the appeal of flagrant masochism. It has to be - there’s little other explanation for it.

On the surface Dark Souls II is yet another medieval-styled role-playing game played in the third-person. You plod around talking to weird and weirder characters, there’s some story about ‘hollowing’ and mentions of hope. And you fight.

Then, when you fight, a thought pops into your head. “Wait a second,” your brain interrupts. “This bog-standard enemy has just nearly killed me in the game’s very first skirmish.”

And your brain, for once, isn’t wrong. That has happened – because you let it happen.

Dark Souls II – like the original game and Demon’s Souls before it – is a game that will punish carelessness and a lack of skill with, if not repeated deaths, at least a seriously depleted energy bar.

Dark Souls II review screenshot 1

It’s a game where if you run headlong around a corner into an unexplored area, you’re liable to get your face smashed off by a hitherto unseen enemy.

It’s a game where, when you go back and are a bit more careful, you’re liable to get your face smashed in by that same enemy.

Dark Souls II is a game where, when you go back the 50th time after having learned perfectly how to take out this once-fearsome enemy, you make a tiny mistake and end up dead again.

But the weirdest thing about Dark Souls II is that you’ll keep coming back for more – you’ll die dozens, if not hundreds of times over the course of playthrough (which will take you dozens, if not hundreds of hours), and you’ll always come right back for more.

It might not be straight away, it might not be the next day or even the next week – but once it has its claws in (and they hurt), Dark Souls II doesn’t let go.

In summary

The ultra-hardcore existing fans will find things to make them dislike Dark Souls II – ‘How dare it allow fast-travel from the outset?’ and so on.

But those of us who are less insane will find a game that’s been refined and updated to make for a much more fulfilling, rewarding experience. It’s still masochistic, but it’s not quite as absolutely infuriating with it. verdict: 5/5