I've had my share of DS2 review comments up here and now that I'm finally far enough along in the game I figured I'd make my own review of this one. I'm looking at this from the perspective of a longtime DS1 player so that might skew some elements and I appologize in advance.
It's for sure a Dark Souls game, make no mistake. It's gritty, it's difficult, you'll die hundreds of times easily (the last time I checked the monolith I was at 351 and that was a week ago). When you finally take down that boss who's taken you out 20 times in a row you'll jump up and down and start screaming like a little girl regardless of the time of day.. You have access to tons of weapons, armor, rings, and other magical items to help you along the way.
They've made some very good improvements this time around. For starters, characters can now equip up to 4 rings instead of 2. Considering the giant amount of useful rings you'll get, this was almost a necessity. You can even find upgraded rings occassionaly that increase the core effect at the cost of some minor additional weight and slightly lower item durability ( a trade well worth it, to be sure). Your guy can now equip up to 3 weapons per hand to swap out on the fly and this is just fantastic. As a tank who's started to go the sorcery route it's nice not having to go into your full inventory just to whip out a sorcerer's staff for that 90 second 'magic weapon' buff.
Online play for the most part has been greatly improved. Not only do the connections seem more stable, you can find many people to play with at any time of the day. Now this could be because DS2 is a relatively new game, but only time will tell on that one. Jolly co-op with players through a difficult area or boss enemy, invade guys to screw up their PvE action, invade players who've invaded too many times to teach them a lesson- it's just really cool. I usually hate PvP in my games but it's tolerable and even borderline fun in this one.
There are no "Blight Town Framerate Drops-(tm)" in this game. That was a really bad sticking point with the first game for me. It made me want to grab the master key and completely skip that area in each subsequent playthrough and that's not right.
Magic is now awesome. I never used magic much in DS1, but here it's not only useful many spells are borderline OP. I like some of the aux spells the best. For example, if you see that you're getting invaded you can cast the chameleon spell and turn into a vase or a crate or something and hide from the invader. Or better still, joint the rat brothers covenant and turn into a box and wait until a tresspasser phantom shows up and when he walks by.. BLAMMO! The tresspasser has been vanquished. This might sound like a crappy thing to do but remember these are the same guys who'll invade you at the most inopportune times while you're running for your life in those last few game areas.
There are more viable weapon types this time around, most notably whips. There are many more whips in this game and unlike the 2 or whatever you got in DS1, these can actually kill more than your average Firelink Shrine brand hollow wussies. In fact, I'd say whips are the best weapon to take out those lion enemies at the shaded woods fort.
Equipment can still be upgraded, and most of it can be further enhanced with either fire, lightning, dark, poison, bleeding, etc, you get the idea. Curiously missing in this installment is the Holy attribute from the first game, but oh well what can you do? Infusing a weapon will reduce its stat scaling and lower its base damage, but in some cases it's still worth it. For instance, I've infused my mace +10 with magic because my high INT (intelligence) score boosted that magic damage a lot. This is all optional, and up to you.
The world / level design, while good, isn't nearly on par with the bar they set with DS1. Let me allow a special guest to tell you about this: C'mon up, Galvan! "I GALVAN, IT'S GOOD TO BE HERE!" "GALVAN DEAL, DARK SOULS 2 MAP LIKE WHEEL!!" Yes, I'd like to think of the overall world layout of DS2 as a wheel design. That is, a central hub area (Majula, the main town) and many other single spokes that lead out to other game areas. In contrast, DS1's map design was like this genius vertical pretzel- Each area seemed to be interconnected to many others.
There are not nearly enough 100% physical reduction shields in this game. Even most of the largest greatshields you'll find towards the endgame. This is just a strange design descision. I mean I guess they did this because nobody in their right mind ever used a non 100% phys reduction shield in DS1 aside from maybe the Grass Crest Shield for the stamina reduction, who knows? For this very reason, I've kept the drangelic shield I found towards the start of the game all the way up to the Dragon Aerie and beyond when my main Fire Rebel Greatshield +10 doesn't cut the mustard.
It's awesome that you can easily summon help at most of the bosses, but honestly some of these things are just too cheap. To the point that I don't know how I would have ever beat some of them without other players' phantoms to assist me. Try soloing the Old Iron king with dual daggers or something and tell me how that works out. I love the single player campaign of most games but I fear when this game has aged to the point where summons are hard to find I'm going to have some real tough times ahead.
Now when you die, they reduce your max HP a little. Every time you die. This will eventually stop when you're at 50%, but honestly I think this game mechanic sucks. Now there IS a ring you can find that will lessen this effect, but I don't think this is a good 'reward' for a player who's died because something was too hard for him. See, wasn't that hard? Guess what, now you'll have even less life than before. Now it's harder. Hooray! I'm not a wuss when it comes to hard games, I just don't think this was a very smart idea.
Another controversial aspect of the game is a new stat called "Soul Memory". It's a running total of every single soul you've ever collected thus far. At first I thought this was kind of cool- like how some games will tell you how many gold pieces you've ever earned, you know for curiousity's sake. Unfortunately, this isn't just for show it actually does something. I guess it's used for summons compatability. So instead of using your overall Soul Level they use this. This isn't a good idea IMO. For example, I stayed away from GameFAQs and wikis for this game for awhile because I didn't want to have anything spoiled for me for a few weeks. So in this time I was laying down my summon signs in order to help other players defeat some of the game's first couple bosses for fun, and it was a good source of souls to boot. The problem with this is that my Soul Memory kept getting higher and higher, and then eventually I COULDN'T be summoned for help anymore for that boss. I guess they put this system in to prevent twinks and other crap, but I don't know..
Overall, the game controls seem a bit 'off' too. Like you'll go to swap weapons or two-hand a sword and it just won't work, so you'll have to press the button twice. This sounds like no big deal but when you're a split second away from getting whacked by the Smelter Demon's firey sword you'll see how much this can suck.
Also when you're at a store and want to buy some new gear there's no way to tell if it's better or worse than what you're already wearing. For some bizarre reason they took this useful and dare I say necessary aspect from the first game (and most games, ever) out for DS2. So if you're looking at a flamberge and are toting a greatsword you'll be hectically swapping stat screens trying to see if that flamberge is better (blue numbers) or worse (red numbers) and it's futile because IT'S NOT THERE. I'd say I really hope they patch this feature in later but it's probably a big pain in the ass to do now after the fact. I guess there's always Dark Souls 3 for this?
A good thing is that there's more NPCs to talk to, but the bad thing is that many of them are just so damn boring as hell and uninteresting. In DS1, there were not a lot of other people to talk to- and many of them died- but at least they were good. There's nobody on par with Seigmeyer the Onion Bro here I'm afraid. Galvan is the best one I can think of, but that could be because he's the only guy who you can sell your stuff to. And where's the levity? Remember how everybody in DS1 thought everything was funny, no matter how bleak their situations really were? How many times did they laugh after talking to you? "Well, better to be burned in acid than be crushed by a boulder. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!"