New Game Plus is pretty fun on its own – you start the game again, but with all your levels and gear, meaning you get another go without having to completely start over. The trade-off is that everything is harder. Enemies deal more damage and take less, but it’s fine because you have a +10 Smelter Hammer that more than makes up for it. Dark Souls 2 went above and beyond that, however, and set a new bar for NG+ that still hasn’t been matched.
Areas have more enemies, new types, and different placements; merchants sell new items; bosses drop new gear, and certain bosses even have added elements to keep you on your toes. However, Dark Souls 2 is the outcast of the trilogy, so it’s no surprise that its sequel immediately threw a lot of its strides out of the window – Dark Souls 3 returned to the usual spongier enemies in NG+, only adding better versions of existing rings. If Souls was quick to drop 2’s innovative NG+, it’s no surprise that the industry didn’t take to it.
My first experience with Dark Souls 2’s NG+ was The Lost Sinner. It’s tough to reach the fight, but once you’re in, it’s a pretty simple one-on-one in a large block-shaped arena. I knew this dance – I had beaten her a couple of times with different characters, and was confident I’d be able to do it again, even if NG+ upped the difficulty slightly. But when I entered, she summoned dark spirit pyromancers that immediately threw me off.
I was dodging fireballs while trying to focus on the boss and getting caught on the pyromancers as I rolled, so I died far more than I ever had. It was a difficulty spike built on something more than just more health, and it was also surprisingly fair. Most of the time with NG+, you simply have to play better, since the challenge comes from enemies taking more hits, but here I figured out that burning the fire on either side stopped the pyromancers from spawning. I’d learned a new trick after 100 hours of playing, one that kept NG+ from being too gruelling.
That’s what NG+ is ultimately about – replay value. Starting over from scratch can be tedious, especially with unskippable tutorials, as you have to get basic gear and skills all over again. NG+ circumvents this, letting you jump right back in, replaying the game without the hassle of the slow beginning. Dark Souls 2 took that to another level, as not only did NG+ speed up the start, it threw spanners in the works and forced you to learn the game all over again.
Take the first area, the forest. When you head there from the hub, there’s a chest. Normally, it has a forgettable item in it that you probably won’t bother with, but in NG+, it’s a mimic. Mimics normally get predictable since, after one run, you know where they all are, but NG+ offered a chance to get the jump on us again, and Dark Souls 2 took it.
What’s truly unique about Dark Souls 2’s NG+, however, is that it lets you change specific areas individually. You can make the Lost Bastille NG+2, or Drangleic Castle NG+3, all by burning Bonfire Aesthetics. And when you do beat the game and enter NG+ proper, each of these areas will go up another number, letting you tailor the difficulty and exploration to your preference. On my very first Dark Souls 2 playthrough, my friend got me to burn an aesthetic so we could get a NG+ specific item from The Duke’s Dear Freja boss, making NG+ flexible in a way no other game has managed.
Most games, especially RPGs, are starting to implement NG+ modes now. But only Dark Souls 2 has ever made NG+ something completely new to experience. It’s not just the same adventure again but with all your old gear, it’s another world to explore, and that’s what sets it apart from the crowd.
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