Perhaps it’s appropriate that one of the most notoriously challenging videogames on the market boasts box art that embodies that quality. There’s been a palpable fervor surrounding the release of Dark Souls II, with players eager to jump into a world of mayhem, death and existential crisis. But like any piece of art that engages heavy subject matter, be it Breaking Bad or a Cormac McCarthy novel, the box art for Dark Souls II runs the risk of taking itself too seriously and, rather than hinting at the darker themes of the game’s universe, becoming a parody of its own murky morality.
Indeed, it leans perilously close to parody. The overarching epicness of the cover is its most obvious flaw. There’s the hulking stature of the sword-wielding protagonist as he staggers into the fog/smoke/rain/mist; you can feel his brooding, manly nature emanating from the art just like every other morally conflicted male hero of the past however many years. There’s a movie-like quality to the cover that’s very much indicative of the aughts; I’ll call it “dystopian chic.” Dystopian chic can be used to describe our current culture’s fascination with seeing worlds in utter ruin. This is prevalent in superhero films, current dystopian literature, while also inspiring the worldview of Rust Cohle. Our culture is fascinated by decay and questionable morality, and the box art for Dark Souls II is almost laughably engaged with such heaviness. Looking at this box art, I can’t help but hear the overbearing Inception BRAMMMM. If the cover is somewhat ridiculous it’s only because the game itself isn’t about moments of grandiosity, but rather mood and nuance.
And yet, the same seriousness that makes this cover reductive is also what makes it appealing, if only because of the smaller details. If much of the appeal of Dark Souls II is how the game feels, how it portrays and thrives on its details, then the cover underscores that love of smaller pleasures. I can almost feel the wind blowing the fur collar, our protagonist pulling it up to hide his neck from the weather. I can sense the armored hands hiding the wiry strength underneath that’s needed to wield that sword like a twig. I can feel my boots getting covered with mud, the cold seeping into my toes that I’m in too much danger to really consider.
The box art for Dark Souls II may be overwrought, and maybe too similar to so many other brooding, male-led videogames out there. But it’s also evocative and gorgeous; its color palette, which ranges from gray to slightly more gray, captures the moral cloud that looms over the game.