Dark Souls II continues being driven by a lot of little moment to moment choices - do you try and back away from the boss' attack or aggressively roll under and be in a prime position to counter-attack? Do you attack and kill NPCs for their useful items, even if it means no longer having access to a covenant or merchant? There's a lot of weight to everything you do in Dark Souls II.
This split nature carries over to the character customization. You again have your pick of starting class and a gift. These gifts run the gambit from helpful items to more story and world connected ones, and can either give you a leg up in the early game or allow for specific interactions in the world. The choices are also better balanced this time around, with no clear outlier as there was before. So, feel free to grab some extra healing items if this is your first time playing without worrying that you're really missing out.
Classes in Dark Souls II are really more a starting stat distribution and item outfitting than anything else. Leveling and item equip restrictions are stat based, so you're free to develop your character however you choose. There is no wrong choice at the start as you can simply invest the time to level up whatever stats you want going forward. The warrior or knight are good choices for beginners, but don't be afraid to try something else. One of the improvements for this sequel is a more structured starting experience, though it's rather cleverly designed to be easily bypassed.
There is even a new mechanic to allow you to respec your stat points. A rare item found in the world gives you a limited number of redoes, and is certainly nice for the first outing when you find some awesome weapon you want to use and are not built to handle it in the least. You also don't need to worry about going down any dead-end builds. The item is quite rare though, so use them sparingly and only when you're sure.
Character customization is also where you'll likely first take real notice of the improved graphics and how From Software is leveraging their new engine. Faces especially have improved from the ugly blobs from before, and the game is downright gorgeous at times. Sure, it's still last gen and there is the occasional bad texture or some poor geometry, but some of the vistas you visit are just breathtaking. I can't wait to see it on the PC. The game also runs very smoothly, kind of important for this style of game, with only the smallest of hiccups at times and certainly nothing approaching the level of issues seen previously.
Most importantly, Dark Souls II continues to capture that awe of not only presenting this world visually, but also seeing something off in the distance and knowing that it's an actual location, not just scenery. The towering black spire looming off ominously on the horizon is all the more ominous just knowing you'll be headed there eventually. If I did have one criticism to leverage against the game it's that the map isn't as well designed as before. Dark Souls had this ingeniously twisted web of locations. It led to this great feeling of interconnection where each zone flowed and shortcut to often multiple other areas, whereas Dark Souls II feels a bit more like spokes going off a wheel. It's not bad, but it's not as interesting. Part of this is likely do to some of the changes in mechanics, you're free to teleport between the bonfires that serve as your waypoints and health regeneration.
A few of the first couple bosses could stand to be a bit more interesting, but these are ultimately just nitpicks. What could very well have felt like little more than a new New Game+ for Dark Souls manages to craft another experience I'll happily sink hours and hours into.
Bottom line: Dark Souls II is Dark Souls refined and given an extra layer of polish.
Recommendation: It's the best RPG released this year.