Dark Souls 2 is weird. (Very minor design spoilers)
Spoiler for Hidden:
Gameplay wise: on the bright side it feels less clunky, on the worse side it feels looser. It's also much faster than the first game.
World and level design, it feels like a very different design philosophy.
I know some of the souls games have towns, but the first town doesn't feel like any Souls town I've seen yet. It's also insanely bright and not brooding like the vast majority of the other Souls games I've played.
I think I understand what people have complained about with regards to the level design. Or maybe I'm just trying to see things that aren't there yet. Some of the encounters feel kind of cheap.