Dark Souls II – E3 Preview

Title   Dark Souls II
Developer  From Software
Publisher  Namco Bandai
Platform  PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3 (Previewed)
Genre  Action, Role-Playing
Release Date  March 2014
Official Site  http://www.darksoulsii.com/

When Dark Souls released with the slogan “Prepare to Die”, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was nothing but an empty bluff. However, those aware of its spiritual ancestor Demon’s Souls knew what they’d be getting themselves in for, and others soon learned that this was no idle threat; it was a warning. Considered to be one of the hardest games of the modern era, Dark Souls has rapidly become a cult classic and, with nearly three million copies sold worldwide, a great success for developers From Software. Since then, they’ve been working on its successor, and the best warning I can possibly relay is “Run, while you still have the chance”.

The first thing the developers made clear was that, contrary to popular belief, this wasn’t going to be easier and appeal to a wider audience; if anything, we were warned, Dark Souls II is going to be far more difficult and less welcoming to unfamiliar players than ever before. Despite it being considered one of the more challenging titles of the last few years, some found it easier than others, and we were told how certain players took their grievances to From Software and let them know that they found it too easy. They didn’t take too kindly to those responses and, in fact, took them personally, using them as a spur to make the second Dark Souls more difficult than the first.

Providing a more satisfying challenge doesn’t just come down to making everything harder, but also by fixing and alleviating some of the issues that the predecessor had, and this is something that From Software made sure to pay as much attention to as possible. The first of these was the issue that not all of the bonfires the player lit would allow them to teleport to one they’d previously lit, and this came across as slightly counter-intuitive as a result, as there was no real method to discern which you could and couldn’t fast-travel between. To fix this, Dark Souls II will have persistent bonfire-warping, allowing you to move between any that you’ve already activated.

Not all of these fixes were done specifically to make life easier for the player and, as it happens, a few minor changes are all it takes to up the ante, especially for those accustomed to using certain tactics in the previous game. With this in mind, parries, back-stabs and rolls are all performed differently to thanks to the removal of canned animations, therein removing the invincibility frames that allowed you to gain a brief respite from damage, preventing you from exploiting the system to avoid meeting your demise. Back-stabbing is now also a multi-hit attack and if you fail to connect the first part then the attack will fail, meaning it’s not quite as devastating as it once was, especially in a player-versus-player scenario.

Bundled with all these tweaks and the new engine is an improved AI, and this is where your life can be made miserable if you’re not adequately prepared, where most of the updates to your artificial enemies involve them becoming more contextually and situationally reactive to your character. Hiding behind your shield for too long may make foes kick you in an attempt to break your guard. Enemies will back-stab you as you roll past them, can use combos against you, and will charge towards you if they see you healing in an attempt to finish you off before the items have taken their effects. Their power has also increased, and one well-placed combo can see you losing nearly three-quarters of your health bar in one go.

To alleviate this slightly, the health system has undergone a minor overhaul; Estus flasks will now heal you completely regardless of how much health you have remaining, while life gems will let you recover over time and can be picked up from the bodies of your fallen foes. So, while enemies are stronger, can sense when you’re about to save yourself, and cut your actions short, restorative items are more powerful and slightly more commonplace.

One trend I noticed whenever someone I knew started playing Dark Souls was that they were never entirely sure what class of character to go for, and which ones suited their play-style the most. To this end, From Software have tweaked the character generation system to allow you to choose between a better set-up for your quest. When creating your avatar, you’ll also be able to pick their stats, and once these have been entered you’ll then be advised on the classes that would be best to use in light of what you’ve chosen.

The demo allowed you to select between the Warrior, Temple Knight, Sorcerer and the Dual Swordsman, though these were just for the purposes of the preview, and weren’t representative of the final product. The latter choice is one that will doubtless intrigue veterans of the first Dark Souls, as the upcoming sequel will feature true duel-wielding, with possible combinations allowing you to carry a torch and sword to examine some of the worst-lit regions, and even equip and use two shields at once.

The end of the demo saw the appearance of a boss known as The Mirror Knight, and before we were invited to let it kick us to the kerb, we were made privy to two interesting facts. The first of these was that the room preceding the fight would start out in complete darkness, with every failure on your part lighting a candle; the developers joked that by the end of each previous day of E3 each room was brighter than they thought possible.

As a sign of their confidence, From Software had issued a challenge: anyone outside of the development team who managed to beat The Mirror Knight at any point throughout the expo would not only receive an exclusive t-shirt and be posted on their Facebook and Twitter pages, but they’d also give the successful player a hundred dollars from their own wallets. With the developer guiding us through the demo falling short of victory this time around, the challenge seemed nigh-impossible, but nary a minute passed before someone had entered the room and announced that they’d had their first – and subsequently only – winner of the bet.

Despite the unfortunate timing on their behalf, that it happened was an incredible achievement on its own; throughout all three days of E3, only one person outside of the developers themselves was able to finish the Dark Souls II demo without rage-quitting. Even my own attempts to do GamingLives proud and best it left me conceding defeat after only a few attempts, and not just because I had other appointments to attend.

By no means is it unfair, but it’s not one that you can mount a reasonable fight against without plenty of time and a level of patience worthy of Ned Flanders. If you were one of the inhumanly-skilled creatures who found the original too easy, then you’re going to find this to be a worthy opponent, but if you weren’t one of those demonically-gifted players, then you’re going to need some serious Rocky-styled montages between now and next March.

You are not ready. Prepare to die harder.

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One Comment

  1. UselessJack says:

    I can’t even tell you how hyped I am for this game, Dark Souls must be one of my most played games. When I first heard that they wanted to make the game more “accesible” I really feared for the quality of the game, but thank Namco for not doing that.
    The atmosphere, the immersive world and the feeling of exploration is something I haven’t had in any other game. And to start all this anew with the very friendly and awesome Dark Souls community is something I’m looking forward to. Also, the possibility of maybe no having to deal with Games For Windows Live is making me throwing all of my money at the screen alreay.

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