E3 2013: Dark Souls II Hands-On Preview – Death and the Darkness
Written Monday, June 17, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
It's no secret that Dark Souls was nails. It's notoriously demanding, punishing errors with death and a hasty knock back to the last bonfire you managed to activate. There's been rumblings that Dark Souls II is becoming more accessible to court a broader audience, dumbing things down and reducing the difficulty level. That couldn't be further from the truth, as we quickly discover during our first hands-on with Darks Souls II. It's still freakin' hard as hell, and will gleefully chew you up, spit you out and then vomit all over your expectorated remains.
Sporting a new engine and some helpful new gameplay mechanics, Dark Souls II certainly promises to be a lot less annoying than its predecessors (don't forget the PS3-exclusive Demon's Souls). First, let's talk about that new engine. Not only does Dark Souls II look sexier with new lighting, water effects and other touches that enhance the visual fidelity, but characters have now been motion-captured, making their movement seem more fluid and responsive.
Enemies also have more moves in their repertoires too, so if you're careless, they won't hesitate to kill you dead with a backstab. The imposing Turtle Knight – so called because he has armour shaped like a turtle's shell – will kick your legs, dropping you to your knees and leaving you exposed to a brutal execution. He and other enemies will evade with a backstep to, making combat possibly even more challenging than before. Meanwhile your own backstab is now weapon dependent and no guarantee of an instant kill. You'll need to really lay into enemies when they're vulnerable and not rely on chalking up kills with a backstab move.
Of course, evasion is always a viable option if you'd prefer not to brave going toe-to-toe with fearsome enemies like the Turtle Knight, although you can carry three weapons at a time, giving you a bunch of offensive and defensive options. Create a dual-wielding character with the character generation and customisation system, and you can carry a shield as back-up in addition to your two blades, while you can hold weapons in multiple ways. Take the knight character we're shown prior to going hands-on, for instance; he can hold his sword in one hand and shield in the other, grip his sword with two hands for extra attack power or entrench himself behind his shield with both hands to turtle up and defend.
Improved enemy AI will keep you on your toes, but the addition of 'persistent bonfire warping' will make your life a lot easier. This is one of those things that's been introduced in Dark Souls II to reduce the tedium of trudging through the same section over and over in order to return to a previously completed area, creating a “better game experience.” Activate a bonfire after a hard-fought battle – is there any other kind in Dark Souls? - and you can warp to it, negating the need to backtrack. We're totally down with this new addition. Reaching a bonfire will just feel all the sweeter, and we're assured it won't impact the difficulty of the game.
Parrying, stuns and stab attacks still demand careful timing too, and if you can judge it just right, a parry can knock an enemy over or send him stumbling, with new physics determining how and where they'll fall. With the odds still stacked against you so enormously, there's more help in the shape of life gems that can be used to top up a small amount of health, saving your precious health bar replenishing Estus Flasks for when you really need them. As ever, the key to success in battle during Dark Souls II is managing your stamina bar, and in the dark catacombs we face during our demo, each swing of our dual swordsman's blades needs to land true, lest we waste stamina with a flurry of strikes and stabs.
You can ditch a sword and light up a torch if you need illumination in the darkness, and it serves a dual purpose, igniting enemies and burning them nicely. Toasty. A skeletal knight throwing incendiary projectiles causes a stockpile of gunpowder kegs to erupt, opening a hole in the wall next to them, presenting a neat shortcut to a bonfire where we warp to a gloomy and oppressive castle interior. Running past the minions shambling around and a nasty-looking warlock, a fog wall leads into an inevitable boss battle with a typically terrifying boss known as the Mirror Knight.
A shiny silver warrior, the Mirror Knight is utterly unforgiving, unleashing devastating leap attacks that shake the ground and sparking up his long sword with lightning, before letting rip with swipes that cover a wide range. The Mirror Knight can also release small enemy shadows from his mirror shield, creating distractions as you try to focus on and engage him in combat. As expected, our first introduction to Dark Souls II is like a whole new baptism of fire, leaving us feel out of our depth once again.
When the seasoned Dark Souls II QA tester even fails to defeat the Mirror Knight, you have to concede that From Software is certainly pulling no punches once again for the sequel. With solo play, PvP multiplayer for 1-4 players and the welcome return of co-op (more clearly presented and easier to access), alongside a host of smartly implemented improvements, Dark Souls II is bearing up nicely. And we're still utterly scared shitless at the prospect of experiencing it all over again, knowing that one definitive absolute still rings true in Dark Souls II. You. Will. Die.
Dark Souls II will be killing you countless times in March 2014.