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Dark Souls II

Gamescom 2013: Dark Souls II Preview - The Cursed Crusade

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You Died. Two words that send a shiver down the spine of players that have, probably, never tasted defeat quite as often until they took a plunge into the harsh realm of Dark Souls. Although it's probably fair to say that bullet hell shooters are the undisputed kings of killing, but we digress. The original Dark Souls, and its spiritual predecessor Demon’s Souls, were undoubtedly tough but only because they couldn’t be played like any other game out there. Players couldn’t rush into battle, bash buttons to succeed and generally roam freely. Instead every step had to be measured, every battle was fraught with risks and every hurdle overcome was a triumph. And so it goes with Dark Souls II.

So what to do with the sequel? Luckily a presentation from Yui Tanimura, the game’s director, was on hand to clear up a few of the queries that players may have had about their second plunge into From Software's world. The main concept highlighted was the fact that the team involved wanted to make the second game just as challenging as the first so that players had, “satisfaction from beating the game,” according to Yui. He stressed that while most games actively sought to avoid death, Dark Souls wanted players to enjoy it (to some extent) and they wanted to make every death a learning experience. The game certainly has a large variety of ways for you to meet your maker, but, as with the original, players are expected to learn from each encounter and use that knowledge to fortify themselves next time around.

Dark Souls II's storyline revolves around a cursed character seeking a potential cure for their torment, rather like the protagonist of the first game who was banished to the North due to their affliction. From Software wants players to experience the despair and anguish of their curse while searching for a curative balm. It remains to be seen whether or not the story will be a touch more engaging than the original, which seemed more about the ongoing journey rather than any sense of a satisfying conclusion. Here the plot seems to offer more opportunities for a clearer narrative, rather than the fractured events or the first game that often shifted depending on who you met and what state they were in. Of course, that shifting narrative also meant players could experience the same game in countless different ways. So time will tell whether Dark Souls II retains that ambiguous quality or goes for something more straight-laced.

Once again the studio wants the twin concepts of interaction with others to play a part, so players can yet again leave helpful (or not so helpful) messages for their peers of leave their own marks in a bid to help (or hinder) others. On the flip side the nefarious ability to invade others worlds is also present and correct, so get ready to be pummelled by experienced players yet again if you choose to leave that option active. In fact one of the issues with the first game, which was recognised by the developers, was that players often couldn’t meet up with other players when it came to summoning and invasions which made the game feel a bit empty. So this time around the team has put together a dedicated server to ensure players see people more often and have less connection issues, all in a bid to make players feel like they are part of each other's worlds and experiences, as well as ensuring that there is still a high level of challenge and replayability for those that like nothing better than crushing the unwary.

A lot more emphasis this time has been placed on the use of light in terms of exploration and combat. Dark corridors can hold any number of terrors, so it helps to have a torch on hand, the trade-off for this is the loss of your shield (or two-handed weapon) so being able to explore freely will mean an increased level of vulnerability. With narrow, claustrophobic corridors and cramped quarters abound, you can expect to have to think your way around each encounter. You can also smash open boarded up windows to blind your foes and cause them to be momentarily distracted. Yet again the whole world is interlinked, so exploration will be paramount if you want to uncover useful objects and items.

A quick hands-on with the latest Dark Souls II build showed us just what to expect. You're able to choose your class yet again, though they seem to have more obvious strengths and weaknesses this time around rather than some of the more ambiguous choices presented to you in the first game. As ever though, you can tailor your character however you see fit by expending souls on various upgrades, so you will never feel bound to one path of progression.

While the game certainly looks beautiful, with crumbling ruins, epic vistas and huge beasts to fight, it plays exactly as you remember. Combat is a careful combination of blocks, dodges and strikes and getting a bit overconfident can lead to a swift death. We foolishly ran headlong into a dark tunnel, and were swiftly mauled by three unseen enemies. We knew there were three of them, because next time we wandered in with a torch and they mauled us again – but at least this time we could see what was butchering us, so that was nice. A more careful approach as always is the way to go, clearing the danger and enabling us to emerge relatively unscathed in some ruins, though we then took a wrong turn and ran into another three invaders intent on inflicting more bodily harm. They succeeded.

Every step uncovered something new, and each attempt saw us get a bit further, which is exactly what the game is designed to do. Ducking past reanimated statues and a fiendish magic user, saw us end up face to face with the towering Mirror Knight, one of the game's many bosses. Yet again it was a battle of brains over brawn as his potent strikes meant that any hesitation would be punished. It was a brutal playtest but one that hammered home just how well designed the whole game seems to be. Whenever we died it was due to our own carelessness, or biting off more enemies than we could chew (or shamefully rolling off a cliff) but that sense of achievement and progression never went away.

Dark Souls II looks like it could well be more of the same, which means that if you never got on with the original then there is likely nothing to lure you in here. In truth the game itself seems like a more advanced copy of the original, with all of the core elements of combat, magic and exploration present and correct, but with a more beautiful world to explore, a wider range of foes to defeat and even sterner obstacles to overcome. It certainly looks beautiful at this point, and the breadth of the environments and enemies are superb. Players worried about a toning down in terms of difficulty needn’t be concerned, as things are still as brutal as ever with even the most basic enemy able to dish out mortal damage to the unwary.

In either event, for newcomers or veterans alike it will take a bit of time to get to grips with the unique charms, and demanding set up of Dark Souls once again but the rewards are there for those that choose to persevere. Dark Souls II is a game that will require plenty of patience, but it's also one that will certainly demand your attention thanks to its breathtaking world and unique approach.

Prepare to die yet again when Dark Souls II curses you in March 2014.


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Game Info
From Software
Namco Bandai


US March 11, 2014
Europe March 14, 2014
Japan March 13, 2014

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