Gamescom 2011: Dark Souls Hands-On Preview - A Hard Day's Knight
Written Saturday, August 27, 2011 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
Do you remember that really hard PS3 game Demon’s Souls? You know the one, the game that pretty much hated your existence and wanted you to suffer for even having the temerity to assume that you could best it. Well apparently a small minority felt it wasn’t actually hard enough and, even worse, that small minority happen to be the developers. So for sadists the world over they have created Dark Souls, a game that pretty much wants to eat you up and spit you out, then laugh as you squirm about in agony, then invite your friends over to kick you while you’re down. Gird your loins folks.
It started innocently enough, as the games fairly chipper producers Daisuke Uchiyama and Kei Hirono were on hand to demonstrate a few new locations and one of the epic boss battle. I suspect anyone who picks up this game in the near future will be cursing their names, but hey, they seem nice enough in person. Obviously the difficulty spike was the number one question on everyone’s lips and they were quick to broach the subject, pointing out that the game had indeed been toughened up but the difficulty was meant to act as a learning curve for the player rather than a hindrance.
Suffice it to say that the team demonstrating the game were pretty experienced with the build, and had brought along a suitably buff character to get the job done, but even they managed to die multiple times throughout the brief segment on display. So for those looking for an easy ride it is safe to say that this is hardly the game for you. In fact the overriding goal of the developers was to make progression and completion immensely satisfying, and that is directly tied into the toughness of the foes and puzzles on offer.
The world of Dark Souls is a fairly open one, with a huge world to seamlessly explore fall of sprawling heights and dizzying depths. Considering the world is three times as large as the last title then it is good to know that each section can be traversed at your own speed, and just the area on display here, the Duke’s Archive, was suitably epic. Fairly soon an enormous boss, Seath the Scaleless, turned up to ruin their day. The huge ice dragon made short work of the player and banished them to an icy prison. The game wasn’t over there though as the player had a chance to escape from his newfound jail and seek his revenge.
The clever ideas were in full evidence, as even defeat can lead to a new segment of the adventure rather than just a game over screen, then a musical box was deployed to flood the area with creatures. The jail was soon full of merciless, tentacle covered foes that could kill you with one attack. So rather than facing them head on he stuck to the shadows, and basically did a runner if they get too close, activating a nearby bonfire meant he had a handy checkpoint in case the worst should happen (and it did – twice). After carefully negating the dungeon, and dispatching some snake headed foes, he managed to turn off the musical device that was controlling the army of foes and send them back to their lair. As a result the path was open to make good their escape. If it sounds easy, then believe us it was anything but and they even made the point that regular players would probably have much more of a hard time thanks to the fact their character would generally be much weaker. They want to hurt us guys and gals, they want to make us suffer.
Obviously you can tool up your character with all manner of weapons and equipment, with a variety of brutal swords, axes and maces on display as we watched. You can tailor you skills and items to suit the situation at hand, and the real onus is on experimentation and a willingness to learn from each grievous mistake. If you are liable to get easily frustrated then this is certainly not going to help matters, as the developers felt that just getting past the first level might take over one hundred deaths assuming you had a character starting from scratch. That is probably an exaggeration, but you do get the sneaky impression that it will not be by much.
There are also online aspects to the game that seem designed to increase the challenge rather than diminish it. Other players can pop into your game and leave messages lying around to help you out or even turn up in person to assist you with taking down especially tough foes. Of course, this is the internet, so it is more likely that people will jump in and help to beat you up or leave rude or unhelpful messages to send you in the wrong direction.
For anyone seeking a challenge in the upper echelons of the difficulty spectrum then this is for you. The game has a suitably gothic feel, and the play areas are vast and just priming with potential. There is really no right or wrong way to approach each area either so a willingness to try new approaches and think on your feet could well be essential. Plus, we all know that popping into a friends game and screwing them over is pretty much a game in itself. Assuming you’re evil that is. However, the toughness of the game may also be it’s Achilles heel as there is no point having a vast world to explore if new players are never likely to see it, so it will be interesting just how bad the learning curve is from the get go. If things can be perfectly balanced then we could be in for a treat.
Get ready to die, a lot, when Dark Souls comes for your throat on the 4th October in North America and 7th October in Europe.