Earlier this week we were given the opportunity to play Dark Souls 2, From Software’s upcoming sequel to the critically acclaimed Dark Souls. For those unfamiliar with Dark Souls it is a fantasy 3rd person RPG with a punishing learning curve based on trial and error. It also features a unique and wickedly cool online mode. It was originally released in 2011 and re-released on all console platforms as well as the PC in 2012 with a host of new content under the appropriate title of ‘Dark Souls: Prepare To Die’ edition. If that’s not enough for the uninitiated to get a feel of what Dark Souls is about, then perhaps this will help: in today’s 3 hour preview session of Dark Souls 2 I died more than 50 times, several of which were in the tutorial zone. Dark Souls 2 is set for release on the 11th of March in the US and on March 14th in the UK. Meanwhile we have our thoughts and experiences on the preview version below.
We were introduced to the sequel with a fantastic, mysterious and rather creepy intro detailing your character's arrival along with a haunting prophecy.
Thrn we were thrown into the character creator which houses a vast array of fairly typical RPG options; you can pick your class, sex, appearance and an item to start with, tweak your eyebrows, forehead, cheekbones and so forth. Your class effects your starting weapon and character statistics. Having settled as a slightly chubby swordsman with a suave beard I began my journey with a refreshing tutorial…In which I died several times.
After fumbling around for a few minutes familiarizing myself with a control scheme, falling off ledges, hitting the wrong button and getting flattened by weird hippo creatures, I was able to escape from the dark and cavern into a beautiful yet sadly rundown cliff-side town. A theme the game seems to run with, as almost all of the set pieces I visited gave off a sense of abandonment and despair as if the land had been lost from the charted world a long time ago.
As I made my way into town I was greeted by the town’s inhabitants, their dull almost monotone voices projected a kind of despairing aura and melancholy. There was a poor blacksmith who had his tools locked inside one of the houses, either by incompetence or mischief, and a merchant that sounded so depressed when I kindly informed him that I had no souls (souls are used throughout the Dark Souls 2 as currency) to trade with. There were several other characters dotted around all with their own stories to tell. I noticed a large monument towards the cliff edge, seemingly a testament to the sun, and made my way towards it. On interacting with it a message appeared on my screen which basically showed the amount of times I had died, 5 so far. “Off to a great start!” I sardonically thought to myself since I had only just finished the tutorial area. I decided to roam around the town for a few more minutes to see if I could find anything. After nabbing several pieces of loot and dying several more times in rather humorous ways; jumping into a well trying to grab some loot, being chased by small zombie pigs, accidentally falling into the well I previously tried to jump in and being chased into said well by said pigs -- I found I was getting too comfortable in town and decided to leave and explore the wider world.
There were multiple routes leading out of town and with no overarching objective other than trying to help the poor blacksmith get back into the house I simply picked a direction and set off on my adventure. After trying out several of the routes which led to either dead ends or loot I eventually found a path that kept going. It was here that I encountered my first ‘real’ death in the world of Dark Souls 2 as I snuck around a corner and stumbled upon nature made entrance to a room. I jumped in thinking “Well alright, now we’re making progress” and was subsequently ambushed by several undead creatures wielding makeshift weapons.
Instinct kicked in and my character, under my instruction, let out a flurry of vicious blows with the deadly scimitar he was carrying, slicing and shredding at any soul unfortunate enough to be stood in front of him. Actually it was more like panicked button mashing as everything I covered in the tutorial was forgotten in a moment of madness. Two enemies fell while the third stabbed me in the face. “You Died” occupied the centre of my screen and the scenery faded to black. There I was, back in the cliff-side town by the bonfire which acts as a respawn point for your character (much like the original).
I made my way back to where I died. This time armed with the knowledge of what was awaiting me, I announced my return by swiftly dispatching the 3 assailants I knew were there and gathered up the souls I lost upon dying. Following the path I could see see the forest clearing in the distance: the Forest of Fallen Giants. “Great!” I thought as I stepped towards it, before plummeting into a river to my death. Back to the bonfire I went. Getting back there I killed the 3 assailants, jumped the gap in the river and splashed my way through the shallow water into the new zone. As the letters announcing the new area I had accessed flashed across my screen I was promptly welcomed by having a sword thrust into my chest, followed by words which were starting to feel a little too familiar -- “You Died.” I resurrected at the town that was beginning to feel more like a resort from the horrors outside it and made my way back to where I died.
I spent the most of the time we were allowed exploring this forest. There were very few linear routes. Paths crossed, intertwined, and led me to many places which contained treasure or death, usually both. The new larger explorable areas really allow you to get a feel for the environment you’re in. Often rewarding you for going off the beaten path. That reward sometimes was death, but it wouldn’t be Dark Souls if every path simply led to treasure. I did however find myself a fancy sword that dealt additional fire damage after overcoming a particularly cruel trap.
After lots of exploring and a lot of dying I came across a familiar and terrifying white fog blocking a doorway and obscuring what was behind it. Though this feature is often used in the Dark Souls series to obscure a new zone from view this was one of those times where the giant ominous doorway the fog was covering gave away the fact that there was something deadly behind this one…I wasn’t wrong.
Dark Souls 2 looks set to build on what it’s predecessor started. A twisted, surreal fantasy world filled with strange creatures, conniving traps and plenty of “Oh my God, what the hell is that!” moments. All nicely broken up by some minor puzzle solving and treasure finding, most of which ends in an ambush. The combat doesn’t appear to have undergone any significant changes, rather showing signs of refinement. It feels solid and heavy. Every weapon swing feels like there is a lot of force and power behind it and sneaking up behind an enemy to assassinate them leaves you with a strong feeling of satisfaction.
My most worrying thoughts of the game not being as punishing and unfair as the first one were easily dismissed as time after time I was ambushed, swarmed on, stabbed, bludgeoned, impaled, stepped on and blown up. Similarly my worries about if the focus on a larger and more explorable world would detract from the tragic beauty and haunting atmosphere contained in the winding corridors and pathways of the previous game were laid to rest. The claustrophobic parts are still there but these are broken up by large open areas with multiple routes that eventually overlap which allow you to explore areas as you please and often reward you for going off the beaten path, ultimately drawing you into the wickedly wonderful world that From Software has created. Release day can't come soon enough.