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Deciphering Dark Souls 2′s ‘accessibility’

Friday, 24th May 2013 08:29 GMT By Stace Harman

Dark Souls 2′s very existence has Stace Harman rather delighted, but he questions whether making the game more accessible might rob it of its appeal.

Dark Souls 2

Unlike its predecessor, Dark Souls 2 is being developed simultaneously for PS3, 360 and PC, which should help avoid the criticisms levelled at Dark Souls somewhat lacklustre PC port.

Dragons are once again set to play a large role throughout the game. From the gameplay so far, we’ve seen a tentatively titled Mansion of Dragons and around a dozen dragons featured during a bridge-crossing segment.

The decision to keep Dark Souls 2 on the current generation of machines was made partly for the sake of expediency .

Despite the series offering an infamous degree of challenge and my own personal first play-through of Dark Souls clocking in at 100+ hours, this super-human individual was able to complete it in just 86 minutes.

There are many stories that offer an insight into the mind of Hidetaka Miyazaki, the creative driving force behind Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. There’s one about a digital photo frame that displayed varied feedback to Demon’s Souls, which the director kept on his desk throughout the development of its follow-up.

There’s another about Miyazaki watching tapes of dedicated Demon’s Souls players completing the game with the weakest character class, so that he might better understand the level of devotion that the game was capable of inspiring.

My personal favourite tells of how the air of ambiguity that surrounds series features like World Tendency and Covenants is a considered and deliberate choice on Miyazaki’s part.

It is the director’s attempt to recreate the mix of awe and incomprehension that he himself experienced during childhood as he struggled to understand the foreign language of western fantasy literature.

By not providing all of the answers and leaving some mysteries unexplained, Miyazaki hoped to encourage players to invest themselves in the fiction of his Souls series and to engage their imagination to fill in the blanks.

It’s these stories that go some way to helping us understand what Miyazaki has brought to From Software’s celebrated series, in terms of both mechanical design and emotional impact. It’s these same stories that make it difficult for fans to not be concerned by the fact that Miyazaki’s involvement in Dark Souls 2 is at a supervisory level only.

What’s more, his replacement, Tomohiro Shibuya, has stated that Dark Souls 2 will be less obtuse and easier to understand, while on a recent trip to Namco Bandai’s UK HQ I was told that the game’s narrative will be clearer and its story more structured.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to make something easier to understand and many will feel that the secrets of series should, at the very least, be decipherable through exploration of the game, rather than an online wiki. However, all of this makes me wary of the direction that Dark Souls 2 could take if pursuit of these notions is not expertly managed.

A more structured story suggests a clearer idea of where to go and what to do next, which risks depriving players of having to make their own exploratory journeys to figure it out for themselves. To be denied this joy because a wider audience might be disorientated by too many paths or frustrated by the lack of obvious direction is one of my biggest fears for Dark Souls 2.

Say what you see

Watching a Namco Bandai rep playing 20-minutes of the sequel cannot hope to address these concerns but it does reveal a number of clues concerning other key elements of the game.

The gameplay that we’re shown is that which was revealed last month, so rather than give a blow-by-blow account of it it’s more useful to focus on some of the finer details. In this vertical slice of gameplay, an armoured knight is depicted entering a ruined keep, lighting a bonfire and descending a ladder into the depths below.

The bonfires are amongst a number of features to make a return from Dark Souls. In this pre-alpha gameplay there’s much that is yet to be pinned down, but nonetheless the basic form and function of the HUD appears familiar. The health and stamina bars are the same as before, although there’s what appears to be a sun and moon icon where the humanity counter was previously.

There’s no word on whether this is indicative of a shifting day/night cycle, although it doesn’t appear to be the case from what I observe. It could be an emblem that depicts covenant allegiance or is linked to the character class; similarly, it might just be a placeholder at this point. Humanity was one of the core concepts of Dark Souls, affecting numerous game factors and so it wouldn’t be surprising for it to feature in the sequel in one form or another.

The HUD in the bottom-left of the screen looks largely familiar. One key difference is the ability to assign three weapons to the right-hand weapon-slot compared to Dark Souls’ two. There are also smaller item slots next to the main cardinal-point display that suggest an expanded number of secondary items will be accessible without having to dip into the inventory system.

The inventory system itself is currently implemented in only its most basic form. It still takes up most of the screen but is offset to give you a view of your character. While this affords a vanity view of your avatar as you swap armour and equipment it has the more important function of allowing you to see if you’re about to be attacked; it’s unknown at this stage whether you’re able to pause the game.

Aesthetically, Dark Souls 2 shares the ruined beauty of its predecessors. The art direction once again lends personality to crumbling grandiose structures and harsh natural landscapes. A new engine has been developed in order to address the frame rate issues of Dark Souls and with the new engine come a handful of new tricks. The lighting effects are excellent and also serve a gameplay function.

It’s now possible to carry a torch to illuminate those dark corners but doing so deprives you of the ability to equip a shield and so it may be a case of sacrificing the ability to effectively defend against that which is trying to kill you for the relative luxury of being able to see it.

Outside, wind rustles clothing and, in one dangerous sequence, slows movement across a bridge to a crawl as dragons circle overhead. It looks likely that we’ll see more varied weather conditions that we have before.

In truth, there is nothing on show here that offers any cause for alarm. No wholesale changes, recharging health or ill-advised cover mechanics to sully the series’ pure roots and challenging gameplay.

Instead, there is just that one nagging worry that without Miyazaki’s constant presence, the rest of the team might be tempted to tip the balance further in the player’s favour or face publisher pressure to chase a bigger audience by relaxing the firm hand that the first two titles maintained throughout.

Perhaps it’s unfair to be concerned or maybe it’s the unavoidable by-product being so invested in the franchise. I keep coming back to the idea that Miyazaki’s show-not-tell approach is completely at odds with so many other high-profile titles. Without him, will damaging sacrifices be made in a bid for mass-market acceptance?

Of course, neither Dark Souls nor Demon’s Souls were made by just one man. Therefore, I can only hope that those who worked alongside Miyazaki paid close attention to his methods and share his passion for treating players like intelligent adults. Ultimately, I want some of the mystery to remain intact so that I might savour the experience of figuring it out for myself.

Dark Souls 2 will be released on PS3, 360 and PC either later this year or early next.

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12 Comments

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  1. The_Red

    This is exactly how I felt about the DS2 gameplay reveal. I was worried about a lot of things. Then saw the footage and everything felt good (Regarding how there haven’t been any major bad changes and how there wasn’t a real cause for alarm).

    Yet… those words about more “accessibility” and more streamline approach to storytelling are still there :(

    #1 11 months ago
  2. Kieran

    @1

    exactly its difficulty is what made it popular in thee first place im all for more people playing it but i would like it add a difficulty mode but lose the accessibility part

    #2 11 months ago
  3. polygem

    i just finished demon´s souls 2 weeks ago or so and started it the week before. this game is unbelieveably good. i haven´t played the game before because all the press and fans made it much harder than it actually is imho. i always thought the game will be great but frustrate me too much. well it didn´t, if anything it motivated me to start and finish it in about a week and after 46 hours i realised that i killed every demon in the game (cannot wait for my ng+) just wishing to go on and on and on.
    i just started dark souls now, i am only 12 hours or so in and i really enjoy this game but i think i found demon´s more accessible which is strange because having played demon´s really helps to understand how dark souls works. i think it is the design of the gaming world, the nexus vs. the more open worldish approach in dark. i think i really preferred the nexus more. it was more streamlined, more accessible, it gave me the option to browse through the levels in the nexus, planning my ride through the game a little more…you can still plan what to do next in dark souls and you freaking have to but it feels different. i never thought of needing a guide in demon´s but for dark i am getting the feeling that i absolutely need one, like it is even esential to have a guide to play the game properly. right now i am a a bit lost in dark. most bosses i encountered feel too hard yet, i travelled to many locations but i do not make much progress in any of them right now…i know, this is part of the game, i must think for a way out of this, this is exactly what makes this game feel so depressing, dangerous and fun at the same time, but all this was there in demon´s too but it encouraged me to press further in the game more. i returned to the nexus, felt save for a while, skilled my char, might go somewhere to grind if i wasn´nt making progress, instantly hopped into another world later..tried to survive longer…it felt better to me. not saying dark is a bad game. the opposite is true, i love some of the levels, some of the enemy animations are outstanding, the atmosphere is great….but yeah, i think demon´s was more accessible.

    BTW : FANTASTIC ARTICLE!

    #3 11 months ago
  4. Stace Harman

    @1+2 I’m really looking forward to seeing more and being able to go hands-on for a few hours in order to play a chunk of the game and get a feel for how it’s set-up. I’m positive about it in general, I just have one or two concerns that I’d like to be cleared up sooner rather than later!

    @3 I agree that some elements of Demon’s are actually more accessible; the level structure is a big part of that. Having distinct worlds makes it easier to tackle, but that’s why I prefer the coherence of Dark Souls’ world and having to figure out where to go next rather than going from A to B.

    Thanks for the feedback, folks.

    #4 11 months ago
  5. Mineral4r7s

    What I love about Dark Souls is the fact that you have one wide open world. Filled with tons of shortcuts. Every shortcut found for the first time blows your mind. Everything is connected everything is easy to reach. Its such a small world that seems so hugh because of all the possibilities. If you look closely you can see where you will be next and if you reach that spot and you look back you can see from where you came and it always, still, after 250 hours of dark souls, blows my mind.

    The world design is simply genious.

    Even after having played so long, watched so many videos I still encounter things I did not know about previously. Each playthrough is partially a new game, a new playstyle, a new world. If you know how you can approach the game from all directions its just astounding. Game is too easy for you? Choose Deprived at start and play naked the whole game and try to remain human for added pvp difficulty.

    Beating a specialized PvP character with a greenhorn character you just created feels just so good. I really do love this game. Not many games have moved me like this one. This games story made me cry, jump in joy and tremble from fear.

    I have heard about the rumous regarding Dark Souls 2, I have not watched a single piece of gameplay as I want to see it all for myself. I hope they do it right and if they don’t I can still play Dark Souls 1. They don’t need to make a better game, I don’t know if they even can, just a game like this that gives me hundreds of hours of joy.

    Did you know that you can see the Asylum Stray Demon, the first boss you encounter as you enter the fighting room? Its standing on the roof and watching you, and as you approeach he jumps down.

    You can see the Moonlight Butterfly, outside of the fog, clinging to the wall if you look closely.

    There are so many details I can’t write it all down.

    I have to go now so I stop here.

    I believe in you From Software, don’t screw up.

    #5 11 months ago
  6. TheBlackHole

    I’ve had many an argument over this with people at work.

    IMHO, I’m all for keeping the game tough at its core and not shifting on that vision, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t add a different/easier/harder/more accessible mode.

    People who don’t like trial & error or unreasonable difficulty are never going to play the game anyway, but making some concessions on one aspect of the gameplay still allows people to experience an incredible world full of depth, character, combat and exploration.

    I really feel the focus on difficulty being this game’s USP does it a disservice.

    #6 11 months ago
  7. redwood

    I am happy with where ds2 is going. but what is miyazaki doing? what’s his secret project. I just hope he doesn’t go the path of fumito Ueda, i.e fade away.. I want him to keep making games (for as long as he likes)

    #7 11 months ago
  8. MFBB

    There will be little changes, just like from Demons Souls to Dark Souls.

    But in the end, all fans of the first two games will enjoy it for sure :)

    I hope they do a better job on the technical side of the game.

    A bit concerned about the Playstation version since they use the PC as lead… ports to the PS3 from Xbox/PC tend to be the worst version with the most issues.

    Even so all those 3 games would not be possible without the Playstation fans who made this series successfully, so dont force me to buy the PC version…wanne play this on the couch again :)

    #8 11 months ago
  9. Mineral4r7s

    @8 PC version is the superior version. You can mod the game, it looks way better, DSCfix enables easy coop with friends or duels with friends. PC version is the recommended version, imho.

    #9 11 months ago
  10. Rafa_L

    @9 I don’t know, I’m put off by the many videos of hackers, I play on ps3 and aside the flickering graphics glitch and some lag, I love it.

    I do like mods, but at this point the multiplayer is all there is to me, though some appearance mods are cool, many people hack and make pvp horrible.

    #10 11 months ago
  11. Mineral4r7s

    @10 I can tell you from my experience that hackers exist but they are rare. Most of the time you have fair duels, I invade constantly with my slvl 40 char other players in the forest while running through the world of dark souls, killing bosses and I always have fair 1n1s. I also happened to invade a world with 2 players. One cosplayed Smough the other one Ornstein :D, I invaded together with another player and we both had fair 1n1 fights. Its hella fun. If you somehow get your hands on dark souls for PC, I am pretty sure it will soon be reduced on steam in the summer sale give it a try, its like a whole new game.

    ps:
    pvp lvl on PC is 100

    greetings
    my name

    #11 11 months ago
  12. HighWindXIX

    For what it’s worth, I’m excited about a little more transparency to the setting and the story. On one hand, it is cool to notice little things linking an item to a story event while reading it’s description but the fact that I didn’t pick up on it till my third play through is also kind of a bummer. As much as I like the joy of discovery, realizing that there’s probably way more to the story that I won’t enjoy unless I scour every item description or read a wiki is also a little disheartening. I know several people who didn’t even know what the choice they were making at the end of the game meant. So if Dark Souls is a 2 out of 10 on a scale of clarity and explanation, how about we make Dark Souls 2 a 3 out of 10.

    #12 11 months ago