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Dark Souls 2: the beta was easy, but hope remains

Wednesday, 16 October 2013 11:33 GMT By Dave Cook

Dark Souls 2 had a closed beta phase over the weekend and VG247′s Dave Cook managed to beat it in well under two hours. It was an accessible demo, but the game still has great potential to make you weep. Find out why here.

Well, that wasn’t so bad. Excuse the Hello Kitty.

Namco Bandai and From Software held a Dark Souls 2 PS3 beta on Saturday. It saw 5,000 gamers tackle a new area called Huntsman’s Copse across a two-hour testing phase. It was a small taste, but it was enough to master everything the demo had to offer. I have to admit I actually found it quite easy, which should be concerning seeing as the series wears its difficulty like a badge of honour.

Except I wasn’t concerned. The purpose of the beta was to test server load rather than gameplay, and I got utterly battered by the Mirror Knight demo at Eurogamer Expo last month. I’m not fearful that From Software has watered down the Dark Souls formula, but there were a few elements of the trial that had me a little curious. I’m aware that betas are in no way representative of the full game, but I thought the fans out there would like to get some insight into what happened.

”The game looks better than its predecessors and handles with increased fluidity. Combat feels as weighty as ever, and playing like a hack ‘n slash will still leave you dead in moments.”

I think it’s important to touch on difficulty first. One thing I noticed in both the beta and the Mirror Knight demo is that common enemies are more unpredictable. Huntsman’s Copse is littered with stealthy bandits that rush you with daggers and are adept at dodging your returning attacks. Typically, original Dark Souls enemies could be read quite easily. You’d stand there with your shield up waiting to trigger a soldier’s attack animation, and then simply step back while it swiped at thin air. Once the barrage was over, you could then step in for some free hits. Rinse, repeat, done.

In the Dark Souls 2 beta however, I felt that enemies possessed a greater range of attacks that changed up regularly. There are also several instances where hasty players could find themselves trapped among a pack of bandits while on precarious stone walkways. Once that happens it’s quite easy to become staggered or knocked off into the abyss below. I saw a lot of blood stains in these areas – indicating that other online players had been killed there – but I think my recent obsession with both Dark and Demon’s Souls made me think more strategically about my approach.

But when things did go wrong, they quickly turned catastrophic. The beta houses a dark cave area that really showcases the game’s new light mechanic. Essentially, there are some areas in Dark Souls 2 that can only be illuminated with a flaming torch. The catch is that once you hold a flame you do so by sacrificing your shield. I found it to be a punishing risk-reward system, particularly in the Mirror Knight demo. In the beta however, there are a few dark areas and not a single torch in sight, unless I missed them of course. It proved savage to begin with.

The cave in question houses a grim reaper enemy that animates skeletons in the area. You can defeat the bony attackers quite easily, but the reaper continually revives them. You can quickly become swarmed in the pitch black area, and that’s a real problem once you realise there are hidden pitfalls everywhere. It’s one of those classic Dark Souls areas where you really need to tilt the camera so you have a constant view of ground below you, while fending off many foes. After a few deaths I figured out the best way to sprint bast the skeletons and take out the reaper first.

As with all ‘Souls’ games, working all of this out was a case of trial and error. The sense of gratification gained from finally figuring out one of these ‘puzzles’ hasn’t been lost in the transition between directors. I also noticed that the amount of AI Black Phantoms has increased across the beta and Mirror Knight section. They teleport into your world and have great potential to catch you off guard. While walking along a steep cliff-side a Black Phantom warped in from either side, essentially blocking me off in both directions. It’s a sneaky beginner’s trap, but it’s classic Dark Souls.

So while I finished the Dark Souls 2 beta in under the two hour limit, I still died a few times while figuring out the area. It’s a dank, depressing environment littered with dark forests, ruined keeps and mouldy caves. The series hasn’t lost its ability to draw you in with its bleak tones, but perhaps even bleaker is the game’s new punishment for death. Die and you lose a chip off your total health. This happens every time you are killed up to 50% of your health, so repeated death can absolutely result in your max HP being halved. It’s utterly sadistic.

”As with all ‘Souls’ titles, you can still use the pillars to block and confuse the AI while swiping through them to land cheap hits. I don’t feel bad about exploiting the scenery in this manner because it’s a trick that’s supposed to be used, and I guess this perhaps sums up why I found the beta relatively easy. I know these tricks now. I’ve been spamming them for the past year.”

I thought that killing the beta’s boss would see my health restored, but it didn’t work. Levelling your vitality stat doesn’t work either. I found out that you can use Human Effigy items to return your hero to a human state however, and this reverses the effect. This has the potential to prove torturous for careless players, and I’m hoping there’s an item like the Demon’s Souls Cling Ring to boost your max HP when in a pinch, but I’m not that optimistic. They are evil sods after all.

Unfortunately however, this brings me to my biggest gripe with the beta. In Dark Souls your only methods of replenishing health were Etsus Flasks gained at bonfires, vitality spells and certain accessories. From Software has added new Life Gem items into the mix, and during the beta I acquired a vast quantity of them as loot drops from fallen grunts. Etsus Flasks will top up your health quickly, but using them roots your character to the spot, while Life Gems can be used while walking slowly but refill your health gradually. They work in different ways, but I never felt too threatened as I had so many gems in my inventory.

I get the feeling this is a balancing issue that will be altered come the game’s March launch. I also feel that Huntsman’s Copse is one of Dark Souls 2′s earliest areas, so I’m not too surprised that it is a little easier than the Mirror Knight demo. That said, if From Software don’t get the Life Gem drop rate right it could serve to make the experience too easy and therefore less gratifying. I’d like to think the studio knows better than that however. I have faith in them.

These issues aside, the game looks better than its predecessors and handles with increased fluidity. Combat feels as weighty as ever, and playing like a hack ‘n slash will still leave you dead in moments. The UI has also been improved as you can now see what’s next when scrolling through your spells, weapons and items on the quick radial. There’s also the option to hold up to three pieces of gear in each hand, furthering your load-out options. All of this built up to the beta’s Skeleton Lord boss, who I managed to kill using a series of classic tricks and my wealth of Life Gems.

The battle starts off in a chamber filled with bones and pillars. It’s similar to the Four Kings battle in the original Dark Souls in that three separate bosses will float towards you and unleash their attacks at once. The key is to take them all out as soon as possible. Once you do however, they each explode and spew an army of skeleton footsoldiers and pinwheel enemies into the arena. They can overrun you in moments if you get backed into a corner. As with all ‘Souls’ titles, you can still use the pillars to block and confuse the AI while swiping through them to land cheap hits.

I don’t feel bad about exploiting the scenery in this manner because it’s a trick that’s supposed to be used, and I guess this perhaps sums up why I found the beta relatively easy. I know these tricks now. I’ve been spamming them for the past year and a bit in my attempts to finish Demons and Dark Souls before Dark Souls 2 launches. They’re fresh in the mind, so I feel that those who have taken a break from the series may have greater difficulty in passing this particular area with ease. At least I hope it’s just me.

My minor complaints aside, I’m looking forward to playing the full game and seeing what the rest of you think regarding the difficulty.

What’s your take on what you’ve seen and heard so far? Let us know below.

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21 Comments

  1. AngeReveur

    In the beta however, there are a few dark areas and not a single torch in sight, unless I missed them of course.

    You missed :P.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 CURSES! :P

    Did you play it? What did you think? I love chatting ‘Souls’ with people.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. DrDamn

    One of the few series I do a media blackout on – sorry Dave not reading, but I think from @2 you fully understand why :)

    #3 2 years ago
  4. GwynbleiddiuM

    I think we shouldn’t worry much about the difficulty in general. Dark Souls starting area wasn’t insanely hard either. It gets real hard when you first enter Blighttown and that is mostly due to tight platforming spots and hard to melee mosquitoes.

    You also need to take another thing to account – you have mastered your playthrough skills in Dark Souls, you are now extremely knowledgeable in how different mechanics in the game works. This makes you more confident as opposed to when you started playing the game. It reminds me a lot about World of Warcraft gameplay mechanics; easy to learn, difficult to master and when you master your class you can function excellently in grouped environment.

    Though this is how I think, haven’t experienced any betas since it takes me forever to download the beta client with a 512kbps connection, Bugger. :<

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Dave Cook

    @3 perfectly reasonable good sir :)

    @4 Oh yeah definitely on my experience, you’re right. I said in the piece that I’ve been cramming both ‘Souls’ games a lot this year so the old tricks are still fresh in the mind.

    I’m keen to see if this is indeed the starting area.

    I also forgot to say what your character looks like without their helmet on. They’re curses in the game and it’s left them with green skin and white eyes with no pupils. It looks freaky.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. loki

    Who cares about the quality ? We have fail PC port! Dance about it

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Dave Cook

    @6 It’s not a port this year.

    Confirmed to me here – http://www.vg247.com/2013/09/10/dark-souls-2-a-lesson-in-painfully-balanced-gameplay/

    #7 2 years ago
  8. AngeReveur

    @2 Yes, I played the European Beta. It was one of those moments in life when 2 hours seems 20 minutes.
    I played with the Dual Swordsman class and some things which I noted are:

    Good:
    – I have seen people complaining about rolling speed and jumps, on my character I was amazed of the speed when running, I was able to use rolling efficiently for evading, and the jumping attack covered a much longer distance than in first Dark Souls, so maybe all is depending on the new Agility stats
    – the loading speed when invading: when trying to invade it found almost instant a world and in few seconds I was already in their world, I invaded around 6 times and I won 4, I have seen also blue phantoms being summoned to help the host
    – dual wielding: is awesome
    – HUD auto hide
    – Game speed: on some moments I had the impression that is running on more than 30 fps, maybe the limitation was not ON for the Beta

    Bad:
    – I didn`t like the sound effects when hitting enemies, it sounds like hitting a bag of water, I hope is only a beta thing and they will work more in this aspect
    – summoning: after around 20 minutes in beta all summon signs disappeared and when trying to put my white summon sign down I received an error message…
    – Gesture Menu: is too big and it remains on screen when doing gesture, so I don`t fully see my character doing the gesture, I love to see my character doing the gesture, probably they will fix it :D

    As a conclusion, I am very excited about the game, I already preordered the Collectors Edition for PS3, but I don`t know if I will play it first on PC or PS3. If the delay is not too big about PC Release Date, I will choose to play it on a new PC to get advantage of the FULL HD resolution and 60 FPS and after I will move to PS3 for PVP.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Dave Cook

    @8 awesome, and I agree on all counts. It’s a small thing, but the HUD auto-hide was really neat. It helped me see that depressing world a lot clearer :D

    I also found rolling to be very efficient and slick. I think it’ll slow down when you wear bulkier armour though, as in previous games.

    I loved it personally and can’t wait to see more :)

    #9 2 years ago
  10. TheBlackHole

    “That said, if From Software don’t get the Life Gem drop rate right it could serve to make the experience too easy and therefore less gratifying”

    Couldn’t you just not use them?

    Or is it more the fact that other people could complete it easier, thus somehow taking away from your ‘achievement’?

    #10 2 years ago
  11. AngeReveur

    A thing which I forgot to mention: it seems that the phantom of other players are back in Demon`s Souls appearance style, I hated how the phantoms looked in Dark Souls I.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Dave Cook

    @10 Yeah I could refrain, but that doesn’t mean the balancing is right however. The onus should be on the devs to get that balance correct.

    I think some people may try to finish the game without them, like the infamous ‘naked runs’ people post online. Souls fans love to push themselves.

    @11 Yeah they are different. Much darker and redder than before :P

    #12 2 years ago
  13. JonFE

    I played it and enjoyed it as well.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the life gems at this point; they might not be such a frequent drop in the final game.

    As for the overall difficulty, for me it was business as usual (meaning I was handed my arse on a plate several times). I didn’t manage to reach the final boss – at best I killed the first of those four phantoms (lovely red, I agree) and ran past the rest to cross the bridge and meet the pointy end of a very large sword.

    The fact that your health is lowered with each death keeps things interesting, as well as the stamina that seems to be drained quicker.

    Overall, I have faith in FROM to tweak and balance things until the last minute. March cannot come soon enough…

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Dave Cook

    Great post mate, and thanks for reading. I agree that the Life Gem drops may be fixed in the final build. I think it was perhaps to get people to the end so From could do their tests in the background. It’d be a crap test if no one made it very far after all.

    I’m glad you liked it :) I’m excited for the full release too!

    #14 2 years ago
  15. TheBlackHole

    @12

    “The onus should be on the devs to get that balance correct.”

    But maybe for the developer, it is? Surely they are the judge as to how difficult they want to make their game? And PLEASE don’t be one of those people that insists that the difficulty is the primary USP of the Souls series, because that is complete BS.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. YoungZer0

    @7: Do not engage. He’s a troll.

    Also is there a PC Beta for the game or consoles only?

    #16 2 years ago
  17. phastings

    @ theblackhole #10 (regarding over-abundance of lifegem’s).. “Couldn’t you just not use them?

    Or is it more the fact that other people could complete it easier, thus somehow taking away from your ‘achievement’?”

    – First off, the fact that an abundant healing item is present, which detracts from the foundation of the unforgiving, difficult nature of the series, is an issue because regardless of whether you could “just not use it” is irrelevant. It is present; therefore undermining the formula and methodical strategy of how you should clear a level.

    If I or anyone were to use your “just dont use it” approach, reached a very difficult section, and got to the point of consulting a wiki we could just say “F-it, im just gonna spam these gems.” How about the strat guide/wiki? oh wait.. here, it could simply read: “just spam these gems and you will be fine. These are here in vast quantities so you can be careless (if your getting tired of learning how to overcome the actual designed challenge).”

    Then you go on to say: “But maybe for the developer, it is? Surely they are the judge as to how difficult they want to make their game? And PLEASE don’t be one of those people that insists that the difficulty is the primary USP of the Souls series, because that is complete BS.”

    - Yea they surely are the judge, and they are really good about listening to fan feedback regarding complaints. But does that mean they should listen to every little complaint made by those who quit after a few hrs bc it “was to hard?” Hell no, and I feel like that mainstream flood may slowly erode the integrity and stubborn nature of each game that comes out bc the devs may be under influence and pressure from too many “fans” who think the games are too hard; if its too hard and you dont like that, guess what? these games are not marketed to you; go play pokemon.

    and difficulty NOT the USP? haha wow. Oh but it is the selling point, little one. It is, indeed.. But why? Because it is a difficult, unforgiving RPG that was made by From soft as a throw-back to the old-school games. It’s the very reason it became a cult hit and not a mainstream tween-hit since it catered to the older demo that appreciated the nostalgia of the unrelenting challenge. Unforgiving difficulty is what adds great value to everything in-game, and giving someone an option to opt-out ultimately negates that; they want you to be forced to solve the challenges through their implementation of environment, enemy AI, and precision combat mechanics.
    Though you are probably one of those people that argues they need to add an easy-mode or a troll and I took the bait..

    #17 2 years ago
  18. msauce32

    SPOILERS!!!!
    I got to play for three hours. The beta went an extra hour. Also there was another boss in the beta, the skeleton chariot boss. One wonderful thing I did see out of the beta was a return to a harder red version of some enemies a la Demon’s Souls. I’d say my main gripe with the beta, as my main gripe with Dark Souls, is the (harder) red enemies didn’t respawn. I wish everything respawned. Oh well, wish in one hand, and crap in the other. One thing I loved was holding the “magic wand” (it was actually called that if I remember right, not catalyst.) with two hands, this made spells stronger, and you also had the option to aim in this stance similar to how aiming works with a long bow. I also like the addition of items that allow you to regain spell uses. It’s gonna be so friggin hard to wait for March. Oh yeah…and armor scales. ARMOR SCALES!!!!!

    #18 2 years ago
  19. ctankep

    @9 @13 @18

    So for those who played –
    How was th’ frame rate / responsiveness?
    Some people said there was more input lag.

    -

    Pretty excited ., been going back to clear out skeletons & “Tomb o’ Giants” an’ need to finish off last parts o’ “Demons Souls” as well. So nice to have a bit to go ., like finding wine at th’ bottom o’ a bottle that just keeps giving. Otherwise hoping Hidetaka Miyazaki’s rumoured gig with Japan Studio is not doing design for “Deep Down”. I’d love to hear more on what he’s working on since they start _d that project almost a year ago now.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. phastings

    @ #19

    Frame rate was actually smooth, and some said it felt like it was pushing 60 fps in areas, which leads me to believe they did not have the framerate cap enabled on the build. Controls: very smooth. namely just networking issues.

    I wish I still had to beat good ole demons and dark.. haha good analogy; those games ARE wine, they get better with time. Yea lets hope miyazakis secret project is far more epic than just consulting for deep down. But it remains a total mystery for now.. ;)

    #20 2 years ago
  21. TheBlackHole

    @17

    The only pressure FROM are receiving is from die hard fans going apeshit at the mere mention of the game being toned down. I don’t think anyone else really cares that much.

    And I’m trolling because we don’t share the same opinion? Please, have some common sense.

    As for adding an easy mode, I’m not advocating it, but I’m certainly not against it. Why would I be? It wouldn’t remove my ability to play the game as intended, it would simply open up the story and game world to an audience who wouldn’t have experienced it otherwise. Where’s the downside to that if they wouldn’t have played it otherwise?

    I’m not selfish enough to think that games cannot, and should not, cater to more than one demographic. I love playing Gears of War on insane, but I don’t begrudge the thousands of people who play it on easy. It doesn’t make my playthrough any less of an achievement, any less fun, or any less satisfying.

    Too many people are so obsessed with the validity of their own achievements that they miss the point what gaming is all about. God forbid we let people with different skill levels or interest in difficulty from experiencing a fantastically realised game world and story.

    #21 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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