Dark Souls 2 directors Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura want to make the RPG easier to understand. But they certainly haven’t made it any easier to win.
I know you think you’ve seen dark. But this was darkness with its gloves off and its sleeves rolled up. What light there was did no more than allow me to see just how much blackness there was.
Last week I met Namco Bandai’s Australian PR manager for the first time under somewhat unfortunate circumstances; I was right in the middle of spitting some highly creative swears. (Yes, this happens quite a lot.) He kindly forgave me my unprofessional introduction because, well. Dark Souls 2 isn’t really a game you should keep a swear jar by, unless you’re saving up for a Lamborghini.
Listen, friends, I played a heck of a lot of Demon’s Souls. I played not quite as much of Dark Souls, but I’m happy to name myself a fan of the series and to snobbily lord it over people who complain that it’s “cheap” or “too hard” or whatever, the wussy babies. And I assure you, for all the talk of accessibility, Dark Souls 2 is tough. If it were nails, it would be the kind you use with a rocket launcher to hammer through iron golems in order to pin their autonomous fury to the walls of concrete dams.
The first thing I did in Dark Souls 2 was laugh scornfully at my pre-selected class – sorcerer – and close out of the demo to use the warrior. Magic has its place, friends, and it certainly makes the beginning of both previous Souls games easier, but in our heart of hearts we all know it’s basically cheating (until after the first demon and then, you know, anything goes).
As a result I was kitted out with a 100% damage block shield (nice), a light and a heavy sword (nice), lots of items I had no particular interest in investigating and a bow which helpfully fell victim to an infinite arrows bug (extremely nice, as any true Souls fan will agree).
With these tools I ventured forth. My first stop was a long ladder which I smugly slid down, demonstrating to anybody watching that I already knew the controls. I was greeted by a view of a columned ledge passing by an instant-death fire-pit, decorated with corpses.
“Ha ha, I’m not falling for that one,” I said, cheekily turning my back on the bodies to check the path behind me which, as expected, yielded a locked door I’d no doubt return to later in the level – but unexpectedly did not contain a nasty ambush. I was just congratulating myself on this bit of scouting when I was assaulted from behind. Whirling, I saw that none of my dead friends had stirred – and yet here was a dude making a spirited and ultimately successful attempt to crush my skull with a halberd.
Respawning, I hurried back down the ladder and glared suspiciously at the bodies. Yes, all still – but lo! There, just behind a column where an over-confident player would just miss it if they were set on exploring, was a lone, standing foe, who began staggering forward.
I dispatched him with a few blows and a backstab (backstabs seem easier to trigger than in past games, which is nice, since many pro strats rely on this tasty move) and wandered off to do the same to his mates, who were still foxing as cold corpses.
Having failed to fool me with a few more innocent-looking bodies Dark Souls 2 apparently got tried of messing about and offered me one path forward through a pitch black tunnel. Now, I know you think you’ve seen dark in games. But this was darkness with its gloves off and its sleeves rolled up. What light there was, a dim pool barely wide than my character model cast by the crystal at his waist, did no more than allow me to see just how much blackness there was. There could have been an abyss in front of me and I would tumble into it all unknowing. I shuffled along, camera constantly drifting back to check the floor, tense with expectation.
When the enormous shiny knight loomed out of the black and into my tiny aura I screamed like the newborn saviour of metal and legged it for the door – right into the arms of two grunts who’d been sneaking up on me. Flailing wildly with my sword and shield, rolling, unable to find the door into the dark, I succumbed to their feeble attacks in seconds, gasping and wheezing in terror and adrenaline.
It was excellent.
Back into the dark once more, then – determined to win out. This time I noticed the prompt by the entrance to the cellar to light a torch at a brazier, which I did, sacrificing my shield but fairly confident in my dodge, even in plate armour. A few pokes lured my two grunt friends out into the light where I could give them a smacking, and I went after the larger foe.
Veteran traps are everywhere in the demo. It doesn’t matter how well you know the Souls games, how careful and skilled you are; there’s always something waiting in the dark and in the light places both.
Here I engaged my base animal cunning. I would advance slowly, pull him forward, and observe his attack pattern safely from the door to the cellar, maybe getting a few arrows or opportunistic swings in while I worked him out. Except – oh god – he can fit up those stairs. After this it was all horror and confusion and being smashed with giant clubs, but after a few seconds I found my feet, swigged from my estus flask, and went at it like a veteran. Shield up; dodge; swing; retreat; shield down; repeat. He had a lot of health. I determined to end it, and end it now, with a mighty two handed backstab.
The bastard only has an insta-kill back attack, doesn’t he. Fuck. You can’t tell me someone at From Software didn’t do a maniacal laugh when they thought of that one; it’s a pure veteran trap.
Veteran traps are everywhere in the demo. It doesn’t matter how well you know the Souls games, how careful and skilled you are; there’s always something waiting in the dark and in the light places both. A firebomber to one side as you approach a distant archer. Three black phantoms materialising in front of your face as you pass through an otherwise empty hollow. A series of statues which come to life only when you’re close enough to aggro a boss, even if you check them carefully on the way through. Mobs of enemies which swarm you, beating down your stamina; backstabbing; and relentlessly pummelling you.
It was glorious. And it was not, in any way, one whit easier than Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls. It may be unfamiliarity with the build, but I actually found it even harder. I’m disappointed that From Software wants to eschew the esoteric joy of a game which deliberately baffles the player with unexplained mechanisms and hidden systems, but Dark Souls 2 hasn’t lost its edge. It’s just lost its reliance on GameFAQs.
Dark Souls 2 is headed to PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in March 2014.