In the current console generation, few games challenge players like the games of FROM software. The soul series of games (Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls) have returned to a time when little was explained and challenge was what kept players coming back. FROM Software is at it again, this time with Dark Souls II, which I had the pleasure of playing at E3.
The first feeling I had when sitting down to play was the sense of difficulty and dread the enemies gave. The combat felt smoother with the help of a new engine, yet the challenge was still at the forefront. During the short 20 minute play session I found myself struggling to slay all the obstacles that stood in my path. Every attempt to clear the level led to death although it also meant I was one step closer to the soul crushing boss at the end. Apparently, no one that played the demo that day had killed the demo boss and it is clear that FROM Software are not hiding the challenge from the press. The worries people had about the game being dumbed down can be put to rest, at least if this demo is any indication of the final product. Clocking in an estimated 40 hours for the final product, this is a game made for the long term challenge seeker.
The enemies in Dark Souls II seem to also have a slight improvement. No longer do they blindly run at the player attacking, they seem to choose the right moment to attack. The improved healing system seems a nice touch to counter this fact. Still present are the flasks seen in past games, although they are now joined by items that will heal the player slowly once used. I found myself using this item more than the flask since they are dropped by enemies. This also provided a nice attack, dodge, and heal system that allowed even the hard enemies to be taken down with patience and skill.
A few notable changes that are present in Dark Souls II in comparison to Dark Souls include the ability to carry up to three weapons at one time. This allows the player to change on the fly to deal with situations as they present themselves. The ability to duel wield has also been implemented, and was playable in the demo with a duel sword class. It worked when tested and it will be exciting to see how weapons and skills can be customized to fit this play style. There will also be persistent bonfire warping. Any bonfire you come across can be used to warp.
Character customization seems a major area of change that sadly was not playable at the show. It will work by giving the player a series of questions as the game starts. These questions will determine what the starting equipment is along with the overall skillset. This, like in previous games, can be changed at any time. By using the souls collected as the game progresses, the player will still be able to level the stats and skills that fit their play style. It has yet to be seen if this is positive change, since part of the previous games charm was the obtuse nature that the characters started their quest.
Waiting at the end of the difficult path lay the Mirror Knight, a tall glimmering warrior with a polished shield. Not as tall as many enemies seen in previous games, but just as deadly. As the player fights to take down the monster, he calls in AI knights to fight alongside and take you down. Bursting through his mirror, they were easy kills and little more than distractions. Although in the final product it was suggested these knights will be player characters that will be pulled into your game to take you down. Even with a series of attempts, I sadly was unable to take down the knight and I had to leave the demo unfinished. I am excited to play the game again as the game reaches a release date in March 2014. Until that time, a second play though of Dark Souls may be in order.