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Dark Souls II

Surviving In From Software's More Wicked World

How do you make the sequel to one of the most difficult modern games even harder? That’s the question From Software is answering with Dark Souls II, releasing next March. I played an hour of the punishing game during a pre-Tokyo Game Show event at Namco Bandai’s office in Shinagawa, Tokyo, Japan. New torturous tweaks to the game include the constant threat of player invasion and penalties to your maximum health.

The basics of the third-person action series remain firmly in place. Players battle through a grim world filled with ruthless enemies that want you dead. Killing them earns you souls, which are used to upgrade your stats and buy items. All your collected souls are on the line at any given point, and are dropped when you die. Players have to retrieve their cache of souls in order to bring them back to bonfire checkpoints, where they’re converted into the aforementioned upgrades. Dying while en route to your dropped souls makes your precious collection disappear – a potent slap in the face after grinding or making good progress. 

I suit up as the soldier class. The beta demo offers me a handful of souls to spend on initial upgrades. I prioritize boosting my health, strength, and stamina. Stamina is consumed when attacking, blocking, and evading attacks, making it important to enhance.

After spending my souls, I pass by a cackling old merchant lady to explore a cavern near the bonfire. A walking corpse emerges from the pitch black and starts wailing away. Combat still has a deliberate feel. Due to the lethality of every strike and limited stamina, timing and patience is key. Players still have the same basic abilities at their disposal (shield bash, light attack, heavy attack, etc.), but player movement and landing blows feels less clunky than the original Dark Souls. The first enemy crumples after a few attacks and I enter the cave.

Several blood messages are written on the cavern’s floor, indicating that I should bring a torch. Leaving messages for other players no longer requires an Orange Stone, and can be left at any time. From Software encourages players to leave helpful notes with a new system that replenishes a portion your health when someone rates your blood message highly. With no torch in sight, I feel my way through the absolute dark of the cave. Touching blood stains on the ground shows the ghosts of previous adventurers who fell off steep cliffs into the darkness. I attempt to avoid the drop, but I fall anyway. A trio of undead enemies attack from the dark, and I barely make it out of the scuffle alive. I open a nearby treasure chest and a cloud of noxious smoke envelopes my character as he begins coughing. I quickly loot the chest and start chugging healing potions from my flask. Unfortunately I succumb to the poison and die.

I resurrect at the bonfire as an undead soldier with all the gear I grabbed, but my precious souls are lost in the bottom of the pit. I equip the shiny new armor and use a consumable Human Effigy that restores my humanity. Unlike the first Dark Souls, there’s no benefit to staying undead. Pesky invasions by other players could be avoided in the original game by remaining undead. From Software is ending this strategy and applying a malicious penalty. Not only can enemy players invade undead players at any time, every consecutive death reduces their maximum health (eventually stopping at around 50%). The only way to regain your life is with a Human Effigy. Should you run out , you could end up in a dire situation as a handicapped undead with no hope in sight. Par for the course for the Dark Souls franchise. 

From Software advises players to rely on using Soapstones to summon up to two random co-op friends to help them through tough spots in order to find more Human Effigies. Unlike the first Dark Souls, the sequel imposes a time limit on you buddies’ visits. The more enemies they kill, the faster the gauge depletes. The developer wants to ensure nobody is relying too heavily on the kindness of strangers throughout the staggeringly difficult game. Helping hands appear as blue warriors, and enemies as red.

I didn’t encounter any red invaders during my time with the game, but I still got my but kicked. After resurrecting at the bonfire, a Namco Bandai representative notes that players can now light torches at bonfires. I take his advice and pass through the caves with less trouble, though the torch is dropped and extinguished when I pull out my shield. Outside the cave I explore a dark building with a pit of enemies and an archer on the other side. I immediately retreat and write a blood message warning future players about the hidden sniper. After a harrowing battle in the dark and an ambush on a narrow ledge, I find another bonfire. Lighting up, upgrading stats, and journeying into new territory is just as satisfying as in the original. Only investing dozens of hours into the game will reveal how the big changes affect the overall experience, but so far Dark Souls II delivers the intoxicating allure of hard-won accomplishment.

My adventure ends with a battle against a pair of hulking enemies armed with sickles. A mix of light attacks and last-second dodges proves successful, and after some persistence the lumbering foes eventually fall. The dark, creepy forest path winds beyond these enemies, but I’ll have to wait until Dark Souls II releases on March 11, 2014 for PS3 and 360 (PC coming shortly afterwards) to find out where it leads. One thing is for certain: From Software will make sure I die when I get there.

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Comments
  • Cannot wait for this!

  • They've got some serious polishing up to do because those screens look bad. Needs more translucency because the invaders and summoned souls look like rock em sock em robots when they're not transparent. Also I just want to say that I have a bad feeling about this game. It feels like a quick cash in on the success of the first game. My favorite thing about the first game was that it was a sad, subtle and realistic tale of corruption and loss of hope. This doesn't even have the same writer so that has me especially worried.
  • People are saying they are prepared to die in this game. As for me, I'm prepared to conquer this game and especially beat the Mirror Knight boss! I can't wait for this game!

  • Does down voting a message do anything? Also small note, Dark Souls had the same press SELECT for explanation thing.
  • sweet jeebus
  • Dark Souls already let you hit a button to bring up a description of anything in the stat screen.

    Edit: Side note, I ADORE the fact that undead are able to be invaded, and are punished for doing so. That's the best news I've heard since this game was announced.
  • No way to prevent invasion? Mothertrucker, my house back home doesn't even have an internet connection, suck it From Software.
  • "How do you make the sequel to one of the most difficult modern games even harder?" Wow. Clearly Mr. Tim Turi never played Demon or Dark Souls... Maybe for 5 minutes before he quit like Kyle Hilliard did. This game is not hard. I wish gaming websites stop promoting it like it is this impossible game. The only thing it does is promoting the further dumbing down of games more hand holding and needlessly scaring people into missing this amazing world.
  • I like the changes mentioned here. Anytime invasions is cool, and the health reduction on death is a nice throwback to Demons Souls. I'm not sure how I feel about the timed co-op. I despise being on a timer in video games, but ill reserve judgment for now. Hopefully it won't be an issue unless players try to use summons as a crutch, which is how the article seems to suggest.

  • This sounds less appetizing than Dark Souls IMO. Making the game dependant on online can be a detractor but the biggest is the one where a person has no option to explore the giant world and get some bearing before being invaded constantly other players. One of the worst parts about Dark Souls was fighting a boss and have some *** invade you while the enemies largely ignore the phantom and attack you as well. But at least you could switch to offline mode or even play as undead to keep the annoyances at bay. With this iteration taking even that small comfort away, I don't see many wanting to stick with the game if they keep getting attack right outside the spawn area every time. There is a fine line between challenge and absurdity and this is bordering on absurd. Since leveling up has an impact on performance, time is a huge factor. If a person stops playing this game for a few weeks, he is going to hit brick walls (other players) at every turn. If thats what you want then this game is for you. I really hope the devs have items in place that at least allows you to exorcise phantoms in mass. This really doesn't sound like a well thought out game.
  • PS4 port in 2014 please? They are doing a pc port.
  • test

  • Does this mean you can summon players without having to be human either? Because I really want to play co-op with my friends XD
  • This kind of has me wondering if it has to be "always online".  I have no problem with that, because I'm always connected anyway.  Still it would be nice to know that if something did happen to the connection I could still play.  Dark Souls and Demons Souls are my two all time favorite games, March 11 can't get here soon enough.

  • Balanced co-op? Hell yeah! That should stop people from relying on summons and from ganking invaders with friends. Too bad about PC being delayed though!
  • To fix PvP properly, they need to fix the server lag that allows for cheap backstab exploitation (which dedicated servers will do the trick it sounds like) and rate invaders on BOTH soul level and GEAR LEVEL. So frustrating to play a fresh character and be invaded at soul level 10 only to find out they are tricked out in maximized end game gear, just to backstab you from the front right side.

    I think it'll be a griefer's paradise if this isn't fixed, which I'm anticipating it will be. You never know though.
  • i like the way you lose health again when you die, but i still hope that i don't have to farm for humanity. i was actually hoping that humanity would be replaced by a different mechanic...
  • Well, I'm more excited than ever for this!

  • though it seems as if it will be a short delay, i'm hoping the wait for PC is worth it this time.

    i prefer to play on PC if a title is available for it.

    and at least the release date isn't entirely unknown.  hence, why i bought GTAV for PS3 instead of waiting for the ? of ? when it releases on PC.

  • Really don't like the "forced" pvp.

    I loved Dark Souls, but I don't need people jumping in and out of my game looking to get their rocks off with PvP cheese while I'm just trying to enjoy the game.

    Looks like my first play through will be offline.

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