Is it time to die again already?
It’s hard to imagine Dark Souls 2 from Namco Bandai and From Software could take the player on a journey quite as successful and epic as its predecessor. But, as we found out during a quick hands on with the game, the sequel throws you once again into a grim and unforgiving world for another demanding experience. Dark Souls 2 may offer up some new features, but it sustains the notoriety of the original Dark Souls, and Demon’s Souls before it, and even seems to step it up a gear. Dark Souls 2 will warrant the attention of any fan of the previous games when it arrives next month on Xbox360, PS3 and PC.
The premise of the game remains the same – analyze your surroundings, explore the environment and confront powerful enemies, this time in the dark and intimidating land of Drangleic. That fear you experienced in the previous title still remains strong as you refrain from confronting enemies too quickly, because you know in the back of your mind that your character could die very easily.
Beginning your journey into this sinister fantasy world, you will find yourself seeking answers as you will begin knowing nothing of this land you have woken up in. With no weapons or explanation of your existence, your adventure starts to unfold as you encounter a decrepit looking witch, who happens to live in a house within a tree. She starts a conversation which, although unsurprisingly vague in details, is more than enough to coax you inside and tweak your curiosity.
Picking a warrior class, I set forth on my journey with a feeling of determination mixed with dread. The dread accompanied me as I wandered through dark and twisty caverns, reminding me that the chances of losing my life was high. So it was no surprise then when the axe-wielding enemy who was hiding around a corner simply took my head off in the blink of an eye. My brief life had easily been taken.
After respawning at the bonfire, I made my way through caves and dark dungeon rooms. It is quite easy to forget that there are so many enemies lurking in the darkness. Having kitted out my warrior, explored and bludgeoned a few enemies, I though I would bring up my inventory and examine some of the items and equipment that I had found so far. I failed to realize though, that the game doesn’t pause while the inventory is open. After being beaten to a pulp by some random creature, I decided I would wait and examine the inventory system when I was in safer surroundings, if they exist…
Exploring the environment, I found myself smashing boxes and kegs, finding new items and treasures, activating switches, climbing ladders and even, at one point, at the bottom of a deep hole. Leaving the cave areas, I wandered into the village of Majula, a warm and comforting environment where the green land filled out into a village built high and surrounded by the ocean. Majula stands in stark contrast and provides a welcome break from the harsh reality of the murky caves I had left behind.
Encountering a few of the typically tight-lipped villagers, I leveled up and bought some new equipment, as mine was falling apart at this stage. It turns out that picking up some equipment was a good idea, as my next encounter involved battling it out with a Troll, who had no intention of letting me pass unnoticed. As I tried to dash past this creature, I received a blow to the head from its axe, followed closely by rapidly tapping away on the controller to try and avoid any further attacks.
Death comes easily in Dark Souls 2, but so does experience and this is what the game is all about. At first you may find yourself dying with alarming frequency, as I did. However, this teaches you about the game, tactics and to think before running into battle. Creeping up behind enemies and attacking left me in good stance to begin and having the upper hand helped with that first initial attack. After dying more than 22 times in the short time I played the game, you pick up a thing or two.
My warrior was able to equip up to three items in each hand and 10 items in the available inventory menu. These essential items will be anything from your Estus Flask, consumables and life gems.
While the general improvements to the game tend to be little tweaks that are nice but not necessarily that noticeable, there are a couple of larger changes to the game that have the potential to make a big difference. The ability to reset your stats after a bad decision has the potential to make the game easier for players who need it, and a reducing hit point system punishes the foolhardy. Including voice chat for the first time is a big step that will change the experience for both new and old players, should they choose to use it.
I met the challenge of Dark Souls 2 with apprehension of the difficulty level. The Souls games are equally loved and hated for their high level of difficulty, and Dark Souls 2 is no different. My character felt easier to control, moving effortlessly as I tried to evade battle, but it was still very easy to die. The game is challenging and takes you right out of your comfort zone, giving rise to feelings of anger and frustration over yet another foolish death. But the feelings when things go right and another enemy is vanquished are all worth it. A great chunk of your health can easily be taken by a Troll or Knight, and you can find yourself becoming a makeshift pin cushion when some archer decides he’s had enough of your presence and takes it upon himself to bombard you with fire arrows at full pelt into your back. But isn’t this what we expect from a Dark Souls game?
Luckily life gems are available and can restore your health, but very slowly, and you’ve still got the option to use Estus Flasks if need be. To be honest, I hardly scratched the surface of the game in the time I was allowed, but managed to die more times than I care to remember. Dark Souls 2 will be bringing more of what we have come to love from the franchise when it arrives on March 14th – frequent dying and great rewards.