This Could Be Good

Dark Souls II

Take Your Medicine

Dark Souls II: new look, same bitter taste.

By Matt Gerardi • June 13, 2013

Preview events offer only brief glimpses at very big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.

Approaching the Dark Souls II demo station in a Namco Bandai meeting room, I noticed a bottle of hand sanitizer next to the row of monitors. Sure, Purell should be available at all demo stations for obvious reasons, but it was especially appropriate here. Without that germ-killing goo, every person leaving that demo would inherit some sort of horrible sweat-transmitted disease. Those PlayStation controllers were straight-up damp. The 15 minutes of the game I played, up until the point where I died rolling off a cliff—I was trying to kick an undead knight to his doom, I swear!—were enough to bathe my controller in a new layer of sweat.

Dark Souls II

The peerless tension of Dark Souls—a game known for its willingness to obliterate players—is alive and well in the sequel, and the sadists at FromSoftware have added plenty of nasty new tricks to keep us would-be warriors sweating. Enemies now have a diverse repertoire of behaviors that go beyond simply walking up and kicking the shit of you. Some play dead, waiting until you’re well past them and engaged in combat with some of their compatriots—then they sneak up and kick the shit out of you. Others are built specifically to counter the most popular tactics of Dark Souls veterans. The marquee monster of the segment I played was the “Turtle Knight,” a brute with a giant club and a heavily armored back. Try to run behind him to deliver a devastating backstab, and Mr. Turtle Knight will fall backward, crushing you under his metal shell.

Even the exploration in Dark Souls II requires players to adopt new strategies. In one demo that I saw, the player tricked a bomb-throwing baddy into taking down a weak wall, exposing the life-affirming bonfire behind it. Bonfires, returning from the original, serve as a sort of checkpoint where players save their games and refill their healing flasks. In a rare example of mercy, the developers have also added a true teleportation system. Explorers can instantly travel between any of the bonfires they’ve discovered across the game world, alleviating much of the tedious—and perilous—travel required by the original, in which only a fraction of bonfires offered warping.

But the instant travel and a new healing system (which augments the beloved Estus Flasks of the original rather than replacing them) were the only niceties on display. The Namco representatives flaunted the fact that no one, a day and a half into E3, had yet to beat the boss that closed the hands-on demo. It was an impressive fight, set in a ruined coliseum during a thunderstorm. Players challenged a lumbering set of armor whose shield doubles as a portal through which ghostly warriors—and, I was told, other players looking to kill you—are summoned.

Dark Souls II

The sequel retains the same gothic art-inspired style as before, but the visual details, especially the complexity of the lighting, are improved. It’s more than just a shiny new look. The lighting amplifies Dark Souls II’s sense of gloom and solitude. It makes areas that are blanketed in darkness even more terrifying, as the light from your torch pours over the walls and illuminates corpses waiting to come alive and do you in. And do you in they will if you’re not careful. Just ask the sweaty-palmed folks (un)lucky enough to have played the game.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/eclipsemattaru Eclipse Mattaru

    A boss that summons human invaders? Man, I’m gonna HATE that fucker D:

    So, where do I preorder, then?

    • rvb1023

       Kind of like that one Demon’s Souls boss that was an actual player.

      • doyourealize

        Which I discovered by being summoned. I remember the slow realization that I was the boss character for someone else…probably a pretty easy fight for that other person, though.

      • CrabNaga

        I never got to experience that, sadly. I don’t know if my internet settings were messed up, but I never fought a summoned person in the Old Monk fight, and never got summoned to be the Old Monk. Although, the Tower creeped the hell out of me, so the less time I had to spend in that area was probably for the best.

      • neodocT

         I didn’t know they did that! I just bought Demon’s Souls last month, but haven’t gotten around to playing it yet. I think they shut off the servers, though, so I guess I won’t have that experience…

        • Mike Wolf

           The servers are still online; I’ve been playing myself and there’s a healthy community still going through the game. I’ve had a far more positive experience with the Demon’s Souls community on PS3 than I did when I had Dark Souls on the 360, for what it’s worth.

        • neodocT

           @electricdog:disqus That’s awesome! The game’s been out so long that I was sure they had shut off the servers by now. I’ll see if I can start playing that soon.

        • http://starttocrate.tumblr.com/ Http Lovecraft

          You’re not crazy @neodocT:disqus , there was talk of shutting down the Demon’s Souls servers after the release of Dark Souls, but after Demon’s Souls came to the PSN store that never happened.

  • The_Helmaroc_King

    I’m glad that my 360 won’t be sitting idle while everyone else is playing with their new consoles. I expect I’ll still have games to play by the time this one comes out, but it’ll still be a day one purchase for me.

    If they can get this one to run smoother than Dark Souls did, I will be one happy camper.

  • rvb1023

    I have found very few games as aesthetically pleasing as the Souls games this gen. I am a huge sucker for dark fantasy and these games are about as dark as the get. I really hope they keep the combat, weapon, and armor design up to snuff as well.

    Also, just having a new world to explore and piece together is probably the most exciting part. I haven’t had more fun exploring a game since STALKER.

    • The_Misanthrope

       It is especially rewarding to explore, since you often have to fight so hard to get to new areas.  Despite the dread and terror, there are some pretty breath-taking vistas to behold:  the majesty of Anor Londo, the decaying beauty of the Painted World of Ariamis, the vastness of Ash Lake, etc.

    • Sa3ad

      That was really the major improvement to the formula of the first game (Demon’s Souls), which was based around a hub world. The world in Dark Souls had a coherency and cleverness about it that is rather reminiscent of the best of Metroid and Metroidvania. It’s a 3D environment that seems to work with verticality (a lot of the game is spent ascending or descending up and down a mountain wall) in a way rarely seen in other games. The places visited vary from the deepest abyss to the loftiest spires, and every area seems to have several levels to them. Add to that the fact that everything’s connected and that you’ll be treated to vistas of the Ash Lake and Lost Izalith while dodging big boned bullies in the Tomb of the Giants (exempli gratia).

    • http://www.production24fps.com/ Philippe Gosselin

      Couldn’t agree with more. “Stalker”, and it’s two expansions, still pops up in my mind from time to time. Just as Dark Souls, the atmosphere in those games were so utterly well done that all my playthroughs took me well beyond the 3am mark.

  • dreadguacamole

     So, this gives me… what, ten months to finish the first one?

     I *will* unmake you, bed of chaos!

    • The_Misanthrope

       I’m in the same boat myself.  It’ll probably take a full week just to get back in the Dark Souls frame of mind.

    • CrabNaga

      The Bed of Chaos is aptly named; every single playthrough I fight it, it finds a new an exciting way to screw me over. Even though it’s a puzzle boss, it still has much potential to kill you outright if you take one wrong step.

    • neodocT

      I loved the Bed of Chaos fight! It was such a change of pace from the other bosses in the game, and so cool when you finally figure out how to kill it.

    • ChicaneryTheYounger

       Not nearly enough time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

      Quit and reload after killing each orb, then just equip a decent shield, tank 2 hits and make a run for the branch. Cheap but effective. I’ve done it 3 times and died once and only because I messed up the final drop.

  • doyourealize

    The fan in me couldn’t help but be excited when I heard the announcement of this game a few months ago. Then I heard they were going to make it more “accessible”, not exactly a bad thing, but something to be skeptical about. Then I heard Miyazaki wasn’t involved. All that, and usually the first sequel is the best game, the third in series struggling between improvement and keeping the feel. So while I was excited, I wasn’t exactly holding my breath.

    I’m going to start holding it now.

    • neodocT

       I read something this morning where they explained what they meant by accessibility. Basically, they weren’t saying the game would be any easier, but somewhat more streamlined.  The idea is to make some aspects simpler so you could focus more on the actual challenge of the game. I think the bonfire teleportation is an example of that.

      Now, if they could only set the bonfires closer to the bosses…

      • dreadguacamole

         They also said that they’d do a better job at explaining the game’s more arcane systems, which is also fine by me. If it wasn’t for FAQs I’d never know what the whole deal is with the covenants.

        • Sa3ad

          Dark Souls and its predecessor reminded me quite a bit of Link’s Adventure, a game where you’re supposed to use a spell (appropriately named ‘spell’) — which normally turns weaker enemies into slime — in a very specific spot in one of the towns to make a building arise from underground, with only the vaguest notion of a clue to tip you off. The difference is that with these modern games it seemed like a legitimate ‘artistic’ (I do hesitate to use that word here) choice, rather than a result of underdeveloped game design (or a cynical attempt to shill Nintendo Power and strategy guides). With that said however, there’s really nothing to suggest that Dark Souls II couldn’t have obscure secrets that one can share with one’s friends (assuming one has any friends that are into masochist gaming) and fellow interneteers, while also explaining its basic terms more lucidly than its predecessors. 

      • Matt Gerardi

        The thing I was really hoping for was improved menus and item descriptions that actually tell you what things do. But alas, the inventory was disabled in the demo. 

  • CrabNaga

    Dark Souls is probably my favorite game of this generation. Everything they’ve showed off in the sequel looks like it’s a worthy addition, so consider me pumped.

    It’s worth noting that the DLC area in Dark Souls was developed alongside Dark Souls 2, and the DLC areas and bosses are some of the best in the game. Hopefully that’s the sort of quality we can expect out of the sequel.

    • http://twitter.com/zhandlen Zack Handlen

      I need to remember to go back and explore that stuff. I bought the DLC when it was released, but it’d been so long since I played the game that I decided to start from the beginning with a new character, and, well, there was some death.

    • WorldCivilizations

      Wow, that is very encouraging info. About half the boss fights in Demon’s Souls were duds, in Dark Souls only a few (Nito, Seath, and Gwyn come to mind), but the DLC bosses were all frickin tight. I think Dark Souls is one of the best video games ever made, frankly, so I have been nervous about getting too excited for 2 – this alleviates a bit of my fear.

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    Given it depicts the game protagonist valiantly and triumphantly striking down all enemies in his path and not, say… getting felled by a naked mole rat dropping on his head, I think there’s case to file a false advertising complaint with the Better Business Bureau over this trailer.   

    • His_Space_Holiness

      Much as movies have trailers cut for different demographics, I just have to assume there’s a Dark Souls 2 trailer meant for fans that’s just two minutes of the protagonist getting carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey from beginning to end.

    • Fluka

      Regarding the trailer’s (terrible) music, note that the final refrain is “Again again, I come back”….

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        Yeah, that was pretty well thought out.
           This is the song that comes to mind for me when thinking about this game.

  • ChicaneryTheYounger

    This series was never for me. I’ve nothing against the games, I recognise they’re very strongly designed and have a vision, but I dislike the high fantasy genre (this is inexplicable, I enjoy soft sci-fi but cannot like high fantasy. It always seems sterile to me) and the lack of direction was infuriating. I also don’t particularly enjoy “trial-and-error” style games.

    • goawayinternet

      I’m a big fan of the Dark Souls games, but have no idea what ‘high fantasy’ is.  Could you explain to me?  I like the games because there is almost no plot, nothing to waste my time; just sweet, sweet difficult gameplay.

      • ChicaneryTheYounger

         High fantasy is a setting. Dragons and swords.

      • JoJo Stout

        If you think there’s almost no plot, you’re not looking hard enough. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

    The number of 1 hit kills in the initial trailer has me slightly worried. I’m still going to pre-order it and take the week off work when it’s out to really sink into it.