As I sprinted at breakneck speeds across the convention floor to the Dark Souls II booth, tackling passersby and hurdling over children, I realised I was just as nervous as I was excited. I think that’s a shared feeling among a lot of Dark Souls fans regarding its sequel; the original being such a finely tuned balance of so many elements that a continuation of it might rock the boat. With the added scares of Hidetaka Miyazaki saying “sayonara” to the series and murmurs of the publishers wanting to ‘widen the audience’, many are concerned there are forces at work trying to Skyrim-ify the series, so it was with trembling hands that I picked up the controller and jumped back into that dark, horrible world I could never live without.
To my delight, we were given the option to choose from the four classes that From Software had shown off a few months before: standard warrior, dual wielding dexterity maniac, magic shooting stick bastard, and my personal choice Temple Knight holding a halberd and shield. We were told numerous times that classes are still hugely flexible and this is simply for demonstration purposes – so, just like Dark Souls in that respect. Good.
The first thing I noticed waking up at a bonfire was just how god damn beautiful Dark Souls II looks; not in that it’s shoved full of HDR and bloom and lens flare like we’ve all come to expect, but in that it looks exactly like the world of Lordran should: crumbled, broken, and battered. The flickering light of the bonfire gave a momentary life to the ruined building I awoke in, and sparks spat out and died on the floor. The cloak of my knight flowed naturally in the wind, and my Havel-esque helmet showed as many scars as one would expect. I also had to check this was running on current-gen hardware (it was), since not once did it visibly drop from a blisteringly high framerate. Not a repeat of Blighttown here!
Climbing down a ladder (Dark Souls is back, baby!), I ran into my first set of hollows and was able to use my experience of the first game to dispatch them with a series of rolls, backstabs, switching to two-handed, you name it. From Software has clearly decided not to fix what is not broken, and if anything has just made it look a lot smoother, with combat now looking like a vile ballet of blade swings and blood gushes. The only feature that did seem to stick out was that while I was locked on to an enemy, so was my camera, and moving the right stick would do nothing at all. This could be something planned to be changed for the final game, and I hope so. I need to get a look at my surroundings in combat, From!
But how it plays isn’t the question that so many crave answers for, is it? No, ‘how hard is it’ seems to be the only thing anyone wants to know, a question I heard in about a million different conversations while queuing at the booth. So allow me to put your mind at ease: Yes, the game is hard. I don’t know how far into the game the section I tried actually is, but if it’s early-to-mid game, then it’s absolutely perfect. Precarious drops, enemies trying to mob you, and taking heavy damage are all still rife and honestly, it’ll just feel like coming home. The boss fight that ended the demo was also so difficult it completely took me off guard, I’d got so cocky about not actually dying in the section beforehand that I wasn’t expecting what is basically Smough with a shield, a ranged attack, and who can spawn enemies at will. I was smashed to bits. I didn’t kill him.
I’m a sequel-wary person myself, but Dark Souls II is doing a cracking job so far. We’ve seen nothing of the story just yet, but with the difficulty and combat appearing to be refined to a tee, I’ve nothing but high hopes. You too can defy death come March 2014.