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Dark Souls II Preview

by Diogo Miguel February 28, 2014

It’s a tough act to follow up on a stellar game like Dark Souls. A cult hit that has gone on to become one of the most widely recognised titles in recent years. Such a success resulted in a sequel, Dark Souls II. But can this sequel match up to the original in terms of quality?

One of the most obvious changes is how the story is told. It seems like the development team is keen on leaving less to the imagination, based on what story elements were viewed, during the play session. The cut-scenes are longer and early story elements are described by characters met in detail. The quality of these cut-scenes is also impressive with details like wrinkles and so on easily visible on characters.

Menu interfaces are designed so that players can easily find items and other options in real time. This certainly makes the task of creating a custom character less monotonous. There’s a lot of options that a player can go through when editing various aspects of a character. The player can even change the nose width of the character.

After players have created a custom character, it is time to dive in and start to explore the world of Drangleic. For those that have somehow not experienced the original Dark Souls, it is possible to go through a training area. An intricate section filled with many tunnels provides guidance and basic tips. Those already acquainted with the terrors of Dark Souls can just skip the whole affair and just move on to the town of Majula.

But I cannot stress enough how vital this section is for anyone who has perhaps become interested in the series after being lured in by Bandai Namco’s marketing campaign. Learning the basics is one of the most important lessons in Dark Souls – mainly because players are given free reign to do as they wish once the real challenge kicks in. It also gives new players a glimpse of what to expect which in turn prepares them for the many hardships ahead.

Reaching the seaside town of Majula will show just how big this world truly is. The town itself is a worthy replacement of the original main hub. It shows sign of life in the various people that dwell in it and makes it seem more like a home for the player’s character. As usual, characters found will often talk in riddles and it’s still satisfying to look for the hidden meaning behind them.

Those thinking that Dark Souls II has gone soft after becoming so popular are very wrong. Even the small piglets that roam the town hub will attempt to kill the character. The developers haven’t forgotten the players who helped make this sequel possible. There are various small details included in this sequel that fans will surely like finding.

The way that attributes like health are increased vis the use of souls is very similar to Demon’s Soul. Once again, a young woman is given the task of helping players earn new levels and also levelling up the Estus Flask. The three hours spent playing through the initial stages of the game gives the idea that it’s more about connecting with people than ever. Lots of tasks that were previously assigned to the bonfire are not in the hands of various characters in the town.

Perhaps that is one of the main reason why the developers decided to give players the ability to fast travel between lit bonfires from the very beginning. A bonfire for the uninitiated is a place to rest found in all the different areas within a Souls game. It is the place where defeated characters return to and it also has other functions.

Purists will likely have heard and perhaps not liked the idea of unlocking fast travel from the start. However, it didn’t seem to have any negative impact during the time spent playing it. In fact, the new upgrade system meant that it was beneficial given the amount of time not spent constantly running back and forth. Don’t forget that dying will also result in having to run back to the spot where character died in order to collect any souls. A gamble that is still just as nail-biting in this sequel – even more so when going in deeper once the game’s steep difficulty starts to truly kick in.

In fact, Dark Souls II is full of subtle changes that make the experience more enjoyable overal.. Even little details like being able to use more than one soul item at a time are welcome. It just makes for a less repetitive experience and meant being able to spend those three hours concentrating on exploration.

Going out into the first main area in the game will show just how far the series has come. The change in environments is quite subtle. It’s almost as if the team has perfected the art of connecting various locations with this world without making every area look too similar. The location explored, Tomb of the Giants, is an area that will possibly take more than a few hours to see everything it has to offer. In fact, it wasn’t possible to even see everything that was on offer within three hours.

This area consists of a forest section that leads into what looked like the ruins of an ancient castle. Having chosen to go deeper into the castle’s lower floors, the challenge become increasingly more difficult. See, dying in Dark Souls means going into the undead status and only certain items can restore humanity. There are some compelling factors to try and keep the character human. Well, besides the fact that the characters now look even more terrifying whilst undead – due to the attention given to facial features.

One of the major factors to stay human in this sequel is that dying whilst undead will result in losing a small chunk of health until the bar is halved. Attempting to fight a boss or even some of the stronger opponents will result in one hit kills. A rather important change given the fact that it was possible to keep trying to kill bosses without any major repercussions in the original.

Being faced with this new idea meant having to take a step back and carefully consider the best way to approach each enemy. It also meant not being able to successfully defeat a boss during the play session. A prime example of why Dark Souls II still enjoys torturing players – albeit in a slightly more subtle manner.

The combat mechanics are still more or less the same as in Dark Souls. No doubt that fans will feel right at home when it comes to the fighting. The various optional quests that made the original so engaging, like the covenants(Company of Champions spotted), are still around. Players are still given the freedom to explore at their own pace. Others in the play session ended up facing a completely different opponent from the one that I chose to go up against.

This towering adversary is not only incredibly powerful, but also just as terrifying as those bosses found in Dark Souls. It wasn’t possible to defeat it due to dying too many times(health bar going down to half), but it was ever so satisfying to end up figuring out a highly effective way to exploit one of its key attacks. It seems like figuring out a way to exploit attacks during boss fights is still just as effective.

Playing through this area for most of the three hours felt like the game wanted players to truly appreciate what little tools they had, and to make the most with what they were given.

At one point the character ended up trapped by about six enemies in a dead end bridge. Faced with such odds, the only viable option was to charge forward and hope for the best(ended up being pushed into the cliff). A perfect example of the bizarre situations that players more than often find themselves in Dark Souls. Perhaps a reassuring sign that this sequel can still surprise even the most seasoned of players.

If these initial three hours are a representation of what lies next then fans of the original have nothing to worry about. This isn’t simply just the same Dark Souls in a different world. Both subtle and major changes have turned it into an experience where anyone can gradually learn to appreciate the hardships it offers.

The original managed to captivate the minds of many who still tell others about their own Dark Souls experience.

Dark Souls II certainly seems like it will have the same effect, and perhaps create a whole new generation of warriors eagerly sharing their tales of heroism on the various social media channels. 2014 might have been marked by the arrival of new hardware, but Dark Souls II could very well end up being the most successful title of the year.

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