Earlier this week I played the first hour of Dark Souls II. I died exactly eight times: Three times by falling off cliffs, once by drowning, once by the hands of a hulking troll whose swipes were so powerful he occasionally over-balanced and fell, once by the poison of a horrific man-lizard-thing with a fleshy sac hanging off its stomach, once by the sword of a fifteen-foot-tall beast of a man clad in fearsome black armor, and once by way of some demon pigs which swarmed me and chewed me to bits.
Yes, demon pigs. The kind that would live in a demon farmhouse.
And each time, the same now-infamous admonition of the original Dark Souls: YOU DIED. Then back to whichever bonfire I'd rested at, ready to throw my tired ol' hollow bones against the gauntlet of enemies one last time — hopefully a little wiser for the previous attempts.
Dark Souls was a breakout hit, for myriad reasons — it was an exceedingly hard game with semi-realistic medieval combat released in an era where most games are considered "too easy," with a plot that rewarded engagement and exploration. Completing Dark Souls became a status symbol. It was a sign of patience. Of diligence. Of sheer, hard-headed stubbornness.
Whenever a niche game becomes a breakout hit, there's always that fear of dilution. Many a game has been ruined by good-hearted developers trying to "broaden a title's appeal." Fear not: As far as I could tell in the little time I played at a preview event in San Francisco, Dark Souls II is just as inscrutable and difficult as its predecessor.
The open hand of friendship, the mailed fist
After the gorgeous opening cinematic — a lush affair that details Drangleic, presumably your goal in Dark Souls II — you're dropped into the world with nothing. No class. No name. No equipment. No direction.
So you walk. You soon come to a bridge, and across it a well-lit tavern of sorts. And you enter, with trepidation, grasping for a sword that isn't there, preparing to bash gloved fists into leering enemy faces if necessary.
Three old women welcome you, red-robed and eyes blind with cataracts. These women help contextualize the character creation process, grounding it in some semblance of story. You'll choose your name and class here, and customize your appearance.
Classes are just as opaque to newcomers as in Dark Souls. Stats aren't even labeled, so good luck puzzling out the picture labels. Descriptions are maddeningly vague. Gifts are alternatively frivolous garbage and mysterious items that just might be useful later (if you're lucky). And by now fans of the original game are probably cheering, because all of this sounds in line with Dark Souls.
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