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Dark Souls II preview: I died 8 times in an hour and loved it

Hayden Dingman | Feb. 3, 2014
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.

Remember the first time you watched Evil Dead 2 and halfway through you went, "Wait a second — this is the same exact film as Evil Dead except prettier and a lot more hilarious?" Dark Souls II is Dark Souls. It's set in a different world and different monsters, sure, but the basic formula hasn't changed.

Lost souls
Let me give you an example from my own play session. After choosing my class (Warrior, because it came with a sword and shield) and turning my character's hair blue for the hell of it, it was time to face the world — an entire world full of monsters who wanted to kill me. As one of the women in red said to me, "You'll lose your souls. All of them. Over and over again."

Her lack of faith was promptly rewarded. I walked outside, turned down a side path, and came face to face with a surprised troll. I swung my feeble iron sword. Instead of collapsing to the ground and rewarding me with its much-coveted souls, the troll swung and swung and swung and — despite some masterful dodges — killed me with a solid three blows. YOU DIED.

It was around this time I started wondering about a tutorial. Half an hour later I realized I'd walked right past the tutorial without knowing. It was squirreled away near the tavern. The game never pointed it out, or forced me to play through the introductory sections of the game. It set me loose and told me to make my own damn mistakes, like a parent from the 1950s.

It's this frankness — this lack of "hand-holding" — that draws people in. Dark Souls plays like an action game, but it's essentially a gigantic puzzle box where the solutions happen to be swords, arrows, and spears instead of Sudoku boxes.

A dash of color
That's not to say nothing is different. The thing that struck me most in Dark Souls II is how alive and populated the world feels.

I think I talked to more non-hostile characters in the first hour of Dark Souls II than I did in the first ten hours of the original game. They're everywhere, from Shalquoir the cat merchant to the poor knight who complains of a statue blocking his path. Coming from the sparseness of the original Dark Souls, this full roster is almost overwhelming — a feeling heightened by the environments you traverse.

The original Dark Souls (and its spiritual predecessor, Demon's Souls) were bleak experiences. Even when the world opened up into spectacular vistas, the sun kept an entirely unpleasant, grayish pallor. It was a sickly world — a world for the undead.

 

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