Dark Souls II Preview

My hands on with opening hours of Dark Souls II begins with death. Storyline wise that is, though I’d soon follow through on the gameplay. Set in the ruins of the Kingdom of Drangleic, your character is cursed. An undead set loose upon the world. Waking up in a clearing, I set out, unarmed and unarmoured. I soon find a house built into a tree where an old witch proceeds to speak cryptic words. In true Dark Souls fashion, the plot details are sparse. It’s a rich and dark fantasy world, but one with few immediate details. After being restored to human form with the burning of an effigy, and having picked out my character class – I went with the basic warrior, I set out to begin my adventure properly.

Within minutes I was already dead. At the time it was actually hilarious and embarrassing. On the TV next to me, the Namco Bandai PR representative was locked in mortal combat with a boss and I was so focused on watching that, that I stopped paying attention to my own screen and promptly walked off a cliff. Not my finest video gaming moment. After respawning at the bonfire, I promptly swore to focus myself, to man up, and to kick this game’s ass. How hard could it be?

I died so often in the game that it stopped being funny only to become hilarious once more. Even during the tutorial. Entering a darkened cave system, I fought and defeated a number of weak enemies. All very well and good. Until I fell off another cliff. Later on, while still in this early area and a little further down the track, I was then blindsided by an enemy archer who shot me full of arrows as I tried to make my way up to his high vantage point. The next time after that was more successful, and having gotten past all these obstacles, I came across an unpleasant sight. A small patch of land, surrounded by dark waters and deep shadows, The land itself was brightly lit, a stark contrast to the darkened caves and valleys I had explored. In the middle of that ground, was a big troll like creature.

If that doesn’t scream epic battle I don’t know what does. I was tempted to avoid it, but then I thought… What if I am supposed to fight it? What if I can beat it, and grab its souls? Having died several times, I could really use those souls. So, gritting my teeth and summoning my courage, I walked forward to fight the beast. I died. I was killed unceremoniously as he proceeded to smash me to a fine paste with only a few hits. Damn. So I tried a second time. This time, I told myself, I shall be more careful. The troll picked me up and bit my head off. Third time’s a charm maybe? It was during that fight that I saw an even more unpleasant sight. While there was one troll standing in the light, moving your way around the battlefield revealed that there was another troll hidden amongst the shadows and it was heading towards me. Needless to say, I died once again.

The Namco Bandai representative next to me took pity on me. You know, you’re not supposed to fight those right now. Come back later when you’re stronger, he told me. So, I had clearly fallen for one of the many, many, many ways to die in Dark Souls. Overconfidence. Suitably humbled, I left the cave systems and left the valley, entering a new area called Majula. Bathed in orange sunlight, Majula was a friendly village filled with NPC’s and a much needed respite from the bleak and oppressive surroundings I had just trekked through. Even if it was a somewhat depressing and worn down place in itself. After chatting with a few NPC’s and wishing that I had souls to level up and buy some sweet equipment, I saw a grand construction of stone in the distance, I headed that way, making my way through an old water sluice system.

Emerging into the light once more, I saw the ruins of some old fortress. Despite the damage done to it, the white stone and bright sunlight made for a majestic sight. Moving forwards, I saw that the only path ahead had a huge knight armed with a very very big weapon standing on it. Just my luck. With a slow, but powerful attack that could wipe off more than half my health, the first fight ended horribly. The second fight was little better, even if I did keep dodging his attacks and attacking him from behind. With my puny weapons and my lack of levelling, I could barely scratch the knight, even when I was using my weapon with both hands. The final fight ended with me victorious after a long and tense battle filled with dodging and slowly chipping away at my enemy’s health. Now, defeating a relatively simple enemy should not be considered a huge achievement, but when you suck at Dark Souls like I do, then you’ll have to forgive me for my excitement. Not that it lasted long, as there were several more of those giant knights on the path ahead. Who then proceeded to kill me, sending me back to the bonfire and having to face the first knight all over again. Damn it.

Dark Souls II is more of what Dark Souls fans want. It’s crushingly difficult, has a cryptic dark fantasy atmosphere and it rewards skill and patience. There are a number of changes though. Some which make the game somewhat easier, and others that make it that much more difficult. Bonfires can be warped between. Weapons can be wielded with both hands. Lifegems appear to be the new main method of healing; items that heal you over time instead of instantly. Levelling up is no longer performed at Bonfires but via a NPC. And perhaps the most dramatic change, you get weaker every time you die. That’s right, every time you fall in battle, your health has a portion shaved off. Restoring those sections requires you to burn an effigy, returning to human once more. Needless to say, those items will be limited. As such, Dark Souls II punishes you even more harshly than its predecessors. Every death weakens you and makes you that much more likely to be defeated.

…Prepare to die indeed.

Dark Souls II releases for PS3 and Xbox 360 in Australia on March 14.

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