Dark Souls II Preview – Beyond Death

by on February 24, 2014

Dear father, forgive me for I have committed a cardinal gaming sin. I’ve never actually played any of FROM Software’s Souls series.

Amidst all the hype and fanfare around Dark Souls, its crushing defeats and murky dungeons had somehow managed to elude me – so with the imminent release of the second Dark Souls lurking just around the corner, I decided it was time to pay the Namco Bandai offices a visit and finally right this wrong. So after selecting my avatar and being subject to some spine chilling prophecies from an elderly, swamp dwelling woman, I was ready to finally enter the world of Dark Souls II.

Being let completely off the reins after the initial introduction is highly refreshing. Unlike the majority of games you’ll play, you’re not shackled to a linear path in Dark Souls, and are free to go whereever takes your fancy, whether that’s exploring a forest, an eerily abandoned castle, or…an even eerier looking castle.

While the dungeon feel and gritty fantasy setting is pretty reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus or the Zelda series, the darker tone and bleak atmosphere makes the game feel chillingly unique. The world often feels abandoned and barren, and the sense of isolation is a powerful part of the game’s mood – which makes encountering the occassional NPC a welcome and relieving experience.

Dark Souls II Character Creation

Within each area there are often multiple paths, tempting you to deviate from your current route and explore what lies off the beaten path, and after taking a few wrong turns I learnt pretty early on that sometimes a seemingly innocent looking path can lead you straight into the depths of hell.

After wandering through the tutorial cave section and slaying a few ghostly apparitions of bandits (and embarrassingly, being killed by some pigs – but lets not talk about that) I eventually made my way to the game’s real enemies.

While crossing a ruined bridge I was met by two armoured behemoths who didn’t seem particularly happy to see me. After walking a few feet, the closest armoured giant swung his sword at me and delivered a devastating blow to my poor little avatar. I managed to work in a few feeble jabs from my rubbish starting sword before the juggernaut landed its next blow – which proceeded to smash me into tiny pieces. It turns out that just like tackling the gigantic foes of Monster Hunter, the key to victory in Dark Souls 2 comes from learning your enemies attack patterns, and then making full use of the limited window of opportunity you’re given to attack them. Without memorizing their attack patterns you stand little chance of actually defeating these enemies, and just blindly rushing in will almost always result in your death.

Dark Souls II Exploring

Again, like in Monster Hunter (there’s a theme to my references here), victory only comes to those who are patient, and usually after you’ve had your rectum handed to you a few times.

The risk-reward factor of leaving every dodge and roll to the last possible second is a pretty nerve-racking experience, and the looming threat of death makes combat in Dark Souls 2 an incredibly tense ordeal. As if the risky combat mechanic wasn’t stressful enough  the developers have decided to punish you further. As series veterans will know all too well, dying incurs a pretty steep penalty: you have to go back to the last bonfire you lit – which are quite often outside of the dungeon you were just in. This makes battles a daunting experience, yet the tension becomes even more unbearable after you’ve been killed. The reason for this is that if you are killed again when going back to collect your soul, you lose all the souls that you had previously amassed – for good.

For the uninitiated, In Dark Souls, when you kill an enemy you collect their soul. These souls function as an in-game currency and are pretty vital to progressing through the game, so losing all of them is a big deal.

This really isn’t a game for the faint hearted or easily frustrated – there are no Super Tanooki suits to save you here – and unlike in most modern games, Dark Souls II doesn’t go out of its way to hold your hand.

The voice acting is also surprisingly well done. Normally when there are British voice actors in games they ham it up a-la Fable, and you’re left with characters spouting cringe inducing cockney slang or sounding like constipated dukes. In Dark Souls II, however, the voice acting is well considered and in keeping with the game’s dark atmosphere, it’s subtly done and sounds convincing – which is more than most fantasy games seem to manage.

Dark Souls 2 offers players four new classes, as well as a whole new world to explore, but Namco Bandai tell me they were very set on making refinements rather than trying to reinvent the series. With such a pure and old school approach to gameplay I can see why. Dark Souls II has a distinctive melancholy and eerie atmosphere to it, that when combined with its uniquely unforgiving gameplay makes it a compelling proposition unlike anything else in gaming. If it isn’t broke, then don’t fix it. Dark Souls II will still break you, and you’ll love every second of it.

Preview based on attending Namco Bandai’s London office.

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  • Justin Foley

    I’m glad I’m not the only one that saw the relation of Dark Souls to Zelda – particularly Majora’s Mask (this one especially since the theme is very much about loss / death and the atmosphere is very dark)

  • http://GodisaGeek.com/ Adam Cook

    Must admit, I’d never thought about that comparison before.

  • Tom Regan

    Even parts of OOT and Twilight Princess have similar feels to them, glad I’m not the only one!

  • TzarChasm

    Nintendo will never deserve to have any of its games mentioned in the same sentence as the Souls series.

  • Tom Regan

    Even though the Souls series wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Nintendo’s influence?

  • Justin Foley

    @disqus_yV5FRngsEp:disqus I would HIGHLY recommend playing Dark Souls. It’s an incredible game – nay, experience that should be shared among all hardcore gamers. There is a learning curve to get used to the combat & inventory but once you’ve mastered that, it will be one of the best games you have ever played.

  • Tom Regan

    Don’t worry, bought it in the Xbox sale last night for under £4. Time for me to get schooled!

  • Skull Kidd

    Don’t be ignorant, Nintendo was once at the forefront of gaming in terms of both innovation and the games themselves and the fact that in more recent years they’ve had a few missteps and fallen behind in the ‘console wars’ does not change this fact.

  • Skull Kidd

    Thanks for the preview. It’s nice to see a new player get into the spirit of the game so easily. I’ve read a lot of these previews so far from multiple places and it’s mostly the same – very negative for being to difficult and not holding your hand.

  • http://GodisaGeek.com/ Adam Cook

    I’ve played the same build as Tom, and I played Dark Souls as well. It’s not too difficult and it doesn’t hold you hand, but those ARE NOT negatives – those are very cool, unique things.

    Wish a few more games would respect the player the way Dark Souls 1 and 2 do, to be honest.

  • Justin Foley

    YES! You should definitely stream it. I love watching newbies freshly experience Dark Souls. Also, I can give some non-spoiler tips that all new players should know:
    1) Choose the master key. All other starting items are useless
    2) DO NOT go into the graveyard
    3) You can’t trust everyone you meet

    That’s all you get :)

  • Justin Foley

    It’s the ambiguity and vagueness that made the Dark Souls community what it is today. Players didn’t receive any hand-holding in-game so what did you have to do? Consult the commmunity! Forums, steam chats, etc. Players that didn’t understand how the internet worked, however, didn’t get to experience the beauty of Dark Souls and its community. The Director of Dark Souls stated that he wanted the community to be “like a group of adventurers, sitting around a fire and telling stories and asking questions” and I believe he achieved that and I do not think he could have achieved that any other way.

  • Tom Regan

    Will definitely stream it next week, cheers for the tips! I apologise in advance for the constant obscenities that will be uttered..

  • Tom Regan

    Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for the kind words. Yeah, I really enjoy the spirit of Japanese games, and it was nice to not be patronised for once! Can’t wait to dive in properly.

  • http://GodisaGeek.com/ Adam Cook

    Indeed, I agree. But I tell you, it’s a weird experience playing the new one in an environment before it is available to buy. You are truly on your own, whereas – as you rightly say – when the game is out, the community will be superb in helping one another map the game out.

  • John Q Public

    disagree, go into the graveyard, loot all the items, then run away

    bonus points if you run into the catacombs and get the Gravelord sword ASAP

  • God Hand