Block. Attack. Strafe. Repeat.
Roughly 4 weeks ago was when I purchased Dark Souls: Prepare to Die and whilst I had read up on the other players tales of despair and triumph, I was completely oblivious to just how deep you get thrown in. With a lack of any proper tutorial or introductory quest, I spent 6 hours struggling with various sections only occupied by a handful of enemies.
Suffice to say I felt like a broken man.
Stripped of my muscularity, I felt nauseous at the thought of spending another hour, brutally torn asunder by a measly grunt.
After putting a total of 7 hours into Dark Souls II at 2 separate hands-on sessions continuing where I had left off, I came back to Dark Souls, and the found the game to be much easier however still unpredictable to the careless voyager.
Dark Souls II is set in Drangleic and is indirectly linked to Dark Souls. It is only after an opening cut-scene, played out in the same fashion as Dark Souls, that players learn they are once again hollow and on a quest for pilgrimage.
Waking up in a shoulder high grassy field in the still of the night of Things Betwixt, players traverse to a small house in the distance which is occupied by 3 ladies and a housekeeper, Milibeth. Dressed in red robes, they welcome you and you begin your journey by giving you the ability to customise your character akin to it’s predecessor.
After you’ve chosen your class and look, you set forth into the savage world and are greeted by your first bonfire.
“Right in the beginning when players first pick up the game is something that I will definitely focus on. To not immediately throw them into Dark Souls but provide a good introduction in terms of what the game’s about and how the game should be played. “Hopefully that adjustment at the very beginning of the game will help draw in players and get them addicted right away without immediately making players feel rejected [by] the game system itself.”
Various sections are blocked off by the white light, which in Dark Souls meant trouble. Players shouldn’t be afraid to enter the white light and practice as this area is blatantly an introduction into the games mechanics.
I strongly urge new players to not ignore this part as they will help you in the long hours to come you’ll spend in the Drangleic which is twice the size of Lordran.
When you’ve fully explored the surrounding area and acquired all the souls you can, the next area showcases the power of the new graphics engine. Exiting a dark cave, players subside on a downward cliff which over looks the ocean in the distance.
The warms rays of the sun, the swaying grass in the wind, birds flying in the distance, Majula is a place of peace and tranquility. It’s also the perfect moment for the game to showcase its new graphics engine.
It’s the games main hub for the player exactly like Firelink Shrine.
Players can buy new weapons from Maughlin the Armourer, they can reinforce or buy weapons from Blacksmith Lenigrast or much like Demon Souls, level up their character by speaking to the Emerald Herald.
As to not make things too easy of course, players will still need to explore the environment to find hidden secrets. Blacksmith Lenigrast isn’t available from the beginning of the game and you must figure out a way to help him gain access to his workshop.
Resting at bonfires will only replenish your Estus flasks to their current maximum quantity of one, so players need to find Estus Flask Shards to increase the quantity carried, Sublime Bone Dust to increase their healing factor and in the end speak to the Emerald Herald for these items to have any effect.
Lifestone gems can be bought or found, which when used will gradually heal players during combat. One benefit of carrying as many of these items as you can is that you’re able to use them whilst strafing enemy attacks. In an attempt to cheapen the fact that you’re defenseless when healing around enemies, I feel it’s a lovely addition.
It makes the game accessible but it doesn’t necessarily make it easier. You’ll still need to comply with the art of defending, parrying and rolling to come out victorious in battles.
There are a many other ways that Dark Souls II has become more accessible to new players, who wish to enjoy the game and they are evident throughout. Human Effigies replace Humanity and don’t have to be burned at bonfire’s to return to human form. There’s less time spent aimlessly traversing the environment figuring out which path will take you to the last bonfire and more time micromanaging your character, especially since now you can carry up to four different rings.
Fast travel has also been introduced in Dark Souls II between bonfires that you find, which again makes the game accessible not easier. One complaint I’ve got with Dark Souls is that, if I’m to do anything in the game, I need to traverse high and low and get lost multiple times to get to a bonfire or even a specific section within an area I now have access to.
In a sense the introduction of fast travel was necessary, especially since the Emerald Herald is the most important character in the game world. It does however mean, players may be less inclined to explore the game world.
Part of this games charm is finding secrets and obtaining the lore of the world, through characters slumped against walls or staring out into the distance from balconies. Explore, and I assure you that you’ll be rewarded for your troubles.
With fast travel the same rules apply as they do when dying , so don’t think this is a system to abuse. Enemies will still respawn and you’ll need to do away with them every time you encounter them. In an effort to minimise players fast traveling between bonfires and farming for souls, enemies will stop spawning after they’ve been defeated a certain amount of times.
I’m not to sure how hardcore players will react to that, but farming to gain higher levels and easily defeat enemies cheapens the nature of the game.
I’m all for this new system.
Players will also notice that unlike Dark Souls when one dies they only become hollow, in this sequel they’ll also lose a portion of their health and slowly decay. It didn’t seem to have much effect on the overall structure of gameplay, but the fact that you’ll have less health means being a lot more careful.
Souls did seem easier to obtain during this build of the game and whether or not it was because it wasn’t final, I found myself obtaining enough souls to reach level 30 and I was carrying a good old club with four upgrades and doing away with enemies, no sweat.
Perhaps this was the fact that the game is double the size of it’s predecessor and it gets increasingly difficult the further you get, I don’t know. It may also be for the fact that if one kills an NPC, they can be revived by sacrificing a certain amount of souls at the tombstone where were killed.
What I do know, is that Dark Souls II is just as fun and frustrating.
Certain areas in the The Forest of the Fallen Giants pissed me off, as the game isn’t afraid to pit groups of enemies against you. If you’re not careful they’ll unleash a barrage of small attacks and kill you.
No matter how careful you think you may be, a small momentary lapse in judgement can result in tragedy.
It’s definitely a contributing factor into why this game is so addictive. That sense of accomplishment when you’ve successfully killed a boss with strategy or passed a section you couldn’t hours prior. Surpassing expectations and craftily defeating a new enemy resulting into the acquisition of a new set of armour or shield, definitely encourages players to continue playing.
Regardless of the lack of any coherent direct story, the game never seems to suffer, only the player seems to do. I saw other journalists who hadn’t played the previous game quit after 5 minutes, because they found it too hard.
I hate that.
Games over the last few years have lowered peoples expectations on how difficult a game must be. The ’30 seconds of fun’ rule applies to many and if a game can’t hold you attention with action in those bursts, it’s not worth your time.
Difficulty levels for various games even when on Hard still do not provide any type of difficulty and many when playing Dark Souls find it extremely difficult because it’s not a game you can just run around swinging you axe and killing everything in sight.
They’d rather give up and move onto something easier than accept the challenge. It’s why I love Dark Souls and why I feel Dark Souls II with all its improvements will definitely be a game to look out for this year.
When I had reached the end of the The Forest of the Fallen Giants and came up against this areas boss (Yes, the game doesn’t pit you against an Asylum Demon of any sort within the first minute) it wasn’t until 30 minutes of trial and error that I finally found a system that worked. I didn’t go back and farm enemies to obtain souls, as that would have only meant my attacks would have done more damage.
I still needed to read it’s attack patterns and successfully roll and escape the attacks. After I had achieved victory I continued forward and found myself hours later a good chunk into the game with no sense of ever stopping, until the preview sessions had finished.
Dark Souls II still retains core elements of the previous game, that sense of exploration and the anguish of dying around the next corner. Players aren’t strung along a bread-crumb trail to reach their next destination, they’re given hints at best.
It’s up to you to figure out where to go next.
Dark Souls II has multiple paths and only through death will one know which path is the right one. It’s a game that’ll punish those who are impatient and reward players with careful structure to their game plan.