Dark Souls 2 Preview [E3 2013]

16 Jun 2013  by   Peter Parrish
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Here’s the problem with previewing Dark Souls 2: most of you out there interested in the game, deep down, probably don’t actually want to know too much about it.

To be a bit more precise, I think you do want to know that it’ll be as satisfying a challenge as the original. Like me, I’m pretty sure you want to be reassured that new director Yui Tanimura knows what he’s doing and that FromSoftware aren’t accidentally turning the series into yet another accessible third-person RPG.

But the specifics, the surprises, the magnificent reveals and outstanding boss designs; those, you might not want to know about.

Dark Souls 2 - E3 2013 - 11

It may look like a safe corridor, but I bet there’s a were-crocodile pit hidden under the flagstones.

It’s a symptom of the series’ success (enhanced further by a transition last year to the PC,) that, this time around, there will be more pre-release media coverage of Dark Souls II than either the original or its PS3-only precursor Demon’s Souls. FromSoftware have a genuine hit series now.

That means more articles, more publicity and, ultimately, fewer surprises when the game is finally released in March 2014. In truth, that’s kind of a bummer. I wish Dark Souls II could just emerge next year, fully formed, with barely a hint of what it may contain.

Publisher Namco Bandai would probably not share this view, and nor would its marketing team. So it’s inevitable that Dark Souls II will be spilling some of its secrets early.

We’ll get to some of that in a bit, and I’ll hand out spoiler warnings at the door. For now, let’s cover some of the reassuring (and reassuringly vague) stuff.

Dark Souls 2 - E3 2013 - 10

This tree looks perfectly fine, but I bet the leaves are poisonous and the bark is made of acid and it’s all about to fall on you anyway.

It’s already confirmed that the PC version will be getting the proper care and attention this time around, so any worries about a second shoddy port should be put to rest. That’s older, but pretty important news.

For their E3 demo, From has been using set character ‘builds,’ but has also promised that full character customisation will be possible in the sequel, just as it was in Dark Souls. It seems the specific character classes were just there to give us an idea of what ‘sorcerer type’ and ‘warrior guy’ would play like. As before, it looks like the original character you pick is just a starting block for modification and expansion as you adapt to a preferred play-style.

A couple of new bits and pieces did emerge from the character showcase, however. The sorcerer was using a combination of spells (a very Soul Spear-esque one amongst them) and Pyromancy. It looked like a catalyst was required for both types, and spells (as before) have limited uses before needing to be recharged at a bonfire. Interestingly, the E3 footage appears to show a stamina cost for spellcasting. That may an effort to balance the magic using characters somewhat.

Dark Souls 2 - E3 2013 - 07

It may appear as if the sorcerer is in control of this pyromancy, but he’s unaware of the highly flammable gas currently flooding the chamber.

There was another look at a duel-wielding fellow in a delightfully sweeping cape, confirming that there are now specific attacks and animations for going with two blades at once. You could already hold a pair of swords in Dark Souls, of course, but there were no duel-wield specific attacks. This approach is said to be one for the veteran Souls players, as there’ll be no shield to cower behind and dodging will pretty much be your only means of defense.

Backstabbing has been altered to include the possibility that you may screw up your attempt, and no longer takes the form of a single piercing thrust through your foe. Instead, it’s now a series of quick slashes. Apparently, enemies are smarter now and will actually attempt to avoid backstabs. Others, like the burly knight with a turtle shell on his back shown during this, and previous, Dark Souls II demonstrations, will simply come equipped with built-in protection.

E3 demo footage is a tenuous thing to base tactile judgements on, but the combat animations now appear ‘quicker’ and not as weighty as in the original. This could be a slight return to Demon’s Souls’ swifter movements, but I’m also wondering if it could be down to an improved framerate. Dark Souls has a noticeably different feel on PC when using the 60fps mod, which takes a little getting used to.

It’s impossible to analyse the altered ‘feel’ of the animations and movement without an extensive period of time with the finalised game itself, but it has changed to some degree.

Dark Souls 2 - E3 2013 - 12

This room may appear not to pose any danger, but … wait, what am I talking about? It looks like it’s busting out danger all over the place.

Here’s the part where specific details about exploration and boss design come in, so if you’re not wanting to know about that you should avert your eyes, close the browser window, or otherwise avoid reading on in any fashion.

Ok?

Ok. Bonfire warping is confirmed as being available from the very start of the game. Once you’ve found a new bonfire, it sounds like it’ll be a fast-travel point from then on. Honestly, I’m not too sure about this change. Getting the ability to warp between certain bonfires was a huge reward when it came part-way through Dark Souls, but it was so liberating because it had been hard-earned. Allowing so much travel from the beginning of the title may leave some of the exploration feeling devalued. Again, only playing the final game can really disperse or reinforce those concerns.

Dark Souls 2 - E3 2013 - 09

This is the guy The Human League tried to warn us about.

The big Souls II reveal of E3 has been that chap above us. Mirror Knight. He’ll be one of the sequel’s boss challenges, and his party trick is bashing his mirror shield into the ground and creating a clone of himself to help smash your hapless hero. There are even rumours that (in the full game, with multiplayer functions) Mirror Knight’s summoned helpers can be human-controlled phantoms. That, however, has not been confirmed.

He sounds like a imposing prospect, and reports from E3 suggest that despite there being a t-shirt on offer for those who could defeat him, nobody had come away successful.

It’d be foolish to place too much emphasis on a lone piece of boss design, but Mirror Knight is part of a pattern of encouraging signs that the Dark Souls II team is on the right track. Flexibility in character progression, interesting tweaks to spellcasting and backstabbing, along with the promise to treat the PC version with care all bode well. Questions remain over the game’s apparent new ‘feel,’ and designs like immediate access to bonfire warping, but nothing shown at E3 should be cause for any major panic.

Dark Souls II will be available on PC in March 2014.

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