One hour with Dark Souls 2, my favorite game of E3 2013

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statue hallway dark souls 2

The souls series is one that crushes you until you either get better, or until you poke around and find some way around the often seemingly insurmountable obstacle that you’re facing. It could be considered the video game equivalent of trying to join the Navy Seals. It’s about leveling up, obtaining new gear, fighting difficult monsters, and exploring the unknown. Going into the E3 demo, I was excited but a little apprehensive. Would the designers give into the masses and make the game easier? In short, no. Not at all. I would later find that Dark Souls 2 is just as hard, if not harder than the original, and improved in many ways.

The new mage, all three types of spells in one

Magic
Fans of the series will probably rejoice at the latest changes to the spell system. In the E3 build, the mage-like character was a lot cooler than I expected him to be. Dark Souls had magic, pyromancy, and miracles. They were all separated by either stat points, or by items required to cast them. It was a cumbersome system to say the least. Now, however, I was delighted to find that all three of those types of magic were more easily usable by one character.

On the right hand, a talisman sort of item allows for the casting of magic and pyromancy spells, while the left-hand shield doles out miracles. What all of this means is that players will be able to utilize all three spell types without too much fuss. For those worrying that this would make the character overpowered, don’t worry. The shield wasn’t able to block all damage. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any change to the way players cycle through their spells. The mage also had a short sword, and he seemed adept enough that I didn’t have any problems fighting regular enemies.

Why am I holding this shield with two hands? Dual wielding for everyone!

dual wield shield dark souls 2

Dark Souls 2 has a new ability that allows players to hold the triangle button (or Y button Xbox 360) to utilize true dual wielding. In Dark Souls, it was possible to hold two weapons, but there was no change to the attacks and animations; you would swing as if you were only holding one weapon. Dark Souls 2 changes that.

I became a little curious while playing as a shield-bearing character. What would happen if I held down the triangle button now? To my surprise, my character held the shield (which was in his left hand) with both hands, but why? Asking a Namco-Bandai booth attendant, I found that this ability might allow for players to withstand greater hits while holding a shield this way. Perhaps one player could block while the second comes in with a crushing blow? I did find it strange that I couldn’t do anything else but block while in this stance, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the finalized version of the game.

These enemies are brutal, and I love it

turtle knight dark souls 2
Don’t fret, Dark Souls fans, because Dark Souls 2 has enemies that will send you running in the opposite direction. If you’ve seen the new “Turtle Knight”, as he is currently being called, you know that he can fall backwards to decimate anyone who dares to try to backstab him. Whether from the front or the back, the Turtle Knight is one foe who will send travelers packing. He has a wide swing, but he can also break out into a full sprint with his weapon held high. This mid-sized enemy is sure to make Dark Souls veterans sweat. I had to back off a few times to heal, worried that he could catch up to me at any minute.

Even the lowly enemies have received an upgrade. Regular undead enemies can also break out into a sprint for a charge attack, which caught me off guard more than once. Heading into a dark area with my torch lit, I found myself outnumbered, but how did enemies appear behind me? I was thinking that they somehow magically teleported in, sort of like enemies in Doom. However, after heading there a second time, I found that these two enemies were actually playing dead! Mark that off on the giant list of “ways players can die.” Apparently players will be able to tell if an enemy is playing dead via its breathing animation.

According to Namco-Bandai, enemies will be more reactive to players’ actions than previously. For example, they might jump backwards when you swing at them. I believe Dark Souls has at least one enemy that does something like this, but I was assured that enemies will be more reactive to players’ input.

A more condensed world

statue knight battle dark souls 2
There were a lot of areas in Dark Souls which required players to re-traverse areas to the point of tedium. For example, if I wanted to log on with one of my characters in Anor Londo to help out as a white phantom, I had to run from the bonfire, across a large open space, take the elevator down, run down the steps, and finally put down my soul sign. From Software has said as much, but it does appear as if Dark Souls 2 will offer a more condensed experience.

In the E3 demo, I was constantly happening upon enemies. If I had to explain it to players of the original game, I would say that Dark Souls 2 seems to have a pace more similar to the Undead Burg, possibly taking out excessive walking that occurred in places like Anor Londo (the really long walk to the two elevators, and running to the blacksmith), and Blight Town (parts of the swamp area). I really enjoyed the demo, so from a souls fan to you souls fans, I don’t think there’s too much reason to worry about this aspect.

One thing I can’t be sure of is how the ability to warp from bonfire to bonfire (from the beginning, as soon as you find two bonfires, presumably) will affect pvp and invasions.

Unique invasions are back?

mirror knight boss battle dark souls 2
As you may know by now, Dark Souls 2 is going to continue the practice of online invasions for the purposes of long-distance, digital torture. The Mirror Knight intimidates trespassers with his size, enormous sword, and lightning powers. His leaps will make you cringe in fear as you desperately run away in an attempt to heal and survive a few minutes longer. He is dangerous enough, but From Software saw fit to allow him to summon at least one other player to give rise to your panic. Just as Demon’s Souls allowed players to take part in a boss fight, so too will Dark Souls 2.

One thing I can’t be sure of is From Software’s intentions concerning some red invasion phantoms that protected the area before the Mirror Knight. For the E3 demo, the Mirror Knight’s phantom was an NPC. These three red phantoms were also NPCs, but would they be played by humans in the final game? The most dangerous thing about these three NPCs is the fact that they instantly appeared as I was heading towards the boss. In Dark Souls, phantoms have a “wakening” animation when they invade you, and there’s a sound that occurs to inform you that someone has invaded. With these three red phantoms, they suddenly appeared just ten or fifteen feet in front of me. If invaders can instantly spawn in without warning, that could bring a whole new kind of tension to the series.

Better animations, graphics, and framerate

ruined castle dark souls 2
If there’s one thing that I think we can all agree on, it’s that Blight Town’s framerate stuttered dreadfully at times. Thankfully, my time with the demo indicated that Dark Souls 2 wouldn’t have that same problem. In fact, the game ran smoothly despite the graphics just generally looking better. The character models seem more detailed, the grass sways, and cloth on characters actually flows now!

All of the animations are motion captured, and it shows. I was able to try out all of the characters in the demo, and it was beautiful to see the smooth animations of every sword strike and axe swing.

Bows and arrows, a viable option now

Before Dark Souls came out, I was really interested in the fact that I could be a bow-wielding thief-like character. To my disappointment, I found that I couldn’t move while drawing an arrow back, essentially destroying my dream of becoming a virtual Robin Hood. I didn’t get enough time with it to tell how much effect it would have against enemies, but at least I can say that characters do not have any problem with walking around while having an arrow ready to fire. Things are looking up, virtual thieves.

::Potential Minor Spoilers:: Secret Environmental Effects

One of Namco-Bandai’s attendants let out an interesting secret about the environment. In the area just before the boss, there is a room full of unlit candles and a carving of a tree on the wall. Apparently as more players die against the boss, candles and lights on the tree will light up. The amount of interesting subtle secrets that From Software puts into their games is truly amazing.

::End Spoilers::

With patience and a light schedule that day, I was able to play an hour’s worth of Dark Souls 2. The two previous games in the souls series are some of my favorites of this generation. Being as excited as I was to be able to try the game out, I could have easily walked away disappointed. Instead, I found myself pleased and excited that I had played what today I know as my favorite game of E3 2013. If the demo is anything to go by, Dark Souls 2 could easily be the best in the series. Prepare to die again, and love every minute of it.

Ryan Southard

Ryan Southard is a video game enthusiast, dissecting games down to their tiniest details. Whether it’s new or it’s old, as long as it’s awesome, he’ll play it. Follow him on Twitter at @Ryan_Southard

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