Play Expo 2013: Dark Souls II Preview
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: From Software
During Play Expo 2013, I spent twenty quality minutes with Dark Souls II. As someone who has beaten Dark Souls a couple of times, I was naturally cocky, sneering at all the scrubs who were unable to beat the demo’s main attraction: the seemingly unstoppable Mirror Knight boss, whom managed to ruin the weekends of the hundreds of gamers who lined up to challenge his reign. During the time I was queuing, only two people had managed to defeat him throughout the day’s entirety. At this point I thought: “Oh, well, there must not be many people here who have played Dark Souls before, then.” So, after two hours of queuing, I sat down with the demo, picked the classic sword-and-shield build, and went to town.
Thirty seconds in, I died. Okay, I just made a mistake. No matter. Another minute in, I died again. Now, this was an entry level Dark Souls scenario. Two or three hollow soldiers with slow, predictable attacks. Yet, I was getting utterly destroyed by them. Eventually, though, I was able to wrap my head around the subtle (yet rather profound) differences made to the workings of the game.
For starters, movement is a lot more realistic this time around. In the first game, it was very easy to create a heavily-armoured build that was still pretty agile. Now, however, my knight felt a lot more weighed down, burdened by the very armour that protected him. I was still able to sprint and perform dodge rolls, but his acceleration with the former and weightiness of the latter felt more grounded in the realms of reality; being as he was in a bulky suit of armour, such tasks felt more difficult for him to perform.
This notion of weight also translated to the weapons. My knight came ready with a swift broadsword and a more unwieldy greatsword. The broadsword felt pretty much as those types of weapons always have, swinging quickly with low but immediate damage. It was the greatsword that really impressed me, which pummeled enemies into the ground with such acute ferocity. The correlation of weight and movement was certainly a thing in Dark Souls, but it seems a lot more integral to your playstyle this time around.
Parry, Thrust, Parry
With this demo, From Software clearly wanted us to know that they haven’t gone soft in the difficulty department. Dark Souls II, from what I experienced, seems as tough as its predecessors, if not that little bit more. Enemy AI has been vastly improved; enemies will now track your movements more effectively in their attack animations, so circling round to backstab them is no longer your ticket to an easy game. They also seem to work more cooperatively in packs, aware of each others’ existence. Many technical changes have also been made to deliver a more realistic experience; you are no longer invincible when parrying, backstabbing, opening doors, and entering fog gates. Parrying, in particular, has seen one major change into how it works: successfully parrying an enemy will now knock them to the ground instead of opening them up for an easy kill. From here, you can choose to finish them off, or lessen the numbers of his allies whilst he’s still dazed. A controversial change, to be sure, but one that makes the act of parrying a more tactical endeavour.
The demo’s climax was of course the boss battle with the Mirror Knight. In terms of how hard he was, I’d put him on par with Ornstein and Smough from Dark Souls. He even acts like a synthesis of those two, employing the lightning-based spells of Ornstein and the heavy-hitting smashing attacks of Smough. This boss has a rather clever gimmick up his sleeve, however: he can smash down his giant mirror shield, upon which you’ll see another character trying to smash out of it. If they succeed, you’ll have to deal with them along with the Mirror Knight. These characters were NPCs in the demo, but it’s been confirmed that they will in fact be other human players in the full game. They weren’t too much trouble in the demo, but it soon dawned on me how only two people had managed to beat the Mirror Knight that day. He was insane. Able to frequently dish out hard-hitting attacks against what his towering size would have you believe, the guy swiftly ran my hopes straight into the ground.
Dark Souls was a good looking game, for sure, but its technical ambition often gave way to occasional framerate issues (the already nasty Blighttown became infamous for its horrendous frame drops). Dark Souls II is, from what I saw, one of the best looking current-gen titles I’ve seen. In fact, it looks just as good as many of the games hitting the next line of systems. Lighting and weather effects were unbelievably good, and the game’s physics also seem to have improved substantially. My only concern is how much the added graphical fidelity will affect the game’s performance. The section I played ran smooth enough, but only time will tell if we’ll be getting another Blighttown. Let’s hope not!
All in all, I was very impressed by the Dark Souls II demo. The sequel to my game of the generation appears to be remaining faithful to the first game’s solid foundations, and then improving upon them with superior AI, stunning visuals, as well as that classic Dark Souls gameplay we know and love. The tough boss fights and tight level design also remain intact here, so I have high hopes for the final product.
Dark Souls II will be releasing in March 2014 for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.