Dark Souls is a funny game. It punishes and punishes players, feeding them mere slivers of hope until they can finally break through the pain, like the functioning parts of Rocky Balboa’s face when up against Ivan Drago’s fists. There’s a sequel on the way, that promises to create an atmosphere that is more accessible for newcomers. Veterans are worried that this means that the game is being dumbed down. Well, they may not have anything to worry about, because the suffering is going to be equal opportunity.
I played some Dark Souls 2 at a Namco Bandai meeting room after flashing some puppy dog eyes, at E3. For me, this was my very first experience with the game. And boy, did I suck at it. The Namco Bandai representative recommended that I start out with a knight, a balanced sword and shield type.
As I was also told, character have more emphasis on dual-wielding now, which while nothing new, is expanded upon in Dark Souls 2. So how about that gameplay then? I can honestly say that the enemies in Dark Souls 2 are the spirits of internet trolls incarnated into gameplay form.
It’s not enough for a bunch of them to swarm you like politicians on a campaign trail. Or to go into some sort of frenzied attack formation the second you try and gain some health back with a sip from your Estus flask. They’re the kind of enemies who’ll lull you into a false sense of security, lying around and waiting for you to turn your back, before they’ll get up and proceed to stab your vital organs.
All of this, as part of a plan to focus on making the enemy AI less predictable, I was told. And those are just the minions of Dark Souls 2. At one point, while navigating a dark cellar that reeked of imminent death, I was confronted by a turtle knight, a lumbering behemoth clad in too much damn armour that would charge me and buried his foot in my ass several times.
While being thoroughly trounced for what must have been the fifth time by this damn night, who was using me as a back-scratcher, I asked Namco Bandai’s Matt Warner what the plan was exactly for making Dark Souls 2 accessible. To many fans, this was a fear that the game would be dumbed down. Not so, said Matt.
We’re going to make it less of a grind. That gets tedious and boring after a while. We want to reward players when they accomplish something in the game.
Part of this strategy is to also make your class choice a more crucial part of the game, as it’ll have a bigger impact on your quest. The game in the beginning is going to be a tad easier it seems. But that’s just to rope in players, before the full Dark Souls experience tears them a new orifice or four. Bonfire quick travel will now also be available as soon as you discover a location, while the graphics have been redesigned with added motion capture.
Having finally made it to the demo boss, the Mirror Knight, I was hit with a little bit of subtle trolling from the game. For each time a player died, a candle would be lit in the bonfire room before you faced the boss. My character was born in the darkness, but by the time he reached the Mirror Knight, the light from all those candles was blinding.
As for the fight himself…he’s a bastard. It’s not enough that he’s a massive beast that shaves away a ton of life on each strike. It’s not good enough that he shoots lightning from his sword, or that it requires perfect timing to dodge.
It’s the fact that he can throw down his vaunted reflective shield, and summon a doppelganger of your character to battle you with, that is the real kicker here. A character I was told, that can be taken control of by outside forces. Such as other players. How’s that for unpredictable AI?
Dark Souls 2 broke me, put me back together again and then proceeded to repeat the punishing actions all over again. The game hates me, will most likely make snide comments behind my back and is probably sending flowers to my mother right now in order to really get under my skin.
And dammit, I want more abuse.