As surprising as it may seem, I find it incredibly difficult to write about Dark Souls, in the same way that I find it hard to explain coherently why a puppy is cute – I start out well and end up just making weird noises while gesticulating wildly, completely unable to separate my feelings from any kind of objective description. When I do manage to get my feelings under control, I end up droning on about the mechanics and the tiny tidbits of the game that really only matter to the hardest of hardcore who already know what I’m saying and probably in more (and more boring) detail.
It might have been wise to send someone else to preview Dark Souls, but I am not wise, and I’m also pretty god damn selfish, so no, this is all me.
After I’d spent 1/100th of the time I’d usually put into character creation, I was pushed into the world of Dark Souls II, and found myself entering a cottage where three hags sat – red-robed witches who talked at me instead of to me (which was pretty rude, considering). They spoke about The Curse and how I would fail to achieve something, can’t remember exactly what was said, but it felt kind of weird – it’s easily the most and longest amount of dialogue to happen in one scene in any of the Souls games, and while it’s not bad, it did deviate (however much will be up to you) from the seemingly ‘normal’ amount.
If you’re like me and you have a memory able to recall meaningless things, there was a controversy concerning Dark Souls II being ‘easier’, which was later amended to ‘easier to understand’. The first five minutes of the game, I think, proved this – the witches opening, combined with instructions on how to fight and a good sampling of enemies and what they’ll do made for a taste of Souls that newcomers to the series, or even old hands like me, appreciate.
While it’s set in the same world, there is only an echo of the familiar – the same empty, dead feeling landscapes and characters archetypes that have been there since Demon’s Souls. Some depressed guy at the first bonfire, some weird chick hanging around and being all weird…it felt both reassuring and slightly disappointing. I understand what these characters do for the game – they emphasize the struggle and madness and futility. However, I was hoping for a continuation of sorts; either I should come away feeling as though this universe was necessarily leading me to a different endgame or the same, crushing realisation that all is futile.
Sprinting no longer drains your stamina like watery diarrhea drains your bowels, and this is greatly appreciated when you find yourself having to run the same route over and over again in an attempt to finally beat that one god-damn enemy that keeps smacking you. Oh, and the enemies will be smacking you, because they’re placed in a strategic fashion meaning you can no longer run past them with ease. It’s like that thing in the Gladiator show. I forgot what it was called. The gauntlet? Something like that.
There are more healing items at your disposal as well – besides the Estus flask, there’s some kind of stone, I think it was called the moonstone (actually they’re called Lifegems), that replenish your health, but over a longer period of time. In addition to this, there are consumables that will allow you to restock your magic, meaning you no longer have to weep after misusing your chaos fireballs.
So, apparently stats will have a bigger affect on how you wield your armoury – whether it’s the time it takes to bring up your shield, or how much of a boss you’ll look like when swinging a two-handed sword of ‘F*** You’. Also, from what i can recall, you can exchange a certain item with someone in the game (I think it was the witches) to reset your skill points, making sure you’re never stuck with a terrible 100 strength character that will die after being given a mean look.
Oh, and killing the NPCs ain’t so bad this time around – when the NPCs die, a tombstone will appear where they used to be, and you can talk to them and buy stuff off them after paying a certain amount for them to forgive you. Take all this with a grain of salt, as I was kind of pre-occupied with trying not to die as I was being told this.
This is one of those games I would legitimately take a week off work to play, if I earned way more than I did, and if doing so wouldn’t lead to my inevitable starvation. Maybe legitimately isn’t the right word to use, but sue me, I’m going to use it anyway.
Here’s the thing – if Dark Souls II was just Dark Souls in a different place with no alterations to mechanics and so on, it would still be a brilliant game. The formula in place works to such an amazing and deep degree that it’s a genre unto itself. Story is melded into landscape, mechanics are interwoven with challenge, and your first playthrough is probably going to be a guaranteed 40+ hours, and that’s being very, very generous. Both Demon’s and Dark Souls playthroughs took me 80 hours, and I am probably one of the best gamers to ever have lived. So what chances do you have?
Watch this space, ladies and gentlemen, because we’ll be reviewing the hell out of Dark Souls II and then probably doing a podcast on it, and follow up articles, and tips, and videos. We might even rename the site to Dusty Dark Souls.
Dark Souls II hits PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on the 14th of March.