By Steve Wright
Well, I’m going to hate Dark Souls II, and you’re (possibly) going to love it.
I find it hard to appreciate a game that causes its developer to die five times in three minutes during its E3 demo. Still, I can understand why fans of the franchise will take that as a good thing; it’s a sign of a difficult game, and one that Dark Souls II is just as challenging – if not moreso – than its predecessors.
Australian journalists participated in a hands-off Dark Souls II demo where a developer mowed through enemies and used a bonfire to warp to a boss called the Mirror Knight. He died those five times – and I only started counting from that section, I must add – just before our demonstration time finished up. Another developer laughed at his colleagues efforts and casually added that the Mirror Knight sits at the halfway point in the game.
A new engine powers Dark Souls II and produces results I truly did appreciate. The game looks gorgeous, with lighting effects that affect your overall survival; never, EVER think about walking into a dark corridor without a torch. A new warp effect punctuates bonfire travel – and in this iteration, that travel can be performed at every bonfire you encounter – and it’s visually spectacular. Character animations are more fluid, and things like backstabs are seamless; characters don’t pop into place, they move naturally to perform the dastardly deed.
The engine hasn’t just changed the game’s visuals. Now, your character can carry up to three weapons and a shield, and can dual-wield weapons as well. Shields can be gripped with both hands, providing further defensive capabilities at the cost of offensive ones. New animations for backstab and parry actions mean that your character will be vulnerable during those moves, where as in past iterations, a brief period of invulnerability was present (see my aforementioned suggestion that the game is harder than its brothers).
As a game, Dark Souls II is well-organised and full of great ideas. The Mirror Knight paused during his relentless attacks to spawn an enemy character from its giant shield. The developer handling the presentation laughed as this happened, suggesting that the character isn’t exactly an NPC. Will Dark Souls II be pitting gamer versus gamer, unwittingly? I don’t know, but I’m super curious to find out.
Unfortunately, Dark Souls II is less of an actual game to me, and more of an outright challenge. Full of clever ideas that bring out the explorer in me, the difficulty curve of the title proves to be a bit too much and means I won't bother. To brave souls – or obsessive compulsives who won’t settle until the game has been completed – I understand the appeal of learning how to succeed through your failures. Multiple, multiple failures. It’s just not for me.