The Average Gamer

Dark Souls 2 Preview

Dark Souls fire lizards

Mega Responsibility

I’m in New York, waiting for Namco Bandai to talk about Dark Souls 2. Along with about sixty other members of the press, we’ve all been flown out here for the Global Game Day to hear about Dark Souls 2, and they’re not talking about it.

We’re shown the new Hello Kitty costumes for Naruto 3. We’re shown a game called Garfield’s Wild Ride where the titular cat must run as fast as he can and evade witches and giant sticking plasters for no readily apparent reason. We’re shown the trailer for Power Rangers MegaForce, a trailer which includes the words “MEGA RESPONSIBILITY” shouted at top volume. We’re shown the uniquely alien Armoured Core: Verdict Day, a game which fixes the problem of under-subscription by supplying players with programmable robot friends.

“Well, that’s pretty much it for today,” says the guy on stage, “I think that’s it… wait… is there another game? Something we’ve missed out?”

A guy from the American table screams “YEAH!” as loud as he can. I think he might have fist-pumped, as well.

“Well, do you guys wanna see it? Eh?”

The American table, as a whole, hoots and hollers. Jesus, guys. It’s half nine in the morning.

“Okay, well, here we go – please welcome Yui Tanimura, Director of Dark Souls 2, to the stage! Yeah!”

Calculating Psychopath

Yui Tanimura is ushered onto stage and he seems nervous in comparison to the high-energy presentation; he shuffles his feet, folds his hands over each another, and looks awkwardly around the room. This is all backed up by the first thing he says – through a translator – which is that he’s sorry because he’s “a little bit nervous.” The second thing he says is that he is sorry for saying sorry. I like this guy. I always figured the Director for Dark Souls would be a calculating psychopath, but here we are.

Dark Souls - FireWe’re shown a short video, and to be fair, it looks like Dark Souls with a particularly fancy texture pack stuck on top of it. It’s pretty, for sure, and the fact that all hero movements are now motion-captured lends a feeling of authenticity to the whole thing, but it’s still Dark Souls.

He talks about “killing with substance,” and it’s a nice idea. The whole point of the Dark Souls brand is to die over and over, and it’s the job of the developers to build situations that teach the player through deaths rather than punish them. “We wanted players to enjoy the different types of death that are available,” he says, smiling politely. But there’s not a whole lot to say at this point.

The Deaths

There’s not a whole lot to say in the group presentation sessions later on, either, because this is still essentially Dark Souls. You play an undead chap or chapess who is looking to free himself or herself from a curse, which involves shuffling through a series of increasingly damp arenas and getting your head knocked open by lumpy-looking enemies over and over.

The focus is, as ever, on the deaths. We see the character run over by a silver chariot pulled by a two-headed demonic steed, and we’re told that this is a boss character that shows up before the end of the stage – so you can have a go at killing him earlier on, if you’d like. We’re shown the character dashing across a rope bridge to evade a massive swarm of wyverns, only to have one land on the bridge and snap it in half, dooming him forever.

Dark Souls - Silver Chariot(The bridge breaks when the wyvern takes off, we’re told, not when it lands. So all you’ll have to do is convince it to stay sat down while you cautiously edge round it)

While exploring a magical research facility, a throwing axe the size of a dining table slams into the character’s head, killing him instantly. The enemy that threw it – a creature that stands on the hilt of a train-sized stone sword that’s been casually thrust through the roof of the building with all of Dark Souls’ trademark ability to casually blend the epic with the mundane – carries two and will hurl both at the player if they openly approach from range. While they can be parried, odds are they’ll just kill you. Unless you learn.

Almost Impenetrable

Reactions like the thrown axes are a big part of Dark Souls 2, we’re told. Enemies are being given lots more ways to react to the player; like triggering attacks when you perform certain actions (an ancient dragon skeleton bursts to life when the player picks up a book) or countering certain offensive techniques (an armoured bug monster throws itself backwards and crushes the player as they try to sneak behind it). It’s adding more layers to the mad, obfuscated puzzlebox that makes up Dark Souls, and no bad thing at that.

Finally, in another scene, the character raises his sword in triumph – so the gesture system remains, along with Dark Souls’ focus on blending online multiplayer with what might be considered a very traditional single-player experience – and he is promptly nudged off a nearby cliff by three angry mutant pigs. As you do. What are we learning from this? Don’t stand near cliffs? Don’t raise your sword at pigs? It’s not clear.

Dark Souls rabid dogBut for all the fanfare, Dark Souls 2 could have just come out as an expansion pack and fans would lap it up. It’s not about graphical improvements or feats of technological mastery – it’s about creating an enormous and almost impenetrable fantasy world and letting players all over the world investigate and probe it for secrets. And this is definitely still that, if what we’ve been shown is any indication.

While it might not be enough to draw a load of new fans into the game – and Tanimura-san has said that their primary objective is to please existing players – that doesn’t really matter. Dark Souls 2 doesn’t care if you like it or not, after all.

Dark Souls 2 is coming to Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.