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Praise the Sun - 3 signs Dark Souls II appears true to franchise

on 11 April 2013

Fans of From Software's Souls games are likely breathing a sigh of relief today as the recent 12-minute gameplay reveal for Dark Souls 2 proved the core mechanics and overall style haven't changed all that much. That is high praise (the sun!) for a series that caused a fair amount of gamers to rage quit because of its difficult learning curve. One thing is clear after watching that gameplay video: We should still be prepared to die--a lot.

What we witnessed in those 12 minutes looks more like a refined Dark Souls expansion rather than a completely new concept in the gameplay department. So far, it appears not much has changed to the basic gameplay. At least nothing major, anyway.

While just about every sequel receives a coat of fresh paint, some tweaks to gameplay, and a new story, those changes aren't always welcomed by fans. It remains to be seen how changes to the Souls formula will translate to Dark Souls 2, but there are a few reasons fans should feel confident the game is heading in the right direction.

Easy Mode? Yeah, right

Before a sequel was even officially announced, there were rumors any new installment would feature some kind of an easy mode. Those rumors cropped up when Dark Souls director Hidetake Miyazaki made comments about an easier difficulty mode or doing a better job of helping players understand the messages behind the difficulty. Namco later said Miyazaki's quotes were mistranslated. That didn't stop fans, like myself, from worrying that a sequel wouldn't feel like a Souls game without the Souls challenge.

What do we mean by the Souls challenge? Are Souls games harder than other games? Are the bosses too difficult? Are the controls tough to master? Is From Software unfair? Absolutely not! In fact, fans of the series will tell you Souls games have just the right level of difficulty and challenge because it's largely based on the skill level of the player and the time the player is willing to invest in learning the mechanics.

So what did the 12 minute gameplay reveal teach us about the difficulty of Dark Souls 2? It appears we can expect a very similar challenge as we did in Dark Souls and Demon's Souls. In fact, during the gameplay video and Q&A with game director Yui Tanimura and Namco Bandai producer Tak Miyazoe, the pair made it very clear there is a challenge waiting for players deep in the Dark Souls 2 world. An entire section of the gameplay reveal was dedicated to different ways we can expect to die.

But there is more to a challenging game that the potential for death. One section of the video showed the player chopping away at incoming projectiles from a baddie, while another showed the player falling to his death on a rope bridge after a wyvern destroyed the path. These demonstrate two important elements listed below.
More attention to the impact of the environment

It's always a shame when RPG developers put a ton of time into offering players freedom, creating captivating stories, and plopping in colorful characters yet they forget to make the environment feel real. That is not to say either environments in the Souls games felt fake, but rolling into breakable barrels and slowing movement in ankle-deep water isn't exactly what I'm talking about.
The gameplay video for Dark Souls 2 showed some interesting twists. At one point a hippo-like enemy was stuck behind something that resembled a prison cell. The player shot an arrow through the bars and struck the baddie square in the face. The enemy then broke through the wall and a nice combat segment ensued.

We saw additional breakable environments during another combat segment, but this time it was pillars that toppled to the ground when struck with great force. We saw something similar in Dark Souls' boss battles, especially with the ugly twins Orny and Smough in Anor Londo. It seems likely we could see this taken to another level.

Those unfamiliar with Souls games may not understand why this is significant, but, for fans, the thought of our blades no longer bouncing off every little thing in the world is awesome. Of course, it's too early to tell how much of the environment will be breakable, but it's easy to see that From Software could use this to the players advantage. Just picture a boss fight, like the one with Ornstein and Smough, being focused more on the breakable environments used to damage the player or enemies as opposed to cover or for crowd control purposes.

In addition, the playthrough of Dark Souls 2 showed off the use of torches. We've always had a slight glow, likely from our souls, but it was fantastic to see From Software putting attention into lighting and offering a bit more realism--a dungeon should be dark without natural light or fire, after all. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the final product.

Smarter enemies

The gameplay video showed off improved enemy A.I. At one point the player got behind a large baddie to deliver a deadly backstab, but instead the enemy fell backwards and delivered quite the blow to the player. This is not to say enemy A.I. in Dark Souls and Demon's Souls was bad, but it appears Dark Souls 2 is taking it all a little further.

Perhaps most importantly, enemies are said to have better reactions to the player. Enemies will always be prepared to kill you. With different reactions and different thought process for enemies, players will have to come up with new and unique ways to conquer enemies in the game. An example was a troll-like enemy hurling two enormous axes at the player. You'll be able to time your attacks to deflect the incoming axes, but you'll also likely have the option to dodge and even lure him out.

Other thoughts

-- The wind mechanics look great, and hopefully we'll see a physical impact to weather conditions.
-- The graphical improvements are noticeable but it still very much looks and feels like a Souls game.
-- It looks like we will be revisiting some areas from the original Dark Souls--Painted World of Ariamis?
-- Bonfires return.
-- Some kind of health mechanic like Estus Flasks (though unclear if it's actually flasks) also return.
--The HUD is slightly redesigned, but details are still a bit scarce. The player seemed to cycle through several weapons in each hand so perhaps we'll be able to equip more than two per hand.
--Dual wielding mechanics look great and shields still play a key role. Nothing on magic, though.
-- There's a strong focus on the variety of deaths to give players more satisfaction in overcoming obstacles--this is perhaps the most important part for diehard fans because that satisfaction after conquering a new area or beating a challenging boss is priceless.

What else we want to know.

There are still a ton of questions we have about Dark Souls 2. I would personally like to learn about changes to PVP and co-op multiplayer. What about magic? How will the covenant system now work? Can we see a boss battle?

That's just a fraction of what this fan had to think about the 12 minute gameplay video for Dark Souls 2. If you had thoughts and opinions on the subject, drop us a note in the comments section below. If you are new to the Souls universe, did the gameplay video entice you to see what all the buzz is about? We should start learning more about the game in the coming weeks and months.