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Dark Souls 2 hands-on: Beautiful and brutal

By Shaun Prescott on Thursday 13th Jun 2013 at 5:41 AM UTC

Let's make one thing clear straight away, in case you're still anxious: Dark Souls 2 is very, very difficult.

Word has spread among E3's Dark Souls aficionados that Namco Bandai is giving a free shirt to anyone who can defeat the Mirror Knight, the boss in the playable build on display today. Shirts are basically worthless at E3: most people accrue dozens across the week. When the convention closes at 6pm, dozens of unwanted video game shirts lay abandoned in the canteens.

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According to a Namco rep, not one journalist has managed to defeat the Mirror Knight. Even the rep had only managed to defeat it once, and he'd spent the last six hours demonstrating the same five minutes of gameplay over, and over again.

It was incredibly important to me that I win that shirt, even if only to leave in the canteen.

Perfect Dark

So yes, as in Dark Souls, you will need to do things over and over again, and isn't that bloody good news? The section we played - from an unspecified section of the game - was tiny but unforgiving. The player begins in a castle tower before descending via a pitch black cellar into a ruined courtyard. In order to navigate the cellar without getting slaughtered, it's necessary to carry a torch. But in order to carry a torch, you must sacrifice your shield, which many Dark Souls fans will know is a high price to pay for the ability to see.

Enemies range from typical variations on the lumpen undead seen throughout Dark Souls, though to a new turtle-backed beast that will crush you beneath its shell dare you attack it from behind. The enemy AI has been improved, in the sense that each enemy's moveset is larger than before. This means simply memorising what each foe is capable of will not hold you in good stead. Even the lowly enemies are unpredictable, though patience and observation is still rewarded. As in Dark Souls, three consecutive sword swipes is very reckless, so know your enemy.

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The controls operate and feel exactly the same as Dark Souls 2, but there is a new health item in addition to Estus. Called Lifegems, these items regenerate health very slowly and by a fraction of what an Estus will. It's a trade-off, because consuming Lifegems doesn't slow the player down like supping from the Estus flask does, and be warned: enemy's are more likely to attack while your guard is down in Dark Souls 2. They're smarter.

Another neat change is with dual-wielding: if you're brave enough to forgo a shield, you can actually attack with both weapons simultaneously, rather than with just one at a time. Simply equip two weapons and hit the button to attack with two hands, and you'll deal a lot of damage to certain enemies, but it's a risky maneuver.

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