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TGS Preview: Dark Souls 2 remains morbid at heart

By John Robertson on Thursday 19th Sep 2013 at 11:55 AM UTC

The Namco rep warned that it's the most difficult character to learn, but I'm tackling this Dark Souls 2 demo as the Dual Swordsman no matter what he thinks. If you're going to revel in testing yourself against a difficult game, you may as well go all the way.

Unsurprisingly, death came shortly and abruptly after loading up this new demo created for the Tokyo Games Show. I was going to say quickly and surprisingly, but if I've learned anything from this series thus far it's that no death in these games can legitimately be considered 'surprising'.

Reload. Try again.

After defeating a couple of lumbering Undead, and regaining some confidence in my abilities, I began to make a little headway. Then came death number two, getting ahead of myself and foolishly opening a door without preparing for every possible scenario. As I open the door, a cloaked and hooded figure smashes through it and finishes me off with a couple of high-speed sword attacks.

The Dual Swordsman does not come equipped with a shield. With a shield I might have lived. Probably not.

Given the name, you'll be unsurprised to know that the Dual Swordsman carries a second weapon in the left hand where other classes would usually have a shield. It's a simple trade-off between speed and defence; the Dual Swordsman can strike faster than other characters, but his only defence strategy is to dodge. This forces a markedly different playing style, with you having to place even more emphasis on learning a foe's attack patterns and figuring out when is safest to attack.

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To say it took me a while to work up the courage to attack when low on health, and without a shield as an insurance policy, is an understatement.
The section I was playing - the outer ramparts of a castle and the forest surrounding it - is a portion of the area that will feature in the online beta test (scheduled for October). As such, the bulk of the game's online elements are included in this demo. While server integrity is the main reason for the beta, the dev team says it wants to also give players a glimpse into how online play will work in the finished game.

"We want players to be able to experience the features like the summoning and invasions," says Tunimura, the game's producer.

"There might be some online features locked out of the beta build, but pretty much everything else will be in there."

Ever mindful of how players are reacting to the Dark Souls universe, developer From Software is leaving the door open to changes to the full game if the beta throws up major issues for players.

"We'll be analysing the feedback we get from players during the beta test, and there might be a case that we consider removing or changing some of the online features based on that feedback," Tanimura says.

There a few changes to how a number of the online features have worked in the past. Leaving Blood Messages for other players to read, for example, are being encouraged to a greater extent than in the first Dark Souls by removing the need to possess an item to write them. You're now free to leave them for other players when and wherever you wish.

Slideshow: Dark Souls 2

As ever, depending on the personality of the person leaving the message, Blood Messages can be helpful or deceptive. Someone among the gathered journalists playing this demo had already left a message suggesting you simply run through that aforementioned door. No, it wasn't me.

It was possible to rate the quality of a player's Blood Message in the last game, but there's more of a reward to having people do the same thing this time around. Receiving a positive rating causes your health to revive to a small extent each time, providing you with that connection to other players Tanimura and company are so intent on fostering:

"That loose relationship between different players is one of the main themes of the game," he says.

"Obviously, you can only experience that if you are connected online with others players. There's really no advantage to playing offline. Well, I suppose, the only advantage is that you will get a sense of loneliness."

"We're not aiming the franchise at a particular part of the world, we want all players to get that same satisfaction"

In order to further that sense of connection, changes have been made to the various stages of death the player can go through.

As before, certain events and bonuses (obtaining health flasks from bonfires, for example) are locked out if you're in Hollow form. However, unlike with its predecessor, staying in Hollow form no longer prevents other players from invading your world. Also, consecutive deaths while Hollow results in your overall health bar being reduced each time.

The message is clear: From Software don't want you to play as a Hollow, and they will punish you if you do.


Summoning - which allows other players to enter your game and co-operate - has changed somewhat, with constraints placed on what other players can do in your world.

The idea is to prevent players from relying on others to get through the game, so summoned partners ca only stay for a set period of time, or until they have defeated a certain number of enemies. When the limit of time or kills has been met they will be transported back to their own game. Again, this is designed to build a "loose connection" between players rather than a constant one.

Covenants, Dark Souls 2's continuation of the idea that you're part of a guild with a similar playing style to you, were also on show in the beta build. Three are available, although more are promised in the full game. The Way of Blue covenant allows a Blue Sentinel to come to your rescue whenever an invading player enters your game.

Another covenant allows you to take the role of a Blue Sentinel, while the third provides extra bonuses for being an invader.

In truth, the changes on offer here are not particularly drastic. These are not fresh additions but tweaks on existing ideas. The argument is, when you've already got a game that appeals to a dedicated worldwide player base, there's little reason to reinvent what people are already sold on.

Tanimura is reflective on that worldwide success, explaining that (unlike many Japanese games) the Dark Souls franchises is not designed to appeal to a specific area of the world.

"I think the reason the franchise is successful around the world is because of our goal to make a game that gives players a strong sense of accomplishment," he says.

"We're not aiming the franchise at a particular part of the world, we want all players to be able to get that same satisfaction no matter where they're from. There really is no consideration about nationality when we design our games."


It's an approach that many publishers and developers (from both east and west) talk about, but few seem to genuinely act upon. With Dark Souls, From Software has a series that feels truly borderless, with little to no concession made to satisfy a specific region's tastes. Therefore, this is a franchise free from the restrictions associated with trying to fulfil those tastes and perceived cultural needs.

Whatever the case, here's a sequel that seems to know exactly what it's trying to achieve and how it wants you to feel when playing it. That kind of clear focus has proven its merits in the past.

Now it's time to get my head together and utilise the same level of clear focus to get past that door...

Dark Souls 2 is set for release on March 14 across Europe and March 11 in the US. Available platforms are Xbox 360, PS3 and PC