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Guest Blog | Dark Souls II “pre-review”

March 11th (14th for Europe and Australasia), the release date for Dark Souls 2, is going to be a magical day for the Dark Souls Community.  All the information we’ve seen from the network test/beta points to one great experience!  The fans exhibited much wailing and gnashing of teeth when Miyazaki was removed and Yutanimura was assigned as Director of the project.  However, it seems that all of this has been met with aplomb.

So far it would appear that the things the fans were worried about, such as difficulty and sparse storytelling of the previous games, have been honored.  It looks like From Software will be offering us some great improvements to basic mechanics.  Most of the rumors have been gleaned from some of the still-strong contributors to all things Souls related.  (Many thanks to Epic Name, Bro!, VaatiVidya, Rurikahn, and many others for digging up info as it has been released and staring at videos trying to find the details that give clues as to what’s in store; and to NamcoBandai for reaching out proactively to the DS Community.)  Here is a recap of all the goodies we’ve heard so far—from some old ones from E3 back in the summer to some more recent videos.  There are so many excellent tweaks and cool changes to mention!

In both the original game and DS2 when a character dies as a human, he goes hollow.  In the new game, Humanity has been removed and replaced with Human Effigies to restore a hollow back to human.  The players are encouraged to do this because if they die as a hollow, the character permanently loses a percentage of his hit points.  Also, in a brilliant move to fix what could be considered a broken mechanic, staying in hollow form no longer prevents invasions!  As long as the game is connected to the network, any game can be invaded at any time.  In the original Dark Souls, as long as a player stayed hollow, he or she could essentially play the game unmolested by anything but the environment, which really killed what I consider the defining feature of the Souls games:  the passive multiplayer aspect.

In Dark Souls, white soapstone “summoning signs” allow other players to alert other players that they are available to come help defeat particularly difficult levels.  In an interesting fix to heavy multiplayer styles of play, there will now be two sizes of soapstone summoning signs.  White phantoms will only last a set amount of time and that time will be shortened with each kill the white phantom makes.  Large soapstone signs will last longer than small ones. I hope this limitation of friendly help will put a bit more pressure on those who want to be carried through levels by more powerful friends. On some recent gameplay videos I’ve watched, the white soapstones were each infinite, but I presume when the game releases, the small white soapstones will be found more often than the large white soapstones and the infinite feature will ultimately be removed.  Additionally, summoned phantoms have a health bar displayed on the screen for easy reference.  No longer will the player have to turn the camera to see how close to death his buddies are.

Hopefully, this fix will also alleviate ganking.  Too many times have I run through the Forest in Dark Souls only to be jumped by a trio of over-powered players who get off on unfair fights.

One of the big changes from Demon’s Souls to Dark Souls was the Covenants.  These gave players an option to join a club of sorts to gain certain advantages or abilities.  I am personally really excited about the way Covenants are being addressed in this second installment.  When I first started playing Dark Souls, I was really interested in the covenants and how they might affect the style of game play a person uses.  I especially liked the idea of the Gravelord Covenant in Dark Souls, but early play really wasn’t affected.  It wasn’t until after a couple patches and some testing by players did we finally learn how to use it.  By then, though, the charm of most covenants had passed and what really could have been a major twelfth man on anyone’s team just ended up being a means to get exclusive miracles, armor, or other things that really didn’t affect game play in a major way.

Dark Souls 2 seems be handling this flaw in a promising move.  The big leaked covenant is the Way of Blue—possibly a working name—which, when joined, causes a blue phantom to automatically be summoned when the game is invaded.  This could mean one of two things: either entering this covenant allows the advantage of summoning another player as a guardian and, in turn, are volunteering your assistance to other players, or that there is a sister covenant which will allow for this mechanic to be separated.  In other words, one covenant will always get help and the other will always be the one helping.  As for other covenants, no other rumors have surfaced; however, the equivalent to the Darkwraiths, from Dark Souls, has been confirmed.  That’s a no-brainer, though, no Souls game will be complete without a way to actively invade other players so this is not news to anyone who plays Dark Souls and loves to invade others.  Invaders will also be able to heal mid-invasion by using the Estus Flask while trying to kill.  This is an interesting detail added to the game.  I see a lot of really cool possibilities for the Covenants and cannot wait to see what From Software has cooked up.

Epic Name Bro has found some other changes while looking through the menus, including a bunch of different stat associations:

  • Casting speed is now increased by Attunement instead of Dexterity—a much more logical change separating Dex builds from Int builds.
  • Magic and Fire are made more potent by Intelligence.  Along these lines, it is interesting to note that fire spells aren’t called “pyromancies”.  This has interesting implications to back story and lore, so it will be fun to see how that plays out.
  • Lighting and Dark are strengthened by Faith, which also plays very well into the lore of Dark Souls as each is tied to gods or their followers.
  • Dexterity enhances poison and bleed effects
  • Lastly, an Agility stat has been added that affects the general speed of a character’s actions, such as rolling, raising a shield, or disabling traps. This is an interesting spoiler to people with specialist builds.

I like the idea of spreading out the enhanced effects over so many stats as this will make specialization in more than a couple stats much more difficult, thus curb over-powered character builds.  I also like the idea of tying elemental damage to certain stats to further the idea that power is derived from it.  From a story perspective, this makes role playing much more exciting.

I have watched some random network test release videos and, from what I’ve seen, there are six classes to choose from when picking a character.  This seems a bit limited, but for a beta it gets the job done.  These are:  Soldier, Warrior, Sorcerer, Temple Knight, Dual Swordsman and Hunter.  This seems quite melee heavy, but I assume—in usual Souls fashion—that the starting class won’t matter for very long.  Soldier and Warrior are two very similar classes, but one starts with a spear.  Sorcerer and Temple Knight are also related.  The implication that I get is that the Temple Knight is the equivalent to the Cleric from Dark Souls, which means he starts as a miracle caster to counter the Sorcerer’s spells.  The two remaining classes are the off brands.  The Dual Swordsman is something a lot of players have wanted for a long time. Now the option exists and it should lead to a lot of very interesting situations with main-hand and off-hand attacks or parries.  The Hunter starts with a bow and seems to be a pretty straight forward range character.

Here are a few remaining details about DS2.  Spells now have standard and strong attacks, just like weapons.  That should make the casting classes a bit more dynamic and fun to play.  I have heard that some shields can be used as catalysts/talismans.  Yes, please!   Backstabs are handled differently now, as each type of weapon seems to vary in difficulty of execution.  Daggers and smaller weapons can more easily perform backstabs than larger ones.  They also seem to have their own animations as well.  Some of these are really neat.  In one video I saw a guy with a spear plunge it into an enemy’s body, lift him up on the end of it and then slam him to the ground.  I found it quite satisfying.  Swords tend to do a series of slashes while knocking enemies down to the ground.  Also, backstabs no longer offer invincibility with the animations so backstabs aren’t the all-powerful fortresses of solitude they used to be.  Parries have also changed up a little.  Players have to work at them even more now and getting in the riposte takes timing.  Practice with both of these will be necessary because enemies now attack in groups and are much more aggressive than in Dark Souls.  Getting jumped by a bandit while being shot at by an archer seems to be pretty common.

The bonfires make a return with the usual uses, but now invaders can use them to light torches and such.  Overall, it looks like the bleak, uninviting world of Dark Souls 2 is turning out to be more unforgiving and more interactive than ever before.  Of course, any and all of these changes could show up or be canned at any time until release, so take it all with a Coke and a smile.  However it works out in the end, I may come out of next March pasty-skinned, thin, and with a long beard.

Here is the most recent video from VaatiVidya.  Quality is low, since it was shot on a smartphone… apparently no one was supposed to record their gameplay, but he managed to get permission straight from Namco.

Edit:  Want to try out the Dark Souls 2 Beta?  No worries!!  Playstation Plus subscribers will get the chance to do just that on Sunday, 7:00-10:00 a.m.

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Filed under Game Reviews, Gaming, Guest Blog, Kurt Klein