Dark Souls 2 Hands-On Preview – Learning by Dying
I walked into my hands-on demo for Dark Souls 2 with a personal goal: “Don’t die.”
Choosing the pre-made sorcerer character class, I began the demo heading towards an enemy who sprang to life as I inched closer to him. Fortunately, my usual Dark Souls strategy of dancing around to the enemy’s backside paid off with a fancy new backstab animation.
Now brimming with confidence, I headed deeper into the aptly titled Fort Resistance and paused by a dark corridor that needed to be illuminated by a torch. Having seen this part in a prior gameplay demo, I equipped the torch in my shield hand and marched on, still confident that I could handle whatever this game could throw at me.
Up ahead was an enemy unique to Dark Souls 2. A bulky warrior with a giant turtle shell on his back, which served as a giant sign that said “Go do your dance somewhere else. No backstabs for you here.” As soon as I tried to engage the turtle warrior, all of a sudden three enemies attacked me from behind. In a panic I switched to my shield, only to realize in horror that by switching to my shield, I put away my torch and left myself in pitch darkness with about four enemies. And just like that, not even five minutes into my demo, I had failed my personal goal.
But in reality, it was an unrealistic goal anyway because Dark Souls 2, like its predecessors, uses death as a way to teach its players lessons. In that death, I had learned that I was too bold and didn’t take care to examine the rooms thoroughly before proceeding. Turns out that several enemies were playing possum, just like the very first one I encountered, and they followed me down the tunnel after I lit the torch.
In my proceeding playthroughs, I made sure to take them out before marching through the tunnel and managed to start a 1-on-1 fight with the turtle warrior. I figured this was a good chance to go through some of the many spells my pre-made sorcerer had been outfitted with.
Aside from the familiar Soul Arrow, Great Soul Arrow, and Fireball spells, some of the new spells that I was able to use included a giant magic sword that swept across a huge arc in front of my character and dealt massive damage to whatever it hit, a spell that dropped mini soul arrows like rainfall above an area and a short range fireblast attack. Needless to say, the sorcerer had quite an intimidating arsenal of spells and abilities in addition to his short sword sub-weapon.
Also new to Dark Souls 2 is the addition of a new curative item type called life gems. Unlike estus flasks, which also make a return, life gems can be found rather than just restored at bonfires and can also be used while moving, albeit at a much slower walk speed. The trade-off is that their health regeneration is much slower than that of an estus flask.
As I continued through the demo, I exited the dark cavern and got the use of my shield back, which was good because I needed it to block the arrows of several archers perched on a building up ahead. Inside the building were several enemies that were deviously placed just to the side of a door ready to ambush you as soon as you enter. “I know your tricks, Dark Souls,” I smiled and whispered to myself.
Apparently, I didn’t know all of them after all. As I proceeded through another building, there was a sudden flash of light and in front of me appeared three enemies colored red like Black Phantoms, with one of them being yet another turtle warrior. I rushed outside to try and lure the two smaller enemies away from the larger one, but the turtle shelled beast was having none of that and just crashed through the wall. As I was dangerously low on supplies, I did my best to eliminate the two smaller black phantoms one at a time, but completely depleted all of my magic by the time I went up against the turtle warrior. Another “You Are Dead” screen for me.
In my final attempt at the demo, I made a break for the second bonfire, which served as a teleporter to the demo’s final area: A long corridor with a fog door at the end, guarded by a lone mage. As I approached, the mage brought four of the statues lining the hall to life, quickly flipping the odds in their favor. The animated statues were no joke either, capable of covering distance extremely quickly and executing a seemingly endless combo that will decimate your life or stamina meter.
I didn’t last long, but upon viewing other players who played after me, I saw that, like most difficult gameplay sections in Dark Souls, there’s a trick to it. If you manage to attack the statues before they fully awaken, you can actually take them out in a single hit, turning a five-on-one into a more manageable three-on-one.
Once you get past the mage, the only thing keeping you from beating the demo is the fearsome Mirror Knight: A gigantic knight, suited in glimmering armor with a mirror shield and large sword. The knight utilized the familiar sword swings, but also an extremely fast lighting projectile that did tons of damage if it hit. Most unique about him though, was when he placed his shield on the ground and a smaller knight started banging on the glass from inside the mirror. Eventually the knight would break out and make it a two-on-one fight.
While I never saw it done, I was told that if you could break the mirror shield before the small knight emerges, you would be able to prevent him from ever coming out.
In fact, during the whole demo event, I wasn’t aware of a single person who was able to defeat the Mirror Knight on the two standard demo stations (There were two other demo stations that had “god mode” enabled.)
I left the pre-E3 demo event feeling defeated, since I wasn’t able to beat the demo in the time I had, but also feeling overjoyed by my time with Dark Souls 2. The short demo area that I got to play exhibited the same style of “learn by doing/dying,” game design that the Souls games are known for and included several surprises that should keep even the most experienced of players on their toes.
Dark Souls 2 will be released on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in March 2014. Until then, prepare to die.