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.

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8 Comments on Dark Souls 2 Hands-On Preview – Learning by Dying


On June 11, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Great article Mitch! I cant wait until this game is available. Your original walk though of Dark souls is the only reason i purchased the game, its also how i discovered gamefront in the first place. Keep up the excellent work!


On June 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I literally cannot wait. Thanks for the great write-up, Mitch. This will have to keep me until March ’14.


On June 11, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Thank you, Mitch. It was a great read. I am very glad FROM has kept the same formula but with a different twist. I was very scared that the new director would try to make this game easier to catch a wider audience. Seeing that they actually need gaming set with god mode turned on so journalists can actually proceed made me chuckle.


On June 11, 2013 at 7:00 pm

“around around” in 2nd paragraph

Any info on the backstory?

TR the DR

On June 12, 2013 at 12:37 am

Man I’m mad jelly, only if E3 would come to the east coast for once. Great preview, glad to see the series is still gonna be difficult and they didn’t cave into pressure to make it easier.


On June 12, 2013 at 3:27 pm

nice article Mitch! I plan on getting this game and hopefully you do a walkthrough on this game!


On June 12, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Great review Mitch – the mirror knight enemy sounds quite imaginative! Can’t wait to see his design depicted. The way you described the demo sounds as if it’s even harder than it’s predecessors, if that’s possible. The only downside is that I get sad when devs release trailers and demos etc so early on in their cycle as the wait seems incredibly long. I understand they do this for “hype” reasons but ever since the postponement of The Last Guardian I feel like is their REALLY much harm in waiting until the game comes out perhaps 6 months away from announcement if not a confirmed release date? We thought we’d see The Last Guardian within a year from that E3 oh so long ago – no one would have been upset if they chose to not show a thing. What are your thoughts?

- “billmaher4tw”

James (Not GF One)

On June 12, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Very well written article. I enjoyed the streaming narrative style of this preview. Given the abundance of distractions at E3 I am grateful you were able to keep the information on Dark Souls 2 concise. I am much relieved that the core philosophy of the ‘Souls’ series seems intact. That was my biggest concern that a new director/direction would drastically change the wonderful formula From Software created. Thanks again and I look forward to your further E3 articles.