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Hands-on: 'Dark Souls II'

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 14 comments
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NEW YORK — The original "Dark Souls" carved out a niche for itself as an ultra-difficult alternative to more mainstream role-playing games. Based on its latest demo, "Dark Souls II" looks to expand on what made the first game so enticing, without sacrificing its hallmark tough-but-fair attitude.

Tom's Guide had a chance to go hands-on with "Dark Souls II" at the Namco-Bandai Games Showcase this week. The demo took the protagonist through a daunting castle, where death lurked in every hallway.

The Warrior was a solid choice of protagonist for the demo — skilled with a sword and shield, but unable to wield magic or bows effectively. Interestingly, players will select their preferences and parameters for a starting character rather than choose a predetermined class. This may help newcomers ease into the open-ended, punishing gameplay without robbing series veterans of the customization potential they crave.

The demo began in an isolated corner of Fort Resistance, a derelict fortress where a nearby ladder led down into the narrow walkway suspended over a pit of lava. There was little time to admire the brown stone walls or the crumbling gray pillars, however, before the undead soldiers attacked.

The best single word to sum up the "Souls" series (which began with "Demon's Souls" in 2009 and continued with "Dark Souls" in 2011) is "difficult," but "precise" is a close second. You'll generally fight one or two enemies at a time, instead of endless hordes, but each one will be a fight for your life.

The first undead soldier was a simple swordsman. This character helped show off a fundamental game feature: Both you and your enemies are very strong. By striking at the right moments, it was possible to stagger the soldier and dispatch him in four or five hits, without taking a single blow in return.

However, each blow expends stamina, which only recharges in between strikes. As in the previous games, if you block an enemy blow with your shield raised, your stamina bar will take a hit — which is better than not blocking, as that decreases your health. Just as you can dispatch most enemies in only a few hits, the opposite also holds true. [See also: The 10 Best Zombie Games of All Time]

In the next room, a sunlit stone veranda, the undead soldier wielded a lance instead of a sword. Because of his reach, it was a more judicious plan to roll around his thrusts and spring up behind to attack than to meet him head-on.

When Namco expressed its interest in giving "Dark Souls II" more traditional mainstream elements, fans were concerned that these might dilute the series' inscrutable, hardcore experience. Thankfully, the only real major changes are visual. An overhauled graphics engine, complete with motion-captured actors, gives the game silky-smooth animations and none of the frame-rate problems that plagued the original.

After dashing down two dangerous corridors — one with an enormous turtle demon wielding a devastating club, another with a spell-flinging witch flanked by living statues — the Warrior confronted the Mirror Knight, a giant living statue that could summon underlings and empower its sword with lightning.

In the final version of the game, the Mirror Knight will summon other players instead of just AI enemies, giving the battle a flavor of unpredictability. The statue hardly needed the help, though; the Warrior went down easily enough, prompting the series' famous "You Died" screen.

At first blush, "Dark Souls II" is not much different from its predecessors, but it's not a formula that really needs changing. New haunting vistas, outlandish weapons and grotesque enemies are more than enough reasons to explore the game's strange world and minimalist story.

"Dark Souls II" will release in 2014 for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, with a probable $60 price tag.

Follow Marshall Honorof @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide and on Facebook.

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  • -1 Hide
    JJ1217 , July 24, 2013 2:54 PM
    Yeah, can't wait to play this in 1280x720. You know, like Dark Souls.
  • -3 Hide
    slomo4sho , July 24, 2013 2:57 PM
    Not sure why they decided to call this Dark Souls II since Dark Souls was the 2nd installment in the Demon Souls series...
  • -2 Hide
    Azn Cracker , July 24, 2013 3:03 PM
    Lol original Dark Souls?

    you mean Demons Soul right?
  • Display all 14 comments.
  • 4 Hide
    Adrianime , July 24, 2013 3:35 PM
    @slomo4sho

    Dark Souls was not the second installment of Demon Souls. Dark souls was a relative of demon souls, or "spiritual successor" as they like to call it. The two storylines and worlds had nothing in common. Calling this Dark Souls II indicates that it will have either a storyline connected to Dark Souls, or it will be in the same "universe" (i.e. focus on the undead).
  • 0 Hide
    roger smith , July 24, 2013 4:21 PM
    this game has the depth of a hack... then a slash. boring!
  • 1 Hide
    bad_student , July 24, 2013 5:13 PM
    I think the publisher changed between demon's and dark, and that's the reason for the change in title.
  • 1 Hide
    alidan , July 25, 2013 12:08 AM
    @slomo4sho
    rights issues, dark souls would have been demon souls 2, but because of rights to the name they changed it... at least thats my understanding
    @JJ1217
    the game is being deved on the pc, and ported to consoles if what i am told is correct, so yea, play it on the console at 720p if you want. the reason the pc was restricted was because of the way that animation was tied to the frame rate, a method to increase performance on the console, modders had to fix this because it was in all honestly only ported to the pc with a minimal budget because of a petition.
  • 0 Hide
    alidan , July 25, 2013 12:21 AM
    i just went to that link, the best zombie games of all time...

    The House of the Dead - got to love the old light gun games
    Dead Rising 2 - cant play it because of controls, just won't deal with it, it is one of 3 games i regret getting
    Dead Island - pc glitches make it impossible to play, another of the 3 games i regret getting, here take a look at them on youtube, Uz1yLaHGmeI this is a webcam one, i didn't have recording ability at the time, here is a better one i made just as riptide was comeing out just to make sure it was still bad OFeoVlzLsz0
    Call of Duty: Black Ops - a fun mode
    Zombies Ate My Neighbors - this is my number 1
    The Walking Dead - havent played it, but from what i know of the walking dead, its less a zombie game and more a setting with zombies in it... im not sure how much of distinction that is.

    Resident Evil 4 - NOT A ZOMBIE GAME AT ALL

    Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare - not really a zombie game but a dlc to ad a zombie campaign
    Plants vs. Zombies - a casual zombie game, but a good one.
    Left 4 Dead - and another game i regret getting, all 3 on the list WOOT. what i hate about this is i didn't have xbox live (at the time, only had a console and a oc that couldn't handle l4d) so i had to play with ai, and the thing is, this game feels like cod campaign, its really hard to tell if anything i do matters.
  • 0 Hide
    cats_Paw , July 25, 2013 1:15 AM
    Hmmm, i havent played Dark Souls 1 but now that the second comes out i might get it for a low price. Might be interesting.
  • 0 Hide
    cats_Paw , July 25, 2013 1:18 AM
    Actually i just cheked it on steam:
    Microsoft Xbox 360® Controller for Windows® (or equivalent) is strongly recommended.

    Scrach that, my interest in this game series has dropped into low levels.
  • 0 Hide
    comeatmebr0 , July 25, 2013 5:20 AM
    @roger smith
    So you're telling us that FPS is much more boring because you're just shooting people?
  • 0 Hide
    codo , July 25, 2013 6:46 AM
    2014? Shit.
  • 1 Hide
    ibjeepr , July 25, 2013 8:42 AM
    I picked this up from Steam during the sale because it was cheap and I heard such good things about it. I'm hooked. I love the way it feels like a straight up D&D experience. I like that the combat is based on cautious maneuvering and timing, 1 v 1 or a few at most instead of arcade like combat in Diablo 3 or Torchlight. Death comes easily and frequently yet if you play smart and well, you can prove you don't need to die all the time. It's an overall great gaming experience that is only blemished by the poor port. Yet even most of the drawbacks of the port to PC can be overcome with a couple fixes, some tweaking and practice. I play with a keyboard and mouse and while I die at times due to the camera or controls, I've got it to the point where it isn't much different than any other PC based game. Dark Souls 2 should rectify these issues and I can't wait. To anyone looking for a more old school RPG experience, I highly recommend trying it and being patient while you get used to it. All the info you need to play is easily found online.
  • 0 Hide
    lpedraja2002 , July 25, 2013 9:10 PM
    I suggest you guys read the reviews of the game before buying. The game is a very shabby port, the game basically requires a community made patch called DSfix which is very easily installed and configured to one's likings, to basically meet the standard graphical requirements we're used to. The game is locked to 30fps but can be unlocked in the fix but it's not recommended in the fix due to animation anomalies occurring. If you can get past those tiny inconveniences you will find one of the most unique and satisfying game in the last years! This game is one of the few that will truly test your skill as a player, it's not an automated walk in the park like every game these days and its definitely not a hack and slash, you have to use your wits in every boss battle and get used to dying. That's right, the key to this game is learning from your deaths. The gameplay is simple but hard to master, the incorporated multiplayer is nothing but brilliant, the level design is breathtaking and the musical score is often more scary than the monsters you're fighting, I recommend setting it higher than the game sounds to truly be immersed in it.

    Like the reviews state, do no let the few inconveniences of a standard port deprive you of one of the best gameplay experiences in recent years.

    P.S. Xbox 360 gamepad extremely recommended!
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