E3 2011: Dark Souls Impressions

For what it's worth, Demon's Souls was a fantastic demonstration at giving the players a traditional experience where no hand-holding was allowed: bosses were inexplicably cheap, traps plagued you on every turn, and a horrible death always seemed to be in store. It was also a very polarizing game that had its fair share and loves and haters due to its oppressive and understandably frustrating gameplay.



Now, don't make the mistake of thinking that Dark Souls is a direct sequel to Demon's Souls, as it is first and foremost a spiritual sequel, albeit with the same development team. The graphics look almost identical to its former, the controls are the same, the User Interface is nearly identical, traps can be around all across the land, and even the sound design seems copy and pasted. One of the areas where Demon's Souls and Dark Souls differ the most dramatically, however, is what might make a cold shiver run up your spine: the game will be much more difficult. Prepare yourself for a whole new level of masochism.

Yes, as if you didn't think that the pile of broken controllers in the corner of your room wasn't enough, Dark Souls wants people to feel an even greater sense of accomplishment when overcoming one of the many different leaping enemies and terrorizing bosses. To help people combat the forces of evil, the developers have gone ahead and doubled the amount of items and spells that the player will have at their disposal over the first game (unfortunately, the amount of deaths may also double in the process). New character classes are also being introduced, but I did not get to spend enough time with the game to try these out. Blood stains, are messages on the ground that players can read to discover hints and words of caution, are also making a return, but world tendencies, where the world turns light or dark at certain times that will modify the game's difficulty in turn, will not be.

One of the new features that the game is touting is what they are calling, "Pledge" or "Believe". Essentially, it is a roleplaying mechanic, where people find a religion with its own set of beliefs to worship. During network play, if players find someone else who shares the same belief, they can participate in coop missions with them. However, if you ever come across anyone with an entirely different set of beliefs, they will be in direct competition with you and can come into your game to outright murder you. Dark Souls has expanded to where up to three players can come in and do this, so you better be really prepared for whatever might happen if you decide to take the plunge and head online.

Another new feature are Bonfires. When running around the gigantic open and seamless world of Dark Souls, players may come across one of these circles that will allow them to restore their health. Considering the fact that this game will do away with the herbs that helped players in critical moments and instead has you relying on five health flasks, bonfires are the only way to replenish them. Bonfires can also create checkpoints for the player to act as a respawn point should the inevitable happen. Strengthening a bonfire allows players to increase the number of flasks they can carry by one for the rest of the play session, which extends to other players who join the world you are playing in. The man speaking in our closed meeting room explained that bonfires will essentially be treated as the only real bright light in a world of doom and gloom, as a spot of comfort in an otherwise bleak landscape, and can act as a base for players to sit and gather around to plan out their next move.

During the short Q&A portion of the demonstration, some important info was shared. The game will be out in North America on October 4th, and in Europe on October 7th, on the PS3 and Xbox 360. The PS3 is the lead platform in this case because the development team are so familiar with its architecture and feel that they can make a better game overall by building it there and then porting it over, but the game will essentially be identical on both platforms in look and performance. There will be no cross-platform play available between the 360 and PS3, and you will not be able to bring your saved games over from Demon's Souls due to the fact that the new game includes so many new features and mechanics that it simply would not work logically.

At the end of the day, those who have played Demon's Souls and liked it will find plenty to enjoy here due to the sense of obvious familiarity that the game has. Those that hated the game probably won't find anything new to really get them into the idea of playing it, especially because the developers are promising an even more difficult experience. Overall, this will really benefit Xbox 360 owners who never got a chance to play the original game and want to find out what all the hype was about. Look for Dark Souls in early October.

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