Dark Souls preview: Boss hog

You see that giant metal warthog up there? He's a real bastard. That son of a mother-grabber must have killed me ten times during my E3 session of Dark Souls. Foolishly, I swore to take him down, proclaiming that I wasn't leaving until the pig was dead -- shouting it really, to the Namco PR representative and anyone who would listen.

Alas, it was not to be. I was foiled again and again, regardless of what weapons were equipped or what cunning strategies were applied. Finally, I decided to avoid the beast altogether, hoping to find some more material to fill this preview. My grudge against the creature still burns in my chest, but it serves to make a valuable point: This is definitely a Demon's Souls sequel, despite claims you may have heard to the contrary.
%Gallery-125917%
After a brief hands-on session with Dark Souls, the two games seem nearly identical, so much so that I could easily have mistaken it for a Demon's Souls level I've never played. Dark Souls employs all the same mechanics and tricks. Enemies hide in the shadows, traps are primed to spring and death waits at every turn. Should you die -- and you will -- all enemies and traps will respawn in the same locations. As such, learning from mistakes is key for those who plan to make any progress.

Once again, Dark Souls also offers a unique multiplayer experience. While primarily a solo experience, players are always "online" and can see ghost images of other players attempting to tackle the same area. Under the right conditions, its possible to enter another player's world and aid them in defeating a certain area. Alternately, players can also invade another world to initiate a player-vs-player contest. In fact, PVP in Dark Souls has expanded to allow up to three invading players, which seems a tad unfair.


Perhaps the most significant addition is the new bonfire system. Dark Souls ditches the various healing herbs of Demon's Souls, replacing them all with a single health flask item. Players can carry a maximum of five flasks and are able to replenish them by visiting bonfires. These fires also serve as checkpoints, awarding players a new respawn point once activated.

Another interesting feature is the ability to strengthen bonfires. Strengthening a bonfire increases a player's maximum health flasks by one for the rest of a play session. More intriguingly, the act of strengthening transfers to other online players. In other words, should another online player choose to strengthen a bonfire, you will gain the health flask benefit as well. Namco has been keen to highlight bonfires as a source of comfort in the otherwise oppressive world of Dark Souls and I'll be the first to say that more health is very comforting.

Even with all these features -- and a few I couldn't really sample, like new character classes -- the overwhelming feeling I got from Dark Souls was one of familiarity. It's easy to discount the "more of the same" school of sequel development but, in the case of Dark Souls, it's still completely different from nearly everything else out there. Coupling that with some welcome new features, I'd say Demon's Souls fans have plenty to be excited about. As for the uninitiated ... well, get ready to die.

Update: After reading some comments, I got some clarification on Dark Souls multiplayer. Up to four players can exist in any one world, whether they be co-op partners or invading players. In other words, It could be 1-on-3, 2-on-2 or 3-on-1 or any combination in between, depending on the situation.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.