This is Co-Opinion, where two Joystiq editors play a game and discuss their experience. This edition focused on the E3 2013 demo of Dark Souls 2, from developer From Software.
Richard Mitchell: So you and I both got a chance to try out Dark Souls 2. I was prepared to die, and I did. Many times. There were a few pre-defined classes to choose from in our demo. I tried a dual swordsman first.
I played until I realized that he only had a tiny shield, which probably wasn't the best choice. I restarted and picked a much beefier knight with a hefty shield and sword, and a massive two-handed sword to boot.
What did you roll with?
Xav de Matos: I rolled warrior from the start. There's no way I'm rocking through the unknown depths of From Software's evil mind without a shield at the ready.
Even though I wanted to get right into the action, I had to stop and take a look around because Dark Souls 2 looks gorgeous. From Software's new engine really gets lighting and shadows right. Even the bright outdoors pop. Then there's the little stuff, like watching the grass sway from side to side in the wind. It's all really detailed and beautiful. Sadly, no one should ever stop to smell the roses, or they'll need to be plucked and put on your grave.
Richard Mitchell: Speaking of lighting, the first thing you do is to climb down a ladder into a dank dungeon. The controls, as far as I could tell, were exactly the same as Dark Souls and Demon's Souls, and I slipped back into the old rhythms pretty easily. I killed a few undead soldiers without too much trouble, but then I went down a set of stairs into pitch darkness. There were things down there, things that killed me.
I think I died twice before I realized that you could light a torch at the top of the stairs.
Xav de Matos: The controls are pretty much the same, except you don't have that kick move anymore. Now you give enemies a shove with your weapon hand. The power of that shove changes based on the weapon you have. The heavier the weapon, the more force you can push them with to make additional space. But, heavy weapon means longer animation. Short weapons don't give much space, but it's faster. It's an interesting system. Whether the kick returns, however, is still undecided, a Namco rep told me.
Going in that dark area you mentioned without a torch is already dangerous proposition and the gaggle of enemies down there certainly don't help. Not only are there a few standard bad guys, there's a giant turtle-like knight that can make quick work of you. And I mean really quick even for Dark Souls 2.
Richard Mitchell: And remember, holding a torch means your shield hand is occupied, so I did the only sensible thing: ran like hell. The turtle-armored knight followed me back up the stairs, swinging his giant mace the whole time. He was fairly slow, so I was able to get behind him and land a few hits, slowly chipping away at his hefty health bar.
I knew it was too easy to get behind him, and I knew that the game was going to punish me for it, but I did it anyway. And sure enough, he was ready for me. The turtle knight just fell over backwards, crushing me with his shiny armor "shell" and draining 90 percent of my health.
I managed to get back up though, and a swig from the ol' Estus Flask had me back in fighting shape. I played it a bit safer and eventually took him out. Then it was back into the darkness and out the other side into an open area, which was filled with enemies that looked kind of like Spanish conquistadores.
Xav de Matos: With the demo shown during E3 2013 – which isn't planned for the game, and was really only built to showcase new systems and the new engine – there were shortcuts, too. In that hallway with the Turtle Knight there's an enemy hurling lanterns, and if you dodge a lantern in the right spot and it hits the wall, you open an area that goes directly to a campfire. It wasn't in the build I played a few weeks ago, but it may have been a hidden treat during at the show. Interested to hear if anyone could get it to work.
When you get out of that dark area and into open space there are a bunch of enemies waiting to take you out. The conquistadores protect the building's roof, but inside is another group primed and ready to swing their swords as soon as you crack open a door. There were all these little areas to discover and explore in the demo and, like any good Souls game, the possibility of death waited around every corner. Things like new backstabbing animations – such as a great looking three-hit combo from with a short-sword – added some flair to combat that has been intentionally slow and plodding in the series to ensure success.
When you close in toward the area's campfire a swarm of enemies magically spawn in, bringing with them a barrier between you and your lone safe haven. A Namco rep told me that these enemies – all glowing red – were added to the demo to simulate invasions. The A.I. in the demo was still pretty rough, or at least exactly like it's always been, since I was able to run to the top of the building previously under the protection of the conquistadores and trick the mob into falling into a nearby pit.
Richard Mitchell: I was called away to a meeting at this point, so I didn't get to see the rest of the demo, although I saw other players battling animated statues and a particularly intimidating knight with a humongous, mirrored shield.
Xav de Matos: Once you make it it to a campfire you warp to a room attached to a long hallway with large stone Pegasus Knights lining the narrow walkway. At the end of the hallway is a sorcerer firing devastating black magic. You think, this doesn't seem so bad and start walking toward the boss... and then the Knights "wake up" and you're surrounded by half a dozen insanely difficult monsters. I tried busting out my giant sword that takes ages to swing but deals insane damage, but I was quickly trounced. Rolling through again, I realized you can hit the Knights before they wake and crumble into pebbles. Then you take out the sorcerer and think, "That's a pretty good Dark Souls boss fight..."
That isn't the boss.
Richard Mitchell: Let me guess. Mirror Knight?
Xav de Matos: Perhaps the most difficult boss battle in my young Dark Souls career. That thing is devastating. First, its design and the way pouring rain and lightning bounces off the thing is superb. And then it takes a swing at you with its impossible reach and makes quick work of you health. It's huge, fast and ... it calls in friends.
Richard Mitchell: Nothing like minions to make a hard boss even harder.
Xav de Matos: The way the Mirror Knight calls them in is terrifying. He drops this enormous shield, which essentially makes one half of his body invulnerable to attack, and these different enemy types can punch through the shield and materialize in the battle arena.
Richard Mitchell: They break out of the mirror? So that's difficult AND terrifying. Do they spawn infinitely, or can you do anything about it?
Xav de Matos: He'll keep dropping his shield periodically to call in more guys. I've seen people playing it with three other enemies spawned into the battle. It's next to impossible. A Namco rep assured me that you could attack his shield as the enemy is trying to break free and shatter the mirror before they can spawn in, but it takes a ton of stamina and I was never able to get it to work. Ultimately, I was bested by the Knight every time.
Richard Mitchell: Word around the E3 campfire was that no one was able to beat him at all. Honestly, it gives me some comfort knowing that Dark Souls 2 still has its edge, even with new directors. I didn't notice any radical gameplay changes, but I don't think it needs any. Throw in more beautiful environments and tough, inventive enemies and I'm happy.
Xav de Matos: I'm really looking forward to it. It was beautiful and it played like Dark Souls. They've found their footing after changing a few things from the transition from Demon's to Dark – read: no drastic changes. And while everyone was scouring the show floor to see next-gen stuff, Dark Souls 2 was the most-requested assignment from the entire Joystiq staff. For something launching this March on current-gen systems, that says a lot. We're all masochistic.