What I like about the tutorial area, a maze of underground caves that seem to twist and turn on each other, is not that it's basically skippable. You can, if you want, just go down a straight path and rush into the world proper, rather than wander side alcoves that lead to rooms and areas tailored to introducing the game's weighty combat and lateral puzzles. I wouldn't say the previous games didn't teach you how to play them, more that Dark Souls 2 tries a little harder, a little more explicitly without overstepping the mystique.
No, what's interesting about this opening area is that there's a mystery inside the winding caverns, a reward for exploring the tutorial beyond its tutoring. Delve far enough and there's a beach with some kind of weird, lumbering bastard on it; I would provide a better description, but I didn't go all that near it. A fellow player told me about finding a coffin, lizards and treasure on the beach, and it all sounded great. Like a coward - and it's often good to be a coward in a Souls game - I retreated.
Then, the game itself: A statue proudly proclaiming 25,864 deaths worldwide, ghouls hiding behind ramparts, powerful undead soldiers queuing up to kill me on a staircase, like that scene
with the frenzied woman from Airplane
. Then, a circling beast swooping out of the sky and dropping a slab of purple-glowing knight onto a ledge, a Scotch soldier resting wearily against a tree, a gate locked from passage by a statue of a woman stuck against its gears. And deaths, so many deaths. Tribulations, temptations, and deceptions; the familiar evils are all present and accounted for.
As with Dark Souls
, some of the subtler changes are soon apparent, such as the gradual depletion of maximum health with subsequent deaths, or how lifegems can be found and restore health in a trickle, rather than in one go. And, while the game retains a roughness, there's a flourish of imagination to the environment, a flourish built upon success. The ruins that lead to the opening village almost jaunt at Escherian angles, while the village itself has the amber serenity of a wheat farm, belying the pitfalls ahead, or even nearby.
Nonetheless, the abundant feeling at the end of those opening hours is the real Dark Souls 2
lies in wait, for better or worse. Little can be judged on this opening area, or without seeing how grander changes affect the landscape, changes like opt-in voice chat in co-op (now confirmed
), or being able to teleport between the checkpoint-like bonfires, a feature that wasn't made available until the latter stages of Dark Souls
. Moreover, even with the way Demon's Souls
and Dark Souls
reveal themselves in their openings, it's just a glimpse of what lies beyond. Surely the same applies here, and hopefully with the same results.
[Images: Namco Bandai]