It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Dark Souls fans or fans of the ‘Souls’ franchise as a whole are slightly masochistic. Where else would you find a bunch of fans complaining that they are afraid that their insanely difficult franchise is becoming too easy. Well those same fans can rest easy, Dark Souls II is a game that knows its target audience. In fact most improvements served as a way to make the game more difficult, but first lets cover the things that are pretty much expected.
PC is no longer the slept on platform. From the get go, the full range of resolutions will be available to us from the get go, which is a start. Dark Souls II also comes with a new physics engine allowing From Software to introduce proper physics and motion capture for the first time in the series. This has a knock on effect all over the game from simple aesthetic pleasures to some of the more in depth aspects of how combat works. I was shown examples of this where parries can now have a knock down effect and players will no longer be able to exploit the invincibility frames of longer animations. For example if you are executing, backstabbing or just generally finishing off an enemy, you will no longer be impervious to attack while doing so. This also ran over into attack evasion. No longer will you perform a successful roll only to find that you have magically been teleported to an opponent’s halberd. Physics are truly a magical thing!
Physics, animation and general geometrical goodness all play a part in making Dark Souls a prettier game, but it would seem a decent amount of work has gone into lighting as well. armour glints, swords flicker and spells explode in an array of beautiful particles, but more importantly, dark areas are now literally dark. This has an effect on gameplay, requiring you to use a torch, or you can just shimmy your way along the walls, which isn’t the safest thing to do.
Torches will require a free hand, so if you are a sword and board kind of guy (or gal) you might have to sacrifice you shield. This situation could prove more of a challenge to sword and shield wielders as this specification now results in less stamina and more damage reduction putting you at a significant disadvantage without your shield.
You might be thinking “So what? It is a little bit darker”, but the enemy AI isn’t necessarily hampered by the lack of sight. With improved AI comes better situational awareness and depending on the enemy, they will take advantage of your weaknesses at any point. The idea is that the enemy will learn and adapt based on what you do, meaning no cheap easy backstabs. It seemed to work pretty well for the knight type enemies that I encountered in the demo. Trying to back up and use the new heal over time gems that are now available in the game resulted in me receiving a weapon in my back. To which I was told, From Software are trying to bring single player combat closer to what you would experience in a PvP encounter.
For the PvP mongers, I was told that it is now being expanded to 1-4 players so you will be able to tackle 2 v 2 situations etc if you so choose. It is also worth mentioning that the way you choose your character archetype has also changed. They have done away with the defined classes found in the original when creating your character and given a bit more freedom to pick up and play as you want. Some weapon combinations have also undergone some mechanical changes like the stamina situation mentioned above. Dual swordsman will be happy to hear that you now have two stances which you can switch between allowing single rogue like swipes or the usual dual weapon attacks you are used to.
A bit of a controversial choice has been made in that all bonfires will now also warp, which is probably a response to the increased AI and physics. Effectively balancing out Dark Souls II, but it is hard to truly tell without getting our hands on the final product. With strategic placement, I can see this working. It’s quite apparent the developers have been listening to fans (within reason) and this can only be a good thing.