ManaTank Preview: Dark Souls

ManaTank Preview: Dark Souls

By far one of the toughest games to hit the market in recent memory is about to get a successor, but if you think things will be easier the second time around think again.

Dark Souls is out to make sure you know that nothing compares in terms of difficulty, strategy and atmosphere. This is title is going to be the game that makes other games want to pack up and go home. However, riding the golden coattails of its sleep hit predecessor, Demon’s Souls, isn’t going to be enough. Thankfully, Namco Bandai and From Software have revealed just enough about this game to give you ample time to gear up for what is sure to be the worst beating you’ve gotten since third grade.

Demon’s Souls took the world by storm in 2009 when it came out of absolutely nowhere and garnered far more attention that the developers could have ever hoped for. Word of mouth about the game’s insane difficulty levels and relentless gameplay piqued the curiosity of gamers the world over. A game such as that is so incredibly rare in this and age because we are so used to in game tutorials and even games that go as far as completing levels for us. We seem to be forgetting that a time once existed where you went from the title screen directly into the action. No lead up, no help, no mercy.

Demon’s Souls was out to remind gamers where their roots lay while simultaneously showing more modern gamers just want things used to be like. Anyone would have guessed that a title such as this would have failed miserably and once launch, it was confirmed that no sequel was in the works. However, 2 years later, here we sit anxiously awaiting the release of a game that gives us yet another romp through the sullen and down-trodden atmosphere of the demonic world created by From Software. Surprisingly, gamers cannot wait to get their respective posteriors handed to them over and over again, all in the name of collecting a few souls.

Simply put, Dark Souls puts you in the shoes on one who has lost his soul and tasks you with cautiously exploring the surrounding world, collecting souls in order to regain your own. It’s a simple premise, but it’s the sum of the parts that truly make up the whole.

Dark Souls is in fact not the sequel to Demon’s Souls. Rather, it is what is called a ‘spiritual successor.’ That means the title has absolutely nothing to do to story-wise with the original, but many of the elements that made the original so successful are going to see a return. However, despite the claims that it is not a sequel, it may as well be. But before we continue, I am going to level with you right and get this out of the way:

If you thought Demon’s Souls was hard, you haven’t seen anything yet.

That’s right… Dark Souls is promising to be harder than the original – as if that is possible. Naturally, this was to be expected because one of the most defining features of the series is the massive difficulty level. In my review of Demon’s Souls I talked about how the series introduced the concept of a game that was hard due to factors other than waves of enemies or bosses with absurd HP levels. Rather, the series crowning achievement is the ability to make gamers slow down, think about their moves, weigh the risks against the rewards, and then act accordingly.

Something so unique and against the grain rarely sees the levels of success as this series, but how do you improve upon a game that mastered so many things?

Far too often a series will completely abandon its roots with each subsequent sequel or try to revolutionize the gameplay to a point that makes the game unrecognizable. Thankfully, Dark Souls is not about to do that. Dark Souls is going to make a whole wad of changes to how the game is played, but the basic recipe is going to remain the same:

  • Rock hard difficulty
  • Tense, sullen atmosphere
  • Loads of death
  • Insane enemies and boss battles
  • Strategy trumps all
  • Risk doesn’t equal reward
  • Innovative multiplayer

It seems basic enough, but Dark Souls isn’t out to just give gamers a repeat of something they have already had. This time around there is going to be no Nexus. The Nexus served as the central hub for the game in Demon’s Souls where players could return and stock up, heal, buy magic, level up, and interact with NPCs. Within the Nexus were 5 portals that served as the entrances to the worlds. No longer will you be required to center your experience around one location. Dark Souls is going to feature a massive, streaming world where gamers are free to explore at their will without having to worry about when to return to the Nexus.

Seeing as how the Nexus served as the central hub for everything, the developers had to implement some way for gamers to get a small, much needed break from the tense action and recoup. Scattered around the world will be various bonfires that will act as a mini-Nexus where gamers can save, rest, and heal. Now, it may seem like a cop out and open the door for gamers to rush into battle, take loads of damage and return to the nearest bonfire for a quick heal. Think again. In true Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls fashion, the second you return to the bonfire every single enemy you killed will instantly respawn. So it is actually to your benefit to push forward.

Along those same lines, a new healing system has been implemented to coincide with the bonfire system. No longer will you be required to pack around loads of herbs or spawn hunt various enemies in order to replenish your stock. Rather, Dark Souls features a new health flash that can only be replenished at a bonfire. You can carry up to five flasks at once, making you really think twice about downing a whole flask just to regain that sliver of life.

The bonfires really seem to be a major focus in this game. Namco has pointed out that they are meant to represent a small shimmer of comfort in an otherwise utterly depressing world. As you proceed through the game you will be able to strengthen your bonfires, which in turn will yield more health. A strengthened bonfire increases your maximum health flasks by one for the remainder of the play session while at the same time transferring that the effects to that of other players online as well.

 You’re Technically Not Alone

Demon’s Souls featured one of the most unique online multiplayer mechanics ever and Dark Souls is not deviating far from the proven formula. You don’t technically play through the game with other players; rather, you communicate via messages and ominous shadows lurking in the distance. If you were lucky enough to have a blue phantom enter your world and help you out, things were made a bit easier, but only for a short while. Red phantoms easily came in and pissed all over your parade as they were usually lightyears more powerful than you. As fun/frustrating as that was, Dark Souls is going to continue with much of the same, but Namco has confirmed that several new, key elements have been added to further revolutionize the formula.

Your chances of playing this game online with people you know are next to zero because Dark Souls employs a feature similar to Demon’s Souls where you can activate the multiplayer on the fly. If you find yourself struggling with a particular section, drop a message on the ground and wait for someone with a kind hear to entire your world and lend a helping hand or, perhaps, kill you. The second you open up your game to the rest of the world, anything is possible. Everyone who enters your game is a complete and utter mystery, especially since there is no inclusion of voice chat. Your only form of communication is a series of gestures and some preset messages you can drop on the floor.

Dropping a message can either be incredibly beneficial to the rest of the world if you happen to forewarn them about some danger up ahead, but if you are more of the deceitful type, then you may find yourself telling people to stand in a location that is clearly unsafe to wait. However you decide to lend a helping hand is up to you, but just know that karma exists and you will more than likely get what is coming to you eventually.

Warding off Your Impending Demise

Combat is going to remain largely the same, but that is far from a bad thing. You are able to equip weapons in each hand, which are mapped to the trigger buttons and use them independently. If you want to inflict massive damage while leaving yourself vulnerable to attack, go ahead and settle on your two favorite shortswords or one giant broadsword that requires both hands. However, your best bet is going to be a long sword in one hand with a shield in the other. The possibilities are really endless and each gamer is going to discover what works best for their own style of play.

However, simply equipping your weapons and diving into battle is a surefire way to rack up a death count much higher that what is already in store for you. Combat in Dark Souls is all about preparation, planning, and strategy. Each step, each swing of the sword could be your last. The floors are laden with traps and enemies lurk around every corner. Many times you probably won’t even notice what hit you before you are dead and half decayed. You have to learn, adapt, and overcome because this game is going to be ruthless. The importance of patience and care cannot be stressed enough simply because when you die, you lose everything you worked for. The souls work so hard to collect act as your currency and experience points, so obviously losing them is a very poor choice.

Unfortunately, you are going to lose massive amounts of souls time and time again thanks largely to the game’s bosses. Any veteran of Demon’s Souls will be able to tell you that the bosses were among the most difficult aspects of the game and generally took multiple attempts before the weakness would even become apparent. Dark Souls isn’t going to be any different. Surely the bosses will be laid out in a different manner seeing as how the game is not technically separated into different worlds like its predecessor. You can certainly expect the bosses to appear out of nowhere and be bigger, badder, and much harder than before.

The Unkowns

So much about this game and its finer points are still unknown, such as just exactly how they are going to implement world and soul tendency. One of the more baffling features of Demon’s Souls that took people ages to partially figure out was that of World and Soul Tendency. Dark Souls is going to implementing a new feature that directly affects your characters appearance. As your soul tendency decreases your character becomes less and less human and takes on a much more ghastly appearance. Just exactly how that affects the gameplay has yet to be revealed, but you can bet your soul that it will have drastic effects on what events play out and what items become available throughout the game.

Also, the new range of classes has really yet to be fleshed out, but we do know that a new class called the Pyromancer is capable of summing a Grave Lord which will infect other game player’s worlds at random and cause monsters to respawn continually. As for the rest of the classes, we really don’t know to terribly much about what is in store for us, and that is possibly a good thing because so much of the allure with this series is that of the unknown. If we knew everything about the game before we even played it, we would lose a bit of interest in it.

However, there is one thing that you can be certain of… you are going to die…. a lot.

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