Dark Souls 2 Hands-On Preview

  With the success of the first Dark Souls, the merciless melee-based RPG franchise has garnered an incredible amount of attention from those that would otherwise shy away from something so punishing. The basic routine of exploration, combat, avoiding traps and collecting souls with which to improve your character is one fraught with frustration, challenge and, ultimately, an immense sense of accomplishment once bested. The 'Souls' series is not one for the transient experimenter or those quick to admit defeat. But tempted by the hyperbolic praise from critic and fan alike, a new and bigger audience now count themselves amongst the Legion of Souls.
  This causes developer From Software a bit of a problem with Dark Souls 2: how do you continue to appeal to the hardened veterans of the series, without alienating the new fans that have been won?
  After spending two hours ploughing through the game's opening sequences, it's clear that From Software is intimately aware of the task on their hands - with new elements on show aimed at satisfying both sections of their fan base. Most obvious of the changes for next month's sequel is a health system that sees your total number of hit points reduced upon each death, down to as low as 50 percent of your total. Quite clearly, that's going to cause more than a slight problem when the game throws its trademark ambushes upon you. Fortunately, such incidents were few and far between over the opening two hours; our numerous deaths going largely unpunished by the lower-ranked enemies that fill the starting areas.
  While the reducing health system sounds very much like a means of adding difficulty for those that have already mastered previous Souls games, extra layers are included that aim to help protect fresh-faced newcomers.

  Invading and killing another human player via the new dedicated server system increases the murderer's 'sin' level. A high level of sin can see your health drop to 10 percent of its total, forcing persistent invaders to think twice about attacking potentially soft targets and giving new players a fighting chance of survival when they are attacked by an aggressive veteran. Multiplayer isn't all about player-to-player conflict, though. It's now possible to launch voice chat between two players playing cooperatively, setting up the kind of clear and palpable partnership the series has previously refrained from pursuing. While both players must agree to turn voice chat on from within the game (thereby allowing you to opt-out entirely), its mere implementation may worry those afraid that From Software will pander too much to the less-hardened gamer. Undoubtedly, voice chat should allow for much greater levels of coordination when it comes to tackling the game's tougher bosses, especially given the new way the health system works. What's likely to happen come release is that part of the game's community will rely heavily on voice chat, while others will shun it completely and grumble at its existence.
Also new is an item allowing you to completely reset and reassign any stat points you've spent levelling up your character, giving you a buffer against poor planning and wayward spending. Another inclusion likely to be divisive.
  Where there is little detail, welcomingly so, is in the exposition. Like previous games in the series, Dark Souls 2 provides you with only the faintest idea of what you're actually doing in the new environment of Drangleic before letting you off the leash to trial and error at your peril. Finding out about the world and your role within it has always been a joy to accomplish, the carrot to the gameplay's stick. Your goal in Dark Souls 2 is to find the item that prevents you from going 'hollow'... no hint as to what or where the item is, how you begin to find it or why you've been chosen to take up the quest.
  Drangleic, like Demon's Souls' Boletaria and Dark Souls' Lordran before it, is a puzzle unto itself. The starting area of Majula is similar to the previous game's Firelink Shrine in that it's seemingly safe from enemy encounters, but it's also completely lacking in information about where the multitude of pathways leading from it end up. Simply walking around and taking in Majula is an odd experience given the expectations we have of what a Souls game does and should look like. A sandy beach lined with white rock and bathed in the warm yellow-orange light of a twilight sun, overlooked by a lighthouse guardian and melancholy trees, offers stark contrast to the grey gloom and black doom of cliffside castles and dank caverns we're used to.
The route journalists took from Majula, at the advice of our Namco Bandai minder, resulted in the exploration of Dark Souls 2's 'starting area' of weak enemies and largely uncomplicated navigation through a series of forest paths and log bridges over small streams. Given how eager said minder was to have them follow that route, other exits from Majula are likely to throw you against the kinds of monsters, dragons and traps designed to be confronted much later in your journey and only after you've mastered your skills and levelled up your abilities.
  Of course, this is the kind of learning by fire process we expect from Dark Souls 2 and having someone tell you where to go and what to do ruins the experience akin to using a walkthrough guide. This is a very personal game and, while controversial, the majority of the high-profile new inclusions and changes seem genuinely to have been designed with a desire to facilitate player choice.
  The voice chat, the health degradation system, the option of resetting your stats - all of these things greatly change the game, but only to the extent that you allow them to based on your own actions and choices. Whether or not 'choice' of this kind is something a Souls game should offer at the potential cost of relentless and rigid structural pillars of gameplay is an entirely different matter...
  It will be incredibly interesting to see whether such a hardened and loving core audience agree with the changes.

Source: telegraph.co.uk

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