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Demons Souls video conference highlights competitive and cooperative game elements

September 8, 2009

Demon’s Souls video conference highlights competitive and cooperative game elements
By Michael Lafferty

The PS3 exclusive is not for the casual gamer and should give RPG fans plenty to be excited about

Some games are meant to attract the casual gamer, holding the hand of the player as they traverse the highways and byways of the gaming world. In some ways, Demon’s Souls (a PlayStation 3 exclusive from Atlus) does allow some hand-holding, but in the form of in-game online hints and tips from other players. The rest of it, though, is a bloody, cutthroat world where player-versus-player can happen at almost any moment, or you can call on others for help as you traverse the game’s missions and levels.

Demon’s Souls was on display in a small online conference hosted by Atlus, and included a quick overview of the game, a nice flow of questions and the resulting informative answers all while watching one member of the company’s public relations play the game in an online-capable setting.

Ok, let’s cut to the back story of the game – according to the official Atlus press release:

“King Allant the XII, the last king of Boletaria, searched tirelessly to expand his might. The Nexus, a great ice shrine nestled in the mountains, bestowed the power of the souls onto him, bringing prosperity to his kingdom. Still unsated, he returned again to the Nexus, where he foolishly awakened the Old One from its eternal slumber. This long forgotten evil, now wrought upon Boletaria, plunged the realm into darkness and fog. A mighty demon horde poured into the kingdom, devouring the souls of men.

“Champions from other realms learned of Boletaria's fate and sought to deliver the kingdom from evil; none would return from the cursed land. Called upon by a mysterious maiden in black, you go forth, the last hope for humanity in a place lost to demons and darkness...”

Spoiler alert! You die at the end of the opening sequence and are cast into the Nexus where your only hope of returning to the real world, as well as gaining the power to fight the Old One, is to draw from the same power source as the Old One – souls. You traverse the areas accessible from the Nexus hub, fighting through to the mini-bosses and bosses and level your character. But it’s not a Diablo-esque dash-and-slash escapade; nope, this is a game where other players can leave you clues within your game world, and even bloodstains on the floor can be touched and reveal how the last person to come this way was killed (you get to see the last 10 seconds of their life). The messages can be solid clues to what may lie ahead, or they can be bogus missives designed to lure you into a sense of false security and ultimately lead to your death. Players get to rate these messages and chances are if you come across one that has received numerous favorable votes, you might be able to trust it.

Demon's Souls PlayStation 3 screenshots

(The actual messages are designed from a template of sentence fragments that players can piecemeal together to create the message. That means that profanity and such will not factor in.)

Your missions give you the reason to go forth and kill as much stuff as you wish to. The more you kill the more souls you collect. It requires souls to level and upgrade your skills. The nice thing about the game is that while you start out with a stat set based on the initial profession you start as, you can level any of your attributes and thus customize your character. A cleric could well become a battle mage, or a barbarian can become a ranger or thief. Of course, it will take a lot of stat allocation points to move away from the base profession line initially chosen, but it is possible to create any type of character the player wishes.

Weapons and armor are all stat-based and they can be upgraded. You can buy weapons, but the best weapons are found and then upgraded.

The conference was really supposed to point toward cooperative and competitive play, which was demonstrated though not quite in the way the game player had hoped for.

When playing Demon’s Souls, players can drop a stone that requests help in a level. Another player (up to three players in a cooperative setting) can see that and jump into your game, but they cannot jump into another player’s game if they have not progressed as far as that area. When a player moves from their own game into another player’s game, the progress in their own game is saved.

You can also break into another player’s game and try to kill him. Of course, you don’t know what you may face when you break into another game (the game does not really give you the option to pick cooperative partners, nor to see who you are facing if you break into another player’s game to fight them), so you might jump into another game and find not one player but a couple.

During the video conference, the PR gamer broke into a game and found a melee opponent teamed with a mage. Trying to back up and get out of the line-of-sight of the mage proved disastrous because there was a flying fire-breathing dragon that was only too willing to light up the unsuspecting crasher.

Demon's Souls PlayStation 3 screenshots

Another nice element of the game is the random matchmaking. If a player breaks into your game, they have to get to you before you engage the level boss. If they don’t, they lose. If they attack you and you defeat them, they cannot jump right back into your game – which eliminates any griefing that could occur. And there is a minimum level that has to be reached before you open yourself up to attacks from others. In short, you have to have confronted and beaten the first boss before you open your game up to attacks from others.

Demon’s Souls does have a number of checks and balances in place, all geared to making this a solid and fair experience. That said, though, this is definitely not a game for the faint-of-heart, or those who are not prepared for a serious challenge. There is another element that has an overriding effect on the game that you play and that is the World Tendency. If you are not very skilled and die a lot, you darken the World Tendency (which is akin to adjusting the difficulty level). The darker the tendency, while you may find better drops, the harder the game gets. Yes, you may actually get it to a place where it is almost unplayable. Fortunately, each game account is allowed up to four characters, but players need to pace themselves. Alternately, if you succeed, you lighten the world tendency and the game becomes a bit easier to play.

Again, it is all about the checks and balances.

Demon’s Souls will definitely appeal to those craving a deep and competitive role-playing (RPG) experience. The game should have little or no lag for online game, according to the conference call guide, and should appeal on a variety of levels, not only from the graphical aesthetics, but through the community integration as well as its cooperative and competitive sides.

Demon’s Souls is slated to release to the North American market in October, and this is absolutely one game that RPG fans should not miss.

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