What you shouldn't expect from Dark Souls 2
The Souls franchise from FromSoftware is a unicorn of the gaming world: It began as the niche title Demon’s Souls on the PlayStation 3 (published by Atlus) but still managed to evolve into a remarkably popular series—arguably of triple-A status—with the release of Dark Souls (published by Namco Bandai) which hit both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and later PC by popular demand. Stranger still, it ascended to stardom without shirking the qualities that secured its meager foothold in the first place—it didn’t change its formula for the sake of attention, nor did it anger the fans of the original style. For this reason, the impending March 2014 release of Dark Souls 2 is expected to be a momentous time for semi-masochistic RPG fans everywhere. Simultaneously, however, Dark Souls 2 represents a significant gamble for both developer and consumers, if only for the staggering number of potential downfalls inherent in the project.
While the shift from the Nexus of Demon’s Souls to the connected world of Lordran in Dark Souls did raise a few eyebrows, the gap isn’t nearly as jarring as what Dark Souls 2 presents. The overarching threat at play here is that the Souls formula will somehow be lost on DS2—that the game will lack the iconic atmosphere and difficulty of the first two installments, or worse, simply devolve into the prototypical Western RPG. A primary catalyst for this tentative thinking was that the project abruptly changed leadership, from director Hidetaka Miyazaki, who piloted the original Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls to completion, into the hands of directors Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura. The sudden change was often perceived as a change in direction, which, paired with the fact that Dark Souls 2 would be the series’ first proper sequel (as Dark Souls was only a “spiritual successor” to Demon’s Souls), could easily lead to the loss of structure that fans so ardently fear.
Go ahead and shed a tear now.
In spite of tentative fan reactions, the development process of Dark Souls 2 has been, much unlike the game itself, without doom and degradation. The new project heads—who were all but hand-picked by Miyazaki—have repeatedly demonstrated that they respect and plan to make use of the canon of Dark Souls and will preserve the core gameplay, all while doing their job by making a sequel, not an emulation.
We have seen this demonstrated through a string of updates from Namco and FromSoftware, each reveal disclosing a precious few tweaks and mechanics. Some of the more prominent changes (that we know of) are a revised dual-wielding system which makes for more diverse combat; stackable weapon properties, granting players greater offensive variety (so, yes, you can put poison and fire on that katana); an entirely revamped lighting engine which, in no small part thanks to the game’s new coat of polish, enhances the dark Gothic (now slightly Victorian) feel of Dark Souls; a focus on interconnectivity and accessibility within the game’s world; and the use of motion-capture when designing in-game animations.
As Videogamer pointed out in a recent video, the wave of change has also trickled down into the smallest nuances, cumulatively building a fresh experience by working from the specific to the broad. Managing equipment, for example, has been altered radically, but simply. Players now have access to three weapons per hand, a figure heretofore confined to two. Much like the addition of a second quiver to be used with ranged weapons, this creates options in combat, which, as any Dark Souls veteran will tell you, are all too necessary. Similarly, combat mechanics have been further stylized to convey a sense of restriction: Healing items are more plentiful but simultaneously less practical; dodge-rolling is no longer the infallible invincibility button that it once was; and backstabbing, delivering a critical hit by cornering your opponent from behind, does not remove your character from combat and protect them from attacking enemies.
At least you're dishing out twice the damage.
And the list of innovations continues, touching on everything from spell mechanics to the importance of consumables. However, rather than dither about on countless (but important) adjustments, the avid Dark Souls fan is better served by turning to the minds behind the project to get a more holistic view of what it truly means to play Dark Souls 2. Luckily, a recent interview with project director Yui Tanimura from Gamescom 2013 has provided exactly that.
Addressing the most pressing issue first, Tanimura explained what the core priorities of Dark Souls 2’s development were. “Well, I feel that there are two major concepts to this series,” he said. “One is the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when overcoming the difficulties in the game. The second is the indirect connection with other players to share those emotions and experiences.” Reciprocating the mentality of Souls players, Tanimura continued, saying, “These were important for the first Dark Souls, and is still a core essence and focus when developing Dark Souls 2.”
Commenting on what will the biggest difference will be, Tanimura confirmed that a significant change will be made to the multiplayer system. “The aim is to put more weight on the sense of fellowship when players struggle through the game.” Because a major point of the game is to “enjoy the deaths” incurred while exploring the world, the new directors wish to vary those deaths and enhance the “light connections” to other players. FromSoftware wants players “to experience and feel the darkness and despair of the curse,” and while doing so, cooperate and role-play more extensively.
Well this is cozy.
Tanimura’s statements are antithetic to the Dark Souls 2 reluctance that, even after abundant exposure of demo versions of the game (which will be up for closed beta come October 5th), pervades the franchise. Further affirming his stance, Tanimura went on to say, “I still feel that the core lies within Dark Souls will and should not change.” However, “if [they] try to keep everything the same, this prevents being able to provide a new experience and world to the players.” Dark Souls 2 will be a Dark Souls game, but changes will be made. But, as the gameplay we’ve seen thus far has shown, those changes will only make for a more visceral, difficult and engaging Souls experience.