"Prepare to Die!" It's the simple slogan chosen to sell and describe From Software's spiritual successor to Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, to the world and it's an apt one. Demon's Souls runaway success in 2009 was driven by the positive buzz it got from casting aside all modern design notions of handholding and guiding the player, and Dark Souls appears to be no different. Fans know it will be a game that is brutally tough, but rewarding and fair for those who stick with it. Full disclosure: I never made it through Demon's Souls, so perhaps that negates any credibility I may have had, but regardless, the subtle changes and new features in Dark Souls make it one my of most anticipated games of the fall.
Much like its predecessor, expect Dark Souls to show little mercy as it throws an endless array of precarious situations at you. Demon's Souls was a game about careful observation of your surroundings and a methodical push forward, and while the same will be true in Dark Souls, the introduction of more open-world exploration elements to the environments heightens my interest in the game. From Software has said the world will be roughly three times the size of Demon's Souls, giving players a wide range of options to reach their end goal in each section. Perhaps you decide to avoid a close quarters encounter by dropping several stories and sacrificing your body. Perhaps you climb to the rooftops of a fortress, facing especially powerful enemies along the way but avoiding several sabotaged courtyards. Perhaps... well, you get the idea.
While the emphasis on exploration will certainly change the pacing, it won't make avoiding death any easier. The series' trademark brutality is in full force with Dark Souls, but From Software has throw in a few new features to balance the open-world nature of the environments. Players can now save at various "Bonfires" infrequently scattered throughout each level. These serve not only as checkpoints, but also as areas to restore and replenish your inventory. The "Humanity" mechanic, which is determined by your actions and accomplishments throughout, ties into Bonfires by determining how useful they are based on your level of Humanity. Defeating a powerful boss increases it, while getting killed by an invading Black Knight decreases it. Simply put: There's a lot of the new features to get excited about.
Speaking of the Black Knight, online functionality is another area where From Software excels. Entering another player's world to wreck havoc is an incredibly satisfying experience that has yet to be replicated in a meaningful way anywhere else. Beyond that and leaving foreboding messages, Dark Souls presents a variety of new ways to interact with others. The promise of a cooperative system to compliment the overwhelming doses of antagonism is an intriguing development, one which hasn't been fully explained yet. There's still a great deal of mystery around Dark Souls, and I can;t wait to find out more.
Dark Souls is out on October 4th and 7th in North America and Europe, respectively. I'll be there day one, will you?