Dark Souls Hands-On Preview: A Second Glance

By Darryl Kaye on July 10, 2011, 6:09PM EDT

It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that this generation, Demon's Souls is one of the games that has taken up a large chunk of my time. I'm still playing it now despite the fact it came out quite some time ago and the only thing that's likely to replace it is its spiritual successor, Dark Souls. I had the chance to check it out at E3, but my time there was limited; I had to experience it again. And experience it again I did, this time with no time restrictions.

Instead of picking the Black Knight like last time, this time I decided to check out the game's other new class, the Solaire of Astoria. This class offers a mixture of both melee and magical action, although the equipment set-up was a bit awkward. He came with two swords, one normal and one heavy, with a shield and voodoo doll equipped to the left arm. This of course meant that if you were using magic, you couldn't shield yourself from harm on a whim.

Again, the improvements to the game's animations shouldn't be understated. In Demon's Souls, performing an evasive roll was quite similar to throwing a huge rock. It looked very awkward, painful and cumbersome. In Dark Souls, your character displays much more dexterity - everything looks so much smoother.

After entering into the world, you're given the chance to use a bonfire. As mentioned before, these act as the game's checkpoint system - it's kind of a trade off. In Demon's Souls, you were able to store up as many curative items as you wanted, whereas in Dark Souls, you have finite amounts. But, as not to make the game impossible, you can activate bonfires to move you a bit further forward in the world if you die. There are also other events in levels which will act as natural checkpoints, similar to how Demon's Souls worked, such as raising a portcullis that was previously closed, but this comes with its own hazards.

Following an untimely death, I respawned at a bonfire, but I still had a bit of a trek on my hands to get back to where I was. I'd previously opened up a shortcut though, so I figured I might as well take a slight detour to check it out. It was a good move in theory, but upon arriving I was greeted by a black phantom that wasn't there before. Said black phantom then proceeded to parry my attack, come in for a throw-like manoeuvre and instant-kill me. Harsh, but fair. I'd never seen anything like that in Demon's Souls, it wasn't just a standard attack, it was an attack much like those you could perform when hitting someone in the back. Cold, callous and brutal.

Since I had plenty of time, I figured I would explore the level a bit too. But, I also found out that if you explore certain places, the game will make it difficult for you to get back. When investigating a lovely dead end, which will most likely become something in the full game, I turned round to be greeted by another black phantom. This time, it was a huge hulking one with a massive shield and mace. It offered a risk/reward experience, making you question whether it's worth exploring.

The addition of a new attack has made things a little bit easier, although enemies can evade by jumping backwards a bit too. Now, by pressing forwards when you hit the strong attack button, you will perform a leaping attack with certain weapons. It allows you to close the distance and can also stagger weaker enemies. It's a move that's perfect for counter attacking, as you can stay at a safe distance, then pounce.

Despite being a demo build, there were still quite a few different places to explore. There's even a semi-hidden bonfire that's a bit closer to where the boss appears. Not only does this mean you don't have to run through the entire level when you die, it also means you can stock up on your Est (curative drink), and stock up on spell castings. Yes, Dark Souls does away with MP, instead, magic can now be used a finite amount of times depending on the strength of the spell. No more stocking up on spice.

The boss of the level was a bit of a disappointment. It shared an uncanny similarity to the boss featured in 3-2 on Demon's Souls. A Gargoyle that gets joined by another one. Only these ones were annoying for different reasons - they jump around everywhere and shoot fire for miles.

Much has been made about the lack of Soul Form in Dark Souls. Instead, the game now revolves around Humanity. Not much has been detailed about this so far, but you can use Humanity to strengthen bonfires, allowing you to carry more Est and use spells a greater number of times. Every time you die, you lose some of your Humanity until it's all gone and you become "Hollowed". Defeating the Gargoyles granted some Humanity and after ringing the bell at the end of the demo, that was the end of my Dark Souls experience... for now.

As I'm still actively playing Demon's Souls right now, it was easy to compare the two and it's safe to say that Dark Souls is a huge improvement over its predecessor. From Software has been keen to state that it's not a sequel, but it might as well be - the similarities are just too great. But that can only be seen as a good thing, because Demon's Souls is such a great game. If they can build on the improvements they've shown, Dark Souls is going to be a real cracker. October can't come soon enough.

Until then though, I've got more Demon's Souls to play.

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