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Dark Souls

Preview: E3 2011
"This isn't a game for cry babies, it's for those who can deal with dying... A LOT."

"You Died" takes over the screen, and instead of hanging my head in shame, I smile. It's back! Who would have thought a game whose mission was to make you see a Game Over screen would have such an intense fan following? The answer? Just ask anyone who's been destroyed over and over by Demon's Souls, a game that challenged the very way we play games; the game that taught us that for every death, there is a lesson to be learned. Dark Souls continues the lessons from Demon's Souls about the art of death and makes them even more cruel and punishing. This isn't a game for cry babies, it's for those who can deal with dying... A LOT. It's for the gamer who finds joy in trying to figure out a way around the very obstacle preventing him from advancing in the game – his own death.

Dark Souls isn't just following in the footsteps of its predecessor, though. First, the entire experience occurs in one seamless world where all the levels are connected. There's no waiting to gain access to certain areas, either, as you can go anywhere right from the beginning. Even more promising is a world bigger than anything Demon's Souls offered, one with even deeper challenges and more discoveries to make. During your trip through the world, you'll be treated to a simple story: you have lost your humanity and have been dropped into this strange world without much to go on, except that you need to try to regain your human form.

When we interviewed Publishing Producer, K. Hirono, he said, "There will be more of a story that lies behind the actual gameplay, the roles that you take on in the world. Because the world is bigger, there's a lot more areas to explore and a journey to travel through, the stories that lie behind each of the different areas is a lot to figure out, obviously. There will be that many more discoveries and background for players to find out. We really want players to unreveal the story on their own, take on the role, walk through it, and create their own stories as they play."

As of the demo, there are six definite classes to choose from and customize throughout your journey. However, when we talked to the producers, they were still deciding on whether or not they were adding more classes than this. At E3, we were able to choose from the Soldier, Knight, Witch, Black Knight, Pyromancer, and the Solaire of Astoria, all of which had distinct traits. Three of the classes really caught our eye. The first was the Black Knight, and as you're already guessing, this class must be up to no good. This is the class for those who are interested in some serious player vs player action, since the Black Knight is the only class that can invade someone's world to bring destruction on another player. Basically, the Black Knight rallies all the enemies on its side and unleashes hell on other players. There's no playing fair with this class, but since the Black Knight is basically a phantom, it won't have healing at its disposal, so you stand a small chance elsewhere.

The Pyromancer is an equally menacing class, which allows you to make everyone else's life more difficult. The only way for others to take you down is to invade your world and defeat you to restore a semblance of order to their own. People will know where to find you too because as soon as you abuse your power to make their world absurdly strong, there's a sign made in their world not only to indicate you've messed with the balance, but also leading them straight into your world to seek revenge. As a counter, for those of us who think it's just pure evil to mess with other people's games? Well, there's a class for those who want to lend a helping hand called the Solaire of Astoria, which can place special marks that can actually heal someone in another world to keep them from facing their demise. How's that for telling Dark Souls where they can stick their persistent deaths?

Clearly, a lot of effort went into the game's intense multiplayer experience, which supports up to four people. However, those people will always be random, so your friends aren't available to take on your journey. Surprisingly, this adds an extra challenge as it means that every time you log into multiplayer, you'll be treated to different players and personalities, which in turn means different classes, and the possibility of those trying to help or hurt you. Back from Demon's Souls is the ability to leave messages for other players: you could warn them about the dangers up ahead or trick them by telling them to run right into an unsuspecting pit of fire. Also returning is the ability to touch a bloodstain and see how a player met their death – they all tell a story and a lesson that can help you march forward with better strategy. A noteworthy new aspect of the game is the belief system, which functions as your code of honor, and which side you ascribe to determines your role within the world: cooperating with other players or competing against them.

Also returning in Dark Souls is Demon's Souls' action–oriented combat, forcing you to alternate between light and strong attacks along with parrying your way to victories. You also have more weapons and magic to choose from, all of which can be customized to complement each individual's play–style. In addition, Dark Souls forces you to mix up your strategies, as every enemy has its own attack patterns: there are cautious enemies who use shields to stop you from getting at them, while others just charge straight at you. The developers really want to challenge you to adopt new lines of thinking; some enemies and bosses come with numerous ways to take them down, so there's no one right way to win. During our demo, we were engaged in combat with a wild boar that only had a single vulnerable point, and it was up to us to figure out not only where this was, but how to attack it. Part of the solution wasn't solely within us, but around us. Using the environment to our advantage became the best way to win the fight, since not only were there specific areas for cover, but we were also able to light part of the environment on fire to damage the boar. That's not the only addition to the depth of Dark Souls, though.

Hirono said, "The growth aspect, we want the players to be able to get a sense of growth, so we have several attributes available, and as you upgrade specific attributes, you'll really be able to feel the difference, that your character is really growing. Secondly, depending on the weapon you choose, the character will take on specific actions, swing the sword differently, more effectively. For the action combat, there's more a sense of a variety and enhancement [compared to Demon's Souls]."

Of course, the developers don't expect any of this to come without trial and error. They thoroughly encourage players to try their best to learn from their experiences and apply them towards taking down an enemy or area they couldn't before. As such, they're promising Dark Souls will be even tougher than Demon's Souls; they want you feel that high sense of achievement when you finally master a part of the world you couldn't before. Hirono said, "The frustration sets a sense of accomplishment when you finally do complete it. We've also given playeres more options to overcome the difficulties than before." One way they are trying to give players more of a chance is through bonfires, which act as not only respawn points, but healing points as well. This is where you can share your experience with other players in the world. Hirono finds the bonfires a great place for players to bond before and after the difficult times they face in the game.

As the Dark Souls trailer warned us: "Prepare to die..." They really weren't kidding: not only is the game more difficult, but it requires deep thinking to solve the toughest of obstacles. When we had met with the producers, they were desperately waiting for someone to beat the fiery dragon at the end of the demo. They had a big bell that people were allowed to ring if they managed to get past it. Our appointment was toward the end of the show on the first day, and at that point nobody had been able to do it, and while at the show, we didn't hear any bells while in the hall Namco Bandai was in. That speaks volumes for the type of game Dark Souls will be. Will you be able to have an achievement so grand it makes you want to celebrate it by ringing a bell for all to hear? Find out on October 4th!


© 2011 Namco Bandai, From Software. All rights reserved.




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