E3 2011: Dark Souls Hands-On Preview – How to Die 101
Written Thursday, June 23, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Oh my. Talk about embarrassing. We're not sure we've been quite this embarrassed in some time in fact, as we queue up to play Dark Souls and shuffle up to the console, eager to grab the controller and go hands-on with the sequel to one of the hardest games of all time. We remember From Software declaring that Dark Souls will be harder than previous game and spiritual predecessor Demon's Souls, but we had no idea it would be this tough. “Have you played Demon's Souls before?” asks the assistant manning the Dark Souls demo at Namco Bandai's E3 booth. “Oh yeah, absolutely,” we reply. “How much have you played?” he asks. “Well, we actually imported it, so yeah... Quite a lot.”
What we didn't reveal was that we sucked at that too and that “quite a lot” also referred to the number of times that we died in Demon's Souls. But what's about to unfold as we go hands-on with Dark Souls for the first time is possibly the worst performance in a video game demo ever. In fact, it was a performance so pathetic, so pitiful, so shameful that we really should have decided against writing this preview at all. But damaged pride be damned, we've a game to tell you about! Well, what little we saw of it anyway. First, a primer for those unfamiliar with the 'Souls' games, Demon's Souls released in 2009 and won plaudits for its fantastic combat, expansive world and old-school gameplay. Oh, and it was harder than diamond-coated titanium nails. So, to summarise, Demon's Souls was stupidly tough, but also brilliant and massively rewarding.
It also had a unique online element that enabled players to leave messages for players, warning of traps and hazards ahead, or alternatively you could be a complete git and scrawl misleading information for someone to follow to their doom. Other players' spirits were also projected in the environment, showing others falling foul of creatures, plummeting off a cliff or failing to see a trap. Dark Souls retains the same mechanics, but you're also able to visit another player's world too and throw a spanner in the works if you're feeling in a sadistic enough mood for some player vs. player action. As if the game isn't hard enough already!
Anyway, into the dark dungeons we go, and things initially look promising as we're given a badass character in fearsome-looking armour with a shield and sword primed and ready (the knight from the EU box art no less). Oh, yes! We're ready to do this! Or so we think... Starting in a safe area where there's two paths to choose from, we're irresistibly drawn to the massive dragon out on the stone bridge blocking the path straight ahead. Idiotically, we decide that running at the dragon and flailing at it with the sword is a good idea and we're told that the massive scaly creature is much like that first ogre you encountered in Demon's Souls. It can be defeated, but only with incredible skill and patience, which rules us out of the equation. We don't need to tell you that the dragon handed our armoured arse to us on a platter, stamping on us as we tried with great futility to weave beneath its legs and hack away at them.
With that foolhardy experiment out of the window, it's back to the beginning where a quick yank on a lever brings up a portcullis to our right, opening up an alternative, easier path. We say easier... This route goes a little gentler on us, sending a few skeletons with rusty swords our way, who are easily dealt with after a few parries and stabs, but as we round the corner of the narrow passageway, a flight of steps ahead introduces a bulky warthog-like creature that charges down towards us and kills us instantly. Back to the beginning again then.
This time, we're ready for the warthog thing, taking down the skeletons and preparing to evade its charge. Success! And then immediate failure as it turns to skewer us with its tusks. Back to the beginning it is then. Skeletons dead. Warthog evaded, we attempt to leg it this time, getting up the steps where there's another group of undead bony minions to dispatch and in the process of attempting to do so, that damn hog is back on our case. We mount a valiant effort to defeat it, but end up rammed into a corner and killed once more. Back to the beginning it is then. Curiosity then gets the better of us for our next attempt and we head back to the dragon to get another look at it. There's no way to get past it without killing it, as the bridge ahead is out and there's more skeletons milling around behind it. Cue a swipe from the dragon's tail and a debilitating roar, and we're dead once again. Back to the beginning it is then... Except it isn't back to the beginning, because we're politely asked to leave to keep the queue moving. Oh, the humiliation!
Leaving Namco Bandai's booth, hanging our head, we're none too inspired by our first experience with Dark Souls, but we'll be back again playing it as soon as it releases. Not because we're suckers for punishment, but because we know the score. Dark Souls is every bit as tough and uncompromising as Demon's Souls, and like its predecessor, it doesn't suffer fools gladly, punishing wrong moves with almost instant death. Patience and perseverance will be rewarded though, and the welcome sight of the replenishing beacon fires will no doubt make it all worthwhile. Dark Souls will be sadistically hard then, but with co-op promised and those helpful player messages returning, you'll be hard pushed to find a more satisfying mix of careful combat tactics, RPG elements and dark fantasy adventure, even if you do end up tearing out most of your hair and destroying several controllers while playing it.
Dark Souls will be driving you mental when it releases on October 4th, 2011 in North America and October 7th, 2011 in Europe.