The long-awaited sequel to From Software's brutal Dark Souls, itself a spiritual sequel to Demon's Souls, is almost here. With Dark Souls II Namco has stepped up the game quite a bit, with a brand new engine, dual wielding, better AI, and perhaps even more difficulty.
The developers took us through some of the core features before turning us loose on the game. Dark Souls 2 will feature a competitive 4 player online multiplayer, the ability to carry up to three weapons at a time, and some much-improved AI. Also added is bonfire warping from the start of the game, clearing up some of the early frustrations new players experienced in the original. Otherwise Dark Souls 2 is designed as more of everything you loved in the original.
One major change is character generation. As you enter parameters for your character you actually set your initial class, rather than select it yourself. The game will generate a class for you based off the information you make during character creation. Luckily, you will still be able to change your class later in the game by distributing your stats in various areas.
My short time with the game was as brutal and unforgiving as as either of its predecessors. Namco brought a special section of the game specifically built to show off the new features to the conference. The short demo took me through a small dungeon, with multiple deadly enemies, a mini-boss, and a boss.
Old school Dark Souls players will have no problems hopping right in. The controls are largely identical, and there aren't any major core gameplay changes of note, other than the addition of dual wielding. That said, right off the bat the game felt more intense. The enemies react noticeably faster, and the situations set up for me in the demo were incredibly challenging from beginning to end. Expect to battle multiple enemies at once regularly.
An enemy knight shaped like a pill bug gave me my first death early on, and it only got tougher from there. A necromancer sub boss casted powerful spells while summoning horse knight statues to attack you, and a powerful mirror knight final boss attacked with a mighty sword while generating AI knights from his mirror. The developers suggested that in the final version these AI knights may in fact be other players.
I was unable to complete the demo without dying, unsurprisingly, but I left very satisfied nonetheless. This is the Dark Souls I always want it to be. It's brutal, stylized, and fun. It's made for fans, and not dumbed down in the slightest. If anything, the game is harder than ever. Masochists rejoice, Dark Souls 2 will be out on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 in March 2014.