Though the beta just launched for some lucky PlayStation Plus members and Demon/Dark Souls lovers, Namco had a demo available of Dark Souls II at New York Comic Con that saw large groups of people dropping like flies to the demo's boss. Admittedly, the challenge that both Demon and Dark Souls posed crushed me like none other, to the point where I've left both unfinished, but after playing the immensely enjoyable demo, I found my desire for the series reinvigorated, even if Dark Souls II felt slightly easier than its predecessors.
Dark Souls was a gorgeous game, and improving upon those realistically detailed aesthetics while remaining on current-gen consoles is a tall order, yet Dark Souls II rises to the challenge. The dimly lit corridors of the decrepit castle that the demo displayed rose to life once again with flickering torches that bounced off the stone walls and reflected off of pieces of armor.
While the player characters look about the same, the Hollows, skeletons, and other demonic enemies that scatter the castle hold greater detail, especially the black phantoms, whose dark red glow now appears more unnerving with static movement that wisps into the background. Every animation feels very natural. Soldiers with enormous swords swing them with cumbersome force, the dual swordsman strikes with keen precision, and the demo's boss and castle guardian, the Mirror Knight, moves with devastating momentum.
Much like its predecessors, the gameplay focuses on patient combat, rewarding those who block, counter, and dodge, and punishing those who rush in. One thing I noticed, and this could be because I chose the swordsman, was that I had an easier time battling the enemies of Dark Souls II than I have with the previous two games. Recovery items were plentiful, as were souls, and though this could have been for the demo (and from what I hear, the beta as well), there was no spirit mode for when you died and lost your body.
During my time with the demo, I had no problem dispatching the weaker enemies, and while one of the new demonic knights - a beast of a warrior wielding a giant mace and protected by a glinting steel shell to prevent backstabbing - provided a hefty challenge at first, his moves were predictable enough for me to take him down after a while.
While I swiftly made my way through the castle section, the Mirror Knight himself was a different story. When you reach the inner sanctum of the castle you go toe-to-toe with a hulking knight carrying a mirrored shield that's able to spawn other knights that attack you. His lackeys were relatively easy to doge and counter, but the Mirror Knight was able to take me down in just a couple of swings of his lightning-infused sword. Additionally, his moves are far less predictable than those of normal enemies.
The difficulty overall is a bit toned down when battling the normal undead army, even if they can still kill you with a small number of hits, but the challenge that bosses offer is more than enough to make up for it, as I was only able to take off about a third of the Mirror Knight's life before he laid me to rest with a lightning bolt sword through my chest.
The closed beta has just begun, and with plenty of time before the March 2014 release date, issues with the game's difficulty will most likely be addressed. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think it's time for me to return to Dark Souls and enjoy me some masochism.