Fear not! Based on my initial hands-on experiences, Dark Souls II is proving to be even more fiendishly challenging than its famously difficult predecessor. I learned this when the very first enemy in the game, a monstrous ogre-like creature sporting a pendulous gut, lifted me into the air and gnawed on my head like a Tootsie pop. I died kicking and screaming.
After reviving, I opted to steer clear of the brute until I’d found a better weapon. But misfortune struck moments later when I was overwhelmed by a swarm of tiny, mewling dog creatures. Pushing on, I faced a gauntlet of towering undead knights, each powerful enough to cleave me in two with a swing of a massive sword.
After dying repeatedly, I finally zig-zagged past them and through a nearby door. Big mistake: here, perched precariously on a narrow platform, I faced off with an armored, giant boss who swung a halberd with lethal accuracy. Yep, you better believe I died.
Though Dark Souls II wastes no time in throwing the player into the deep end of the pool, its core gameplay has also undergone many subtle tweaks that further contribute to its bruising difficulty level. One example is your life bar, which shrinks slightly each time you die.
This means you’ll grow permanently weaker with each miscalculation unless you use one of your precious Human Effigies (standing in for Dark Soul’s Humanity) to restore your full human form. And the health-restoring Estus Flasks, so critical for survival in Dark Souls, so far appear to be downplayed in favor of life crystals, a slow-healing, consumable item that isn’t restored each time you rest at a Bonfire.
But I also noticed a host of welcome refinements that make Dark Souls II a more graceful and user-friendly experience. The user interface is now vastly easier to navigate, making weapon swapping and inventory management a speedy affair compared to Dark Soul’s overwhelming lines of text. Jumping, a famously finicky maneuver in Dark Souls, is now bound to L3 in a small but crucial tweak that will make battle-scarred veterans weep tears of joy. And perhaps best of all, you can now fast travel between different Bonfires from the very start of the game, cutting down on monotonous backtracking.
In the pre-release build I played, Dark Souls II trimmed its character class lineup from ten to eight. Gone are the fan-favorite Pyromancer, Thief, Hunter, and Wanderer classes, replaced by a more focused and specialized group of misfits. Beginners might want to try the new Explorer class, a middle-of-the-road character that begins the game with particularly good items and equipment. Advanced players can forego defense for sheer offense with the Swordsman, who favors fighting with a weapon in each hand.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the series’ uniquely haunting atmosphere. Dark Souls II’s stellar opening cinema is adorned with disturbing imagery: a dead tree swarming with bloated fireflies, a ruined kingdom of impossible age, and a cackling coven of mystics. You, as a Hollow, are cursed to feed on the souls of the living. But you knew that already, didn’t you?
Though my time with Dark Souls II was short, it’s haunted my dreams since. Have questions? I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments below!