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Things progressed much smoother (relatively) as I finally settled into a familiar Dark Souls rhythm. I switched in the torch correctly, bided my time, and grew wary of enemies that were being triggered in front and behind me at the same time, a theme that repeated throughout. It wasn't an issue with the hollows, still leaden-footed and a bit dim, but the hooded rogues frittering about were another matter. When they worked in tandem, which was often, it was gnarly.
When I allowed them to take an opening they unleashed three and four-move combos, their dual blades-a-whirling as they removed chunks of my health. A particularly evil area had them spawning in twos and threes around small, intimate huts, often leaving little room to either deal with or maneuver around the quick-footed devils. Not to mention the archer-like dudes, arrowing me from afar while their buddies took me head-on. The rogues also had a propensity to literally pounce around corners - triggered ambushing was much of what Dark Souls was built on, but the way these guys attacked felt, somehow, more fluid of a pounce. Or maybe I was just starting to lose it.
Don't get me wrong, I was doing much better as I made it past the fort, now in a more open, greener patch of land. There was a monstrously large flab of a man who guarded a bridge leading to the next hopeless realm, ready to dig the hooks he wielded in each hand deep into my carcass, but somehow he didn't daunt me too much. I re-found the tricks of waiting, dodging, and strafing, and soon it was me digging my blade deep into his spine, slicing health out across the animation. For all the talk of the cleverer AI, certainly palpable at times, and the difficulty-raising tweaks, my time with Dark Souls 2 was starting to feel familiar.
And that was the problem: I had encountered the entirely familiar challenge of not knowing where my next bonfire was. Without it I couldn't use the many souls I'd acquired to boost my stats, and I'd be sent back to start again from the original bonfire... I dwelled on the possibility my progress across the last 30 minutes would be going to waste, this an achingly familiar feeling.
The first thing I noticed waking up at a bonfire was just how god damn beautiful Dark Souls II looks; not in that it's shoved full of HDR and bloom and lens flare like we've all come to expect, but in that it looks exactly like the world of Lordran should: crumbled, broken, and battered. The flickering light of the bonfire gave a momentary life to the ruined building I awoke in, and sparks spat out and died on the floor. The cloak of my knight flowed naturally in the wind, and my Havel-esque helmet showed as many scars as one would expect. I also had to check this was running on current-gen hardware (it was), since not once did it visibly drop from a blisteringly high framerate. Not a repeat of Blighttown here!
Climbing down a ladder (Dark Souls is back, baby!), I ran into my first set of hollows and was able to use my experience of the first game to dispatch them with a series of rolls, backstabs, switching to two-handed, you name it. From Software has clearly decided not to fix what is not broken, and if anything has just made it look a lot smoother, with combat now looking like a vile ballet of blade swings and blood gushes. The only feature that did seem to stick out was that while I was locked on to an enemy, so was my camera, and moving the right stick would do nothing at all. This could be something planned to be changed for the final game, and I hope so. I need to get a look at my surroundings in combat, From!
GameRanx (based on a Japanese piece from 4Gamer):
Dark Souls 2 Game Director Yui Tanimura and the developers at FromSoftware have revealed that there will be significant disadvantages to playing the game as an undead. You see, each time you resurrect as an undead, the game will knock off a fraction of your total health up to a total of 50 percent. In other words, it's a death penalty.
Due to the game's increased difficulty, players will be able to re-earn their humanity through new ways, one of which is to use an item called the Human Effigy to revive instead of spending Humanity items at a bonfire. This allows you to proceed through the game at a faster pace without having to backtrack at a bonfire each time you die.
Furthermore, the developers have revealed some of the game's multiplayer aspects, which like the first Dark Souls come in the form of Covenants. New to the game is the Way of the Blue, which summons a Blue Sentinel to defend you against Black Phantoms who invade your world.
Officialy PlayStation Magazine UK:
You can now carry three weapons at once as opposed to two. Which at first will mean a whole lot of confusion as you hastily hammer left on the D-pad the wrong number of times and end up being eaten by a toxic sludge spider.
But once you get to grips with it it's another way in which to better prepare yourself for the horrors to come. And, in slightly less exciting news, shields can also be wielded with two hands now, for those times when you just can't muster anything except the armadillo defence.
There are still concerns, such as the new system which allows for warping to any lit bonfire right from the start, removing one of the previous game's most satisfying achievements. But in terms of the feel of the gameplay, our hands-on is glorious. Better animations make everything smoother, and a new engine has upped things considerably in the looks stakes.
Immediately upon resurrection, I went into my item loadout and equipped the various health-restoring (lifegems) I'd picked up alongside my (generously restocked upon death) (estus flasks). Lifegems are a slow burn health restoration that can be activated while moving (slowly), and estus flasks (think potions) hold you in place as you drink, but restore much more health at once. I tinkered with my weapons to put a knife and a crossbow alongside my shield in my left-hand selectable items, and gave myself the option for a broadsword in my right. I used a (human effigy) to restore my hair, flesh, and health (all degraded after multiple deaths), and I readied myself for combat.
I put down a warning in front of the path with the red ghosts, used a white soapstone to request aid from whoever might be passing by (which unfortunately nobody ever accessed), readied my broadsword and held it with two hands as I approached the sickleman. I rolled under his first swipe and stabbed him in the back (which was a lengthy little brutal animation that sadly wasn't an instant kill). As he rose to his feet, I evaded his strike and finished him off in two more hits. As I approached the bandits guarding the recently lowered bridge, I was notified that somebody had rated my warning I wrote earlier and my health was restored to full. A bit of careful swordplay finished them off, too.
From there on, I progressed steadily. Moving forward a bit at a time and using the healing items as I needed to led me through some treacherous cliffs and an underground waterfall. Eventually, I found myself in front of a wall of mist. After a text prompt asked me if I wanted to enter, I walked in.
. and as it would turn out, mist hides bosses in Dark Souls.
Finally, there's a gameplay footage video captured at Eurogamer Expo on YouTube, briefly showcasing the Mirror Knight boss and some exploration gameplay.