Dark Souls II Preview

USGamer has published a new Dark Souls II preview, meant as a counterpoint to Eurogamer's "Is Dark Souls 2 Going Soft?" recent (and somewhat inaccurate) piece. Here's a snip:
After pulling a few people into my own game, I noticed a few of them came equipped with something entirely essential for this area: a torch. While this took up one of their right-or-left hand equip slots -- making them choose between offense of defense -- the light it provided proved invaluable; not far from the starting bonfire, Huntsman's Copse throws a dark cave full of dangerous pits in your path. After getting my team killed horribly, I noticed that I couldn't buy a torch from the nearby shopkeeper, or light one from the bonfire myself. But after being summoned into someone else's game, I noticed I could light a torch from the bonfire, and carried back into my own game after I died. The Souls series has always been about figuring out and becoming familiar with a complex system of rules, so this whole torch business feels right at home.

Even though I only had the chance to see one possible use of Dark Souls II's multiplayer, just how easy it is to join or pull in other players -- based on my experience with the single-server Demon's Souls -- will hopefully make for some interesting scenarios. The first Dark Souls certainly attempted to broaden the possibilities of multiplayer with the covenant system, but the anemic peer-to-peer network setup made all but a few of the options completely unviable. Based on what I saw in the beta, From has thought a little harder about the opportunities a readily available pool of players can bring.

There's no denying, though, that Dark Souls II feels a bit different than the past two games. It features some head-slappingly obvious improvements, like allowing you to jump with a simple click of L3 instead of the completely unintuitive method from the last game, and sorting your vast inventory into different item categories, rather than a long and cumbersome list. But combat feels a little mushier, as enemies and yourself take a little more effort to kill, rather than a few quick slashes -- though this could just be how the pre-built beta characters were meant to play. And despite their history with the platform, From still hasn't gotten that whole "frame rate" thing figured out; Huntsman's Copse doesn't turn into a Blight Town-esque slide show, but it's jittery enough to be slightly annoying. Like Dark Souls before it, Dark Souls II will no doubt see some major improvements when the PC version arrives a bit later.