by Jeff Gates
previewed on X360
Old School Difficulty In a New Skin
Difficulty is nothing new to the veterans of gaming. But the novice youngsters? Nah, they know very little of what it means to complete a hard game. These days the toughest challenge most gamers will face is that of the multiplayer in Call of Duty. The young guns know nothing of the days of games like Contra, Mega Man, or Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts. Those games tested your sanity, not just your trigger finger.
Thankfully a revolution is starting. Developers are beginning to realize that there is a real audience out there that craves games that push them to the limit. Demon’s Souls is one of those games. It is the sort of title that the developers created to seemingly demoralize the player and draw a big line, no, build a massive wall between the serious and casual players. To finish Demon’s Souls is to accomplish something that not just anyone can: it is a relentless battle against waves of enemies that can quickly overpower you and force you back to the start of the level. Demon’s Souls is the kind of game where you know what every brick of every building looks like, because you’ve respawned more times than you can count and sliced down skeletons in every way imaginable, on every inch of walking space it has to offer.
The Beacon of Familiarity.
Two years have passed since Demon’s Souls swept the gaming community up in a whirlwind of rage quit and put developer ‘From Software’ on the map. The time has come for a sequel. Outside of the obvious graphical upgrades, Dark Souls has seen few changes. You are once again left at the mercy of an open-world game filled with enemies of ranging difficulty. Sure, more classes, weapons and spells will be at your disposal, but even that will make little difference. The inventory and combat systems both work exactly as they did in Demon’s Souls. The social networking-esque features from the first game still remain, giving you the chance to warn other players of dangers ahead with your blood splattered on the ground and messages left, filled with often vague information.
Probably the most notable addition to Dark Souls is the ability to light “beacon fires.” These serve as a recovery spot when you die and allow gamers to come together in a single place and share experiences. Even this addition isn't a significant one. The gaming community is used to seeing new features and promises of expanded narrative when sequels are announced. Outside of the few things I have already noted, a more expansive RPG system and less load screens this is the same game – mechanically – as Demon’s Souls. So can a new, more difficult, adventure really sell this game to the masses? Because that is what ‘From Software’ faces now: the masses. With an Xbox 360 and PS3 release around the world in a 3 week period, Dark Souls is being left at the mercy of an incredibly competitive fall schedule with its October 4th release date in North America.
Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger?
So with few changes, what will sell Dark Souls? Well, ‘From Software’ is banking on the notion that gamers will return to face new challenges in a new setting in a game that folks are calling ‘significantly harder’ than the first. It doesn’t even seem possible. For those that went through the endless trial-and-error of Demon’s Souls, it might seem that a ‘significantly harder’ title is as likely as a zombie apocalypse starting tomorrow. Well, get your pointy sticks ready because this is happening. The developer has revealed the sequel to be even more difficult. One writer even recounted dying 10 times during a 15 minute demo at E3 2011. Now that’s what I call improvement!
Demon’s Souls was great, there is no denying that. It challenged us till we were red in the face with pure blood boiling rage. But can that exact same formula, in a package only slightly improved, really sweep us up like it did the first time? Dark Souls will have a lot to live up to, but if what they say is true and this game is even more difficult than the first than it might not even need many improvements. If ‘From Software’ knows just one thing it is how to make an insanely aggravating game a blast to play.