I’m going to say it right here and now: I have never played any of the Souls series. That is, unless you want to count the five minutes that I put it on to check it out when it became a part of the Instant Games Collection on the PlayStation Network. It’s not that I’m scared of the series or anything (although I’ve heard I should be terrified of the Souls series’ incredible difficulty), it’s just… I never took the time to try it. But that changed recently at a Namco Bandai event, where I was able to get my hands on the Dark Souls II demo that I missed trying out at E3. And boy, did I learn fear.
This demo took place against the Mirror Knight, some giant steely figure with a large, man-sized mirror shield, but I never got that far. No, I never even got out of the first room. This is the story of one man’s journey to succeed in a game that seems like it’s been made just to troll my life.
The demo started off in a small, square room. Again, as a complete newb to the series, I didn’t know what I was doing. I tried out the controls, got a little familiar with slashing and stabbing my twin swords, and accidentally took a drink of one of my potions. I didn’t stay long: I figured, hell, I’m ready. Time to go.
The small room led into a small hallway and then immediately into a very large hall, where down the way there waited a robed magician of some sort, who started throwing orbs of light at me the moment I walked into the chamber. Of course, I ran toward him. Why not?
Lining the path down to the magician were two lines of kneeling jackal-headed statues with long spears in their hands. When I reached the second row, one statue of each row came to life and came after me. I tried attacking, and fast, but of course a barrage of spears from twelve-foot stone warriors, coupled with a few magical spheres of destructive energy, killed me in seconds.
When I started over, I recalled hearing that the Souls series gave players the ability to parry, so I decided to try that out this time. Instead, I figured out that–hey!–I could switch out one of my swords for a shield.
Didn’t help much.
When I entered the room again, and passed the second row, the statues came to life once more. Blocking didn’t do much but delay the inevitable, especially since the stony sentinels enjoyed surrounding me and stomping me out like gutter trash.
The next time I tried, I attempted to parry or block blows, but to no avail: I was dead within a minute.
The next time I tried to dodge roll and use potions, while leading them all back to the small square room. While this worked in keeping the magician out of range (though not for his lack of trying), it still left me in a crowded small space with several angry animated warriors.
The next time, I tried to apply The Legend of Zelda logic to this game, recalling how approaching Armos–statue-like beings that come to life when you get too close–could be done carefully, so that you just awaken one, lead it away, and then get the rest bit by bit. Well, that didn’t work at all. Every time you approach the second row, from any angle, all of the statues that usually awaken will still awaken.
I died, horribly.
Then I got a brillant idea: screw those statue-a-holes. I’d just run to the back, get past the magician, and do my thing. Lateral thinking, right? No one told me I had to fight all of these guys, so maybe I didn’t have to. Right?
So I ran past the statues, whom I imagined were thinking “Seriously? This guy again?” and ran past the magician, who, I imagine, seemed surprised that I just ran ran past him with a “Fight ya later!” wave of my armored hand, and reached the doorway behind him. It was glowing white, ready to be entered, but then it asked for “mist,” or something. And no matter how many times I pressed the button, nothing happened. And I pressed and I pressed and I pressed, and yet, there I stood, going no where. Until the magician and the several statues swarmed on me like bees on honey, and soon, it was all over once again.
At this point I gave the controller to another journalist, who was not only eager to tackle the game, but seemed more of a veteran, and in turn more capable at defeating it than me. So I watched, with my own eagerness, paying close attention, lest I miss this perceived shared triumph over Dark Souls II that I thought I would be a part of. So I looked in wonder as he got to the second row, and got a statue nearly to death. And then a second statue came over to help its fallen brother and JUMP-KICKED HIM IN THE CHEST.
He tried to get up, but at that point, all of the statues had surrounded him, and like some kind of mafia movie, the warriors behind him finished him off executioner-style with their spears.
And then he tried a second time, to parry or block, but this time they seemed prepared, and took him down fast. And then the third time he tried to lead them back to the room as I had before, but was eventually overwhelmed (though he put off his death twice as long this time). The fourth time he tried to take a potion while in the middle of a battle, and suffice it to say, it didn’t do anything for him but delay his death an extra second, as a warrior’s spear took off the exact amount he had just recoverd. A second later, and he was dead.
It was at this point that he left, and I took over. Reinvigorated by a higher purpose, a need to conquer this game for my site, for the other journalist’s site, for my honor and my reputation, I jumped back in and was ready to just. Kick. Some. Ass.
And then I died some more. Over and over. Again and again. Several times and then several times more. And then the other journalist returned and died several more times, and then a third journalist returned, apparently one who had tried much earlier, and gleefully faced death and defeat several more times himself, even with a different loadout and more items than the rest of us.
And this is what I learned: either Dark Souls II is some kind of secret, underhanded psychological experiment by the Japanese to see how insane we are to keep torturing ourselves with frankly disturbing masochistic behavior, or it’s a damn good way for gamers to really test their patience, their resolve, their willpower, and their cunning. Considering that most of us have been coddled by a more gentler era of checkpoints and save crystals, it’s a culture shock to be faced with the constant defeat of the bygone Arcade age, an age where people were forced to lose a week’s allowance trying to beat a game that was specifically designed to steal their money. But it made them damn good at what they did, even if all that is timing when to press a button or move a joystick.
So while I still know next to nothing about the Souls series or Dark Souls II, I do know that if you want to test yourself, and really push the limits on what it takes to be a hardcore game, this game may be the one for you.
Or it’s really just been made to punish us and see how long we’ll last before we go insane. I really don’t know, but I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments section below.
Dark Souls II is set to release in March of next year, 2014, to PS3, PC, and Xbox 360. For more details, screenshots and trailers, check out all of our Dark Souls news.