The Souls series is a genre unto itself. Brutally unforgiving, the games are polarising, some saying that they’re masochistically hard, others claiming that they’re masochistically hard and they want more. Well, the initial niche that followed Demon’s Souls became a million strong with Dark Souls, and with the recent trailer shown of Dark Souls II, we had to ask its two biggest fans of the series what their thoughts are right now.
What does the trailer tell you about the game?
Mark: At a very basic level, it’s reminded me that what I really loved about the Souls series was the mystery that surrounded everything. You never really have a true grasp of what was going on, the events that occurred previous to your involvement, and what the hell it is you’re actually accomplishing on your journey. The knight who we follow in the trailer looks completely bad-arse and the environments he traverses seem to portray various themes, just like in previous titles.
The original Dark Souls trailer seems like it was designed to show how much they’d improved since Demon’s Souls, with later trailers emphasising the simple point that you would die over and over again. While I may be reading way too much into it, the knight’s journey in the DSII trailer seems to be straightforward, goal-driven, going against the more ‘open-world’ style of the original game. Maybe the player is set with a task rather than a trial this time around?
Martin: There appears to be a love interest of some sort driving the un-named warrior to some far off destination. While still existing in a dark fantasy world, it seems as though DSII will be a more emotional journey than its predecessors. Aside from that, it likely gives us a look at a couple of the environments and enemies in the game.
What do you think of the supposed push for ‘understandable’ will entail?
Mark: When I hear ‘understandable,’ I immediately interpret it as ‘dumbing down,’ but as the interview was done in Japanese, I am completely unable to tell what ‘understandable’ is going to mean. While I’m sincerely hoping it means a simpler, easier to follow narrative, I’m guessing it might be a drive similar to the one made by Hitman: Absolution, where the player is constantly aware of what they are able to accomplish. What baffles me is ‘why?’ Dark Souls sold over one million copies, so it’s not as if people aren’t interested or were turned away by what they saw and heard about Demon’s Souls, or the ads and reviews describing Dark Souls as brutal.
If this is a push to reach the mainstream, it’s going to work against them on every level. Dark Souls does look beautiful. The boss battles are amazing, the environments stunning, the gear is nothing short of epic, the replay value alone is worth the investment, but without the level of difficulty (or the unforgiving nature), what you’re left with is an aesthetically pleasing gothic hack’n'slash.
Martin: Demon’s and Dark Souls both featured incredibly atmospheric worlds, but unless you dug really deep into the game’s subtle lore, you never learnt much about its history. One of Dark Souls new game directors Tomohiro Shibuya said “I personally am the sort of person who likes to be more direct than subtle…(Dark Souls II) will be more straightforward and accessible.”
So we can probably expect a narrative approach that sheds greater light on the world and what our hopeless hero is doing. The other subtle element in the series has been the severe lack of combat and weapon upgrade tutorials. This forced most players onto wikis and game guides to work out what weapon and armour sets best suited their play style, so we can probably expect this to become more accessible too.
Does it need to change?
Mark: There are so many things that Dark Souls II could do to improve on its predecessor. A better PvP mode where the ‘roll-backstab’ exploit no longer exists, a more concise multiplayer setup would be great, less control delay during those hectic boss-fights and so on.
But does it really need to change? Does the formula need to be reworked, or the difficulty need tweaking? No, not at all. I can’t say Dark Souls is the perfect game – far from it. But I can easily say that it’s the best game I’ve ever played. At the moment, they’re working with a winning recipe and too much deviation from their main ingredients will cause the entire cake to fall apart.
Martin: Many fans will argue that because the Souls series offers something so unique, it doesn’t need to and in many ways, that is true. Dark Souls built on Demon’s Souls concept but offered a larger and more seamless world.
Still, all games need to change in order to stay fresh and offer new experiences. By changing, there is greater potential for DSII to be extra special, but also to spectacularly fail. The gamble is that they could destroy what made the series so popular. And yet simply rehashing what made it popular with new environments and enemies will stagnate it, potentially prematurely preventing further sequels. Ultimately, if we want to see more Souls games then the series has to grow, attracting larger fan bases with each instalment.
What is your highest hope and worst fear for the title?
Mark: My highest hope is that it surpasses the original Dark Souls. I don’t know how it would accomplish this, but I want to feel, in the moments after I’ve finished DSII, that this is what the Souls series had led to and intended for me.
My worst fear is that they aim for a mainstream audience with their push for the ‘understandable.’ Souls isn’t about understanding, it’s one of the few games that actually wants you, the player, to figure things out and use other real human beings for help, as opposed to pausing and switching the difficulty. I’d also miss the sense of community and the shared experience that comes with trials and hardship. I can talk to any fan of Dark Souls (and have done so) for hours on the builds we use, why we use them, what weapons work with what, what we think of the story and what it actually means, who we visited, the secrets we knew, the shortcuts and so on and so forth. I love going onto the Dark Souls wiki and seeing the math nerds break down the numbers to figure out if an occult weapon is better than a divine weapon, whether chaos is better than straight fire.
Dark Souls is a trial, and like any trial it brings people together. To lose that is to lose the sense of belonging those that play and love the Souls’ games feel.
Martin: The games already offer an incredibly grim atmosphere; a strong narrative and attachment to other players in the world can only improve this. If gamers can emotionally invest more into the game then this is a truly great thing. However, if in making the game more accessible it also becomes less challenging, this will cause within me a deep unrest. Its difficulty seeps into so many elements of the game that watering this down will impact it as a whole and the world will cease to exude such an alluring grasp on gamers. Why is the game so rewarding to players? Simply because it’s so punishing.
It follows the Buddhist concept that we can only appreciate the good things in life because of its inherent pain and suffering. And yet the series is never unfair, rather strictly punishing players for even minor mistakes. I see one of three things happening in Dark Souls II: it remains as punishing as ever, pleasing fans but potentially alienating newcomers (unlikely), the difficulty is lowered having the opposite effect (slightly less unlikely), or for the first time the series offers multiple difficulty levels for both novices and experts alike (likely).
So are YOU looking forward to Dark Souls II? Do you have high hopes or are you worried? Let us know in the comments below!