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- Dark Souls II
Soon, we shall praise the sun!
Much as its past brethren, Dark Souls II can been described as an archaelogical dig. It's about chipping away at the secrets of a desolated world, in this case the ruins of an old kingdom named Drangleic, and at the twisted journey of the main character who is merely known as The Cursed. It's all meant to be vague, suitably matching the thematic tone of the series, so that players are rewarded with bits of lore and slits of truth as they triumph over all manner of gargantuan bosses and sinister creatures.
As far as can be told, Dark Souls II occurs somewhere after the original title, likely still in the now extended Age of Fire following the "good" ending of Dark Souls. Actually, the entire plot reminds me of the popular manga and anime Berserk, due to the main character Guts being branded with a dark curse and having to slaughter his way through legions of undead. All we know about The Cursed is that he is fated to lose his soul many, many times (literally) and that he symbolizes the idea that humanity is full of suffering.
In a recent event, the developers allowed the press to experience the game straight from the start screen for thirty minutes. Within that time, it become clear what Dark Souls II co-director Yui Tanimura meant when he said that it would be more "accessible". Once your character emerges from the character creation screen, a series of tunnels (blocked by mist, of course) with stone pillars that relay tutorial messages explain how the game works. And the opening levels aren't terribly difficult, with the town of Majula right beyond the tutorial level, several bonfires within reach, and slow-moving undead that are easily interrupted with a dagger swipe.
Better yet, I started off as a sorcerer so I had access to thirty rounds of Soul Arrow that regenerated every time I visited a bonfire. The Soul Arrow spell takes a bit of time to cast, but given enough careful distance, it can fell even the hardiest knight… which I did and looted a strong sword from its corpse. (I couldn't use it without the required strength, but it's better than nothing.) As you must suspect, keeping out of range from attacks is key, whether that means dodging away or circle strafing close to get around to the exposed back of your opponent.
It's also important not to get greedy, like I did when I thought I could collect an item in a well and fell to my doom, or when I tried reaching a platform near water and fell to my doom yet again, or rolling straight into a room without noticing the two skeleton soldiers waiting around the corner. As usual, dying forces you to recover your corpse and, like the original Demon's Souls, your HP will drop every time you die without doing so. Using a Human Effigy will undo the penalty and reverse hollowing.
This opening, though, is meant to lower the hurdle for newcomers and will be rather breezy for veterans, but that won't be a concern later on once the likes of the Mirror Knight become commonplace. If anything, From Software understands the challenge that its audience wants and will harden the experience as the game goes along. If you're particularly sinister, you can join the Brotherhood of Blood to make it easier to invade other people's games and make my life more miserable than it needs to be. They also won't be adding any DLC to the game so that it can be a full experience right out of the gate.
Dark Souls II releases on March 11, 2014 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.