Embrace the darkness
Going into Namco Bandai’s pre-TGS presentation, I really wasn’t expecting to learn anything new about Dark Souls II. And according to the schedule, the whole thing was no more than 10 minutes long, so how many surprises could there really be?
Turns out, plenty.
Given that Dark Souls II is easily one of my most anticipated upcoming titles, I’ve been tempted to avoid finding out any new details about the game in order to ensure my experience with its finished form wouldn’t be spoiled. And while that proved unavoidable while covering Tokyo Game Show, the taste I got of some of the major new changes coming to the project only left me all the more intrigued by what’s being done in this sequel.
First, Namco Bandai revealed the game’s official release date: March 11 in North America, and March 14 in Europe. (The Steam version will be coming “shortly after” those releases. From Software and Namco Bandai want to make sure that PC players feel like they’re getting a proper version of the game this time around, after what happened with the PC port of the first Dark Souls.)
Ah, but the official release date was soon overshadowed by revelations of gameplay tweaks and new additions. Arguably the biggest announcement was that, unlike Dark Souls (and Demon’s Souls), Dark Souls II would be fully server-based as opposed to how the previous games used servers for matchmaking but then ran all connections peer-to-peer. This move means that teaming up with or facing off against other players should be a smoother and easier experience, while even smaller aspects like blood messages scrawled into the ground will be improved in function and use.
I asked Dark Souls II‘s director, Yui Tanimura, if the change to dedicated servers was something that came about because they had ideas for the game that couldn’t be done via the old P2P method, or if new gameplay features were explored after the team knew they’d have those servers available for use.
“Actually, both,” he answered. “Our team was aware of the frustration among Dark Souls players in terms of how it could be difficult to connect to other players due to the game being P2P-based. That’s part of the reason why we decided to go with game servers for Dark Souls II. Another aspect was, for example, the new covenant, The Way of the Blue Sentinels. Those features are difficulty to implement if we stick to the P2P system. So, some of the features came up after we decided to implement the servers.”
Ah yes, the Blue Sentinels. While Tanimura was hush on which of Dark Souls‘ covenants would be returning—and which would be dropped—he did give us a glimpse at one of the all-new entries in Dark Souls II. The Way of the Blue Sentinels reminds me more than a little of the Forest Hunter covenant from the original Dark Souls. Here, if someone who is part of The Way gets invaded, a Blue Sentinel will be called up to help them fight off the invaders. Those Blue Sentinels are actually other players—fellow members who can tell the game that they want to be available for assisting friends in need by wearing a particular ring, again like the Forest Hunters.
Getting extra protection from invasion leads us to another of Dark Souls II‘s major changes, the one that took me be surprise more than anything else: Your world can be invaded at anytime—even when you’re Hollow. This simple change goes against everything we’ve learned in both Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, where those non-human forms penalized players in some ways, while also giving them the safety of knowing they’d never become prone to attack by other human players.
It’s a drastic and somewhat scary change, but certainly not the only one when it comes to being Hollow. In the move from Demon’s Souls to Dark Souls, I couldn’t help but feel like the balance between negative and positive aspects of being in either human or undead forms got somewhat out of whack. In Dark Souls, being Hollow didn’t bring enough negatives with it. Now, not only will you be able to be invaded, but every subsequent time you die when Hollow, your maximum amount of hit points will drop until you’ve reached 50 percent of your normal amount. (Tanimura then confided that there’s actually a way for your max HP to drop below 50 percent while in Hollow form, should certain conditions be met.) Oh, and there’s even a hit to your vanity as well, since every time you die while Hollow, your character gets uglier and uglier and their skin putrefies and their hair starts to fall out.
While it’ll now be easier to find your world being invaded, it’ll also be easier to seek out help when you need it. As mentioned before, part of the reason for the move to dedicated servers is to provide a more reliable experience when looking for and pairing up with other players. No, you still can’t directly join up with friends—that hasn’t changed—but hopefully now you’ll be able to make new friends more easily (and without their summon signs flaking out on a regular basis). You’ll have to plan better when calling upon those friends, however, because now summoned partners will only stick around for a certain amount of time before being kicked back to their own worlds.
Even one of the core concepts of Dark Souls—humanity—wasn’t spared some rethinking.
“The player’s humanity level was really complicated in the original Dark Souls,” Tanimura admitted. “Actually, our team noticed that many players were facing difficulty with how to manage or use the humanity level in the game, and that’s part of the reason why we decided not to implement it in the same way in Dark Souls II.”
But…Dark Souls was all about that desperate struggle to regain one’s humanity. Does this mean that we, as the characters forced to survive these perilous ordeals, no longer care about regaining our humanity? Tanimura laughed when I posed that question to him.
“The concept of humanity still exists, even in Dark Souls II,” he assured me. “But, it’s not the main theme anymore. It’s a theme, but more a secondary-level theme.”