I died...a lot
How many times have I died in Dark Souls II now? 12, 14... 16?
Truth is I've already lost count of how many times I've taken a blade to the chest or an arrow to the face. Whenever I think I'm making progress, something takes me by surprise and I'm back to square one but I have to persevere, I need to keep pushing on. I have to learn about the enemies, their patterns, their routines.
I swear I'll make it out of the tutorial area at some point.
Dark Souls II (PC [previewed], PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Any worries about Dark Souls II becoming more accessible to new players at the cost of its punishing difficulty level were most definitely off the mark. Dark Souls II is exactly what you think it's going to be, with some enhancements or tweaks but nothing that truly changes the way you would expect to play. The player is still required to have patience, to think about each step, and to watch and listen before jumping into battle.
I played a preview build of the PC version that had the first hub area and surrounding locations. There's plenty of enemies that will beat you into the ground but I felt I got a good handle of what to expect in the rest of the game.
At the start of Dark Souls II, your cursed, undead character takes a leap into a vast whirlpool and into the unknown; waking up in a starting area dubbed Things Betwixt. Here you'll meet a group of elderly sisters, former Fire Keepers, living in a hollowed-out tree. Whilst they don't sound too hopeful, they'll set you on your way with a few items.
It's here you'll choose your class: Warrior, Knight, Swordsman, Bandit, Cleric, Sorcerer, Explorer, or Deprived. The latter is the true hardcore choice as you have no items and only some base level stats, so only approach if you're already a Souls veteran. You can also customize your appearance and sex at this point using a decent range of options. In true series fashion, it's initially overwhelming and you'll maybe make some mistakes but eventually, you'll be able to build your character the way you want.
Majula is the first hub area you'll come across, a bleak but beautiful ruined coastal town home to a few residents. After being underground in the mist and shadows, it's a refreshing change of scenery and it's the first area where you can explore multiple locations.
Your destination is Drangleic, a huge city built by King Vendrick but it's a long, long way away. Your path will take you to the Forest of Fallen Giants, a woodland valley that leads to a ruined tower populated by zombie soldiers, armed with daggers and bows. Fighting them is your usual Dark Souls gameplay: get close so they'll initiate their attack and then dodge out of the way before moving in to get in your own strikes. These are just mere footsoldiers but if you're unprepared or rush in, then you're running into disaster. The climb to the tower will see newer enemy types, some sneakily hidden away, but with perseverance you'll get there.
Dark Souls II looks great on a PC but there's signs of the game's origins on the outgoing consoles that do weigh it down. Textures can look simplistic and your character will look a little blocky and rough round the edges, though some of the landscapes are beautiful. That's down to the art style, which some players will understandably find offputting in its bleakness but there is a beauty there too. If you've played the first Dark Souls on PC then you'll know a controller is the best way to play the game; whilst a keyboard/mouse setup is feasible, the automatic lock-on function that's set to the right stick on a controller means you're not going to lose any accuracy with ranged weapons.
Dark Souls II, even at the earliest part of the game, feels epic in scope and like a real journey. The game has been in no way watered down to broaden its appeal -- what's happened is that there's been some some tweaking to the classes to make them easier to understand. The opening tutorial level is welcome (what's more pleasing is that you can just run past all of that stuff if you're starting over) even though it can be pretty hard on a new player. Still, the changes are minor and if you're looking for the classic Dark Souls experience, you'll find it here in the sequel.