I was lucky enough to get an invite to the Dark Souls II beta testing earlier this week. Was even luckier to have the chance to download it, since there was only 5,000 downloads available. I had a 3 hour time limit to soak up as much information as possible. Most of the things written down below are subject to change with the final copy of the game, so keep that in mind while reading my impression. Without further ado, I bring you Dark Souls II.
Combat is the heart and soul of the souls series. They didn't change much, but enough for you to take notice. The first thing I noticed was that heavy weapons have longer attack animations, leaving you open for much longer than previous Soul games. You must time and aim your attacks with lager weapons against smarter enemies or you will be severely punished. The upside to the larger weapons is the amount of damage they now do, greatly increased by your strength stat which now gives bonus ATK damage to all STR based weapons.
Movement feels slightly different from both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. It feels a bit faster and more fluid - even when wearing heavy armor. Pretty much confirming my previous thoughts on the movement speed change. That being said this small change is good. Nothing too over the top, you can still control your character just fine, if not better. The same can be said for the rolling mechanic, depending on your equipment weight, you can roll quicker and further.
Another important combat aspect is parrying. It has been improved upon greatly. The animation for it now is a bit slower allowing you to have a greater window of opportunity to riposte, even allowing you to parry more than one attack at a time. Now instead of your character automatically riposting after a parry the enemy will fall to its knees, allowing you the option to either finish it off with a high damage thrust, back off and give you a chance to heal or run away, the option is yours. This opens up a ton of options when faced with a sticky situation, yet another welcome change.
Course this wouldn't be a Souls game without a shield! Blocking has also been slightly tweaked. You now have a stat that determines how fast you raise your shield, so you actually have to time your blocks ahead of time. Also, most enemies will no longer bounce off your shield when attacking, so no more block>wait for attack>counter. Which changes the flow of combat more than you think.
Yet another great buff I noticed was for the one handed weapons. They are way stronger then before. The soul series has always suffered from big sword syndrome, were come late game everyone is using greatswords or huge blunt weapons for their high damage and stun abilities. It seems like they want to balance this out, which I am totally fine with. Hell, the short sword I was using with the Hunter was killing enemies in 2-3 hits, while the Halberd the Temple Knight has was weaker and slower.
The last feature I'd like to touch upon is the death penalty. Now every time you die, you lose 10% of your maximum HP to a cap of 50% I believe. Making the game that much harder, so try and learn from your mistakes as much as possible or suffer the consequences.
Took me a while but after some time I finally got to summon some random people. Works just like any other Souls game, expect this time there is a timer on the person you are summoning. I was summoned once and I noticed a quick sand timer at the top left corner of my screen. How much time I had was unclear, I didn't get to time out since the host died.
Invading also works just as before. Though they said you can now be invaded while human or hollow, it seems like it is way easier to get invaded while in human form. It happened to me around 3 times while human and 0 while hollow. The connection was fantastic, granted there was a limit on the amount of players in the beta, still if it's a sign of what's to come - sign me up! I experienced no lag while fighting the invader or while I was a white phantom; so in terms of connectivity they are doing a great job thus far.
Since we had limited time I only got to play 4 of the classes. Temple Knight, Warrior, Sorcerer and Hunter. I'll break them down individually.
Temple Knight: The cleric and warrior hybrid class. If you've played any of the other souls game it's pretty much the exact same. They start off with Heavy Armor a Halberd, Medium Shield and some sort of holy object to cast miracles spells. In this case they start you off with Heal (4 uses) and War (2 uses). War is a holy buff that temporarily boosts your damage and defense for a short amount of time for you and any allies close to you. The 3rd spell is a dark one, shooting a blot of dark energy towards an enemy which deals damage and drains their stamina. Strong class over all, but I found them very weak compared to some of the other classes.
Sorcerer: Your standard intelligence based class. They started me off with Soul Arrow (20 uses) Soul Shower (4 uses) Souls Greatsword (4 uses) and heal, which is completely useless since you cannot cast miracles with a large wooden rod. Instead you can switch out heal for Fire Whip (5 uses). All of the spells look and feel great to cast, though now casting spells drains your stamina; so choose wisely when you want to spam cast an enemy, you may end up dying due to not having enough stamina to dodge roll. A huge problem with this class is when you run out of spell usage - you become completely useless, at least in the beta since your back up weapon is a small dagger that deals small amounts of damage. Before I forget, holding your staff with both hands nearly doubles the damage of your spells, very useful tactic to get the most out of your spells.
Warrior: The power house. The man with the insanely large greatsword, and for good reason too, those nasty undead need to die! Nothing really special about this class. Standard heavy armor, medium shield, straight sword and greatsword. It's the power class with slow attacks, moving along.
Hunter: Dex based god! They start out with light armor a bow, small shield and short sword. I believe next to the dual swordsmen the Hunter is the 2nd fastest class. Her movement and dodge roll are very quick. Shooting with the bow now drains your stamina, so choose each shot carefully. The longer you hold down the bow, the stronger the attack, though it has a cap so you can't super mega buster 1 arrow worth all your stamina. Again besides the speed boosts, it's the standard hunter class.
Level Design And Over All Difficulty
The first thing you will notice when you start playing Dark Souls II is how DARK it is. This time around one of your greatest enemies is the darkness. Forcing you choose, shield? Or torch light? 9/10 times choosing the shield will get you killed. I should know, it's the first thing I tried. No you can't be slick either, you cannot light the torch and then switch to it when ever you please. They made sure to make this as hard as possible for the player. Believe me you, it works. Three minutes into the beta and I'm thrown into this small dark cave passing, I thought I'd be fine walking slowly trying not to fall, that didn't work out to well - at all! A few steps later and I fall to my death - lesson learned. Granted this wont be much a of problem when we master the game with repeated NG+'s and memorize all of the levels.
The level we were given to play around with was a dark forest with even darker caves passages. This level was made for two reasons: to make sure you either fall to your death, or get overwhelmed by enemy ambushes. Trust me, it works. Both of these things happened to me. Speaking of which, enemy design and their AI has been improved 10 fold. Just on vision alone, they can spot you from 40-50 yards away, and they'll come CHARGING at you full force. Running wont do you any good either - that will make it worse for you since you'll easily be surrounded by mobs of monsters that can kill you in 2-3 hits. You must take your time and choose your battles wisely, or else you'll be looking at the ''You Died'' screen a lot.
The forest portion of the beta was crawling with these massive blobs of meat with 2 huge Shotel's in each hand. While their attacks were slow and predictable, one wrong move on your part and you lose half your health or die instantly. They also have surprise attacks - just when you think you can out smart their movements, out of nowhere they'll launch a massive speed charge attack, swinging their Shotel's around like mad men. Be patient and you can easily take them out with back attacks, which deal massive damage. That's not the only enemy you'll be facing though, they mix the slow and strong with the fast and annoying, which leads me to the next enemy, forest ninjas!
These cock suckers are the worst! Not only are they fully dressed in black, making them extremely hard to see, they attack in packs and ambush you with ease. Feeling overwhelmed? Wanna try running? NOPE, arrows to the back of your head, bitch! They fear nothing and will hunt you down if you try to run. Oh but I can block than counter, right? Wrong again, remember what I said about most enemies not staggering after hitting your shield? The ninjas are one of them, instead after hitting your shield, they will launch a massive back jump dodge attack. Resetting the battle. The best way to kill these annoying little fuckers is either attack first and stun lock them with your weapon or parry their attacks and finish them off with a one hit riposte. This is just one of the many enemy AI improvements, and are all a welcome change. There's a couple of other enemies as well, mainly red NPC phantoms, but I wont spoil those for you. Figure it out when you get your hands on the game.
If you manage to survive the level and its wave of ambushing enemies and dark pitfalls, you'll come across a giant fog wall where you meet the Skeleton King. Now I wouldn't really call him a boss, he falls more into the mini-boss category, like Pinwheel in Dark Souls. As soon as you enter the fog you'll be greeted with 3 large skeletons, two of them wielding a scythe and one a giant rod to cast black magics. They all do very little damage, the key to this battle is to not get greedy, just because they don't do a lot of damage doesn't mean you should go all out and waste your stamina. Time your attacks and take out the mage first, after that the other two will be easy. After defeating the scythe brothers you'll be swamped with a bunch of regular skeletons and wait for it... Wheel Skeleton mobs, the ones from Dark Souls. Those evil things are back and out for revenge! Dodge roll is your best friend!
To my surprise -- I beat most of beta with the Hunter class. I did not expect this at all. It made me notice something very important, movement speed and large amounts of stamina are more important than ever in the Souls universe. Mainly because of the changes to how the shield works now, dodging is way more viable than before. Moving around quickly and out maneuvering your opponents seems to be a way better alternative than trying to tank your way through. Though of course the downside is taking way more damage, thus making you time your rolls perfectly, especially since rolls now have a smaller invincibility frame, which I believe can only be upgraded through the agility stat.
Overall the game feels fantastic. Slightly increasing the difficulty we all know and love, while keeping it fair and fun to play. All of the changes that they've made so far have improved the games feel and combat. Enemies are smarter, stronger and more relentless, forcing to you change your combat style on the fly. Adapt quickly and you will prevail, choose to panic and get angry and you'll die repeatedly. Worry not Soul fans, the game is in good hands and so far it's being done justice.
To close this out, I'll leave you with some of the changes they've made to the individual stats in Dark Souls II. Enjoy!
Dark Souls II Beta Stats
Vigor An Attribute that determines Hp
Endurance An attribute that determines your overall stamina
Vitality An attribute that determines your maximum equipment load.
Attunement Attribute governing number of spells that can ne attuned.
Boots spell-casting speed
Strength Attribute required to wield heavy, powerful weapons.
Also boots weapon ATK.
Dexterity Attribute required to wield weapons requiring finesse.
Boosts poison and bleed effects.
Resistance Attribute governing defense.
Boosts poison resist and bleed resist
Agility Attribute governing swiftness of movement.
Boosts speed of evasion, blocking, and other actions.
Intelligence Attribute required for sorceries and other spells.
Boosts proficiency in magic and fire ATK and DEF
Faith Attribute required for miracles and other spells.
Boosts proficiency in lightning and dark ATK and DEF
The below stats cannot be leveled up individually.
Evasion The ability to adroitly evade attacks
Action Speed The ability to quickly raise a shield, use times, etc.
Improves with agility
Trap disabling Chance of disabling traps on objects like chests.
Improves with agility