While many gamers’ attention this fall may be on a certain open-world action-RPG -- which is awesome according to Jim Sterling because it has "f*cking dragons" in it -- I myself can't be more excited for From Software's punishing medieval romp, Dark Souls, for the same reason and much, much more.
I got the chance to check out the most recent gamescom build this week at Namco Bandai's San Jose offices. After walking by some kickass Tekken statues and the most Pac-Man swag I'd ever seen in one place, I hunkered down with a hands-off preview of the soul-crushing game.
Dark Souls (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 [Previewed])
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
To Be Released: October, 4 2011
My demonstration began with our protagonist slaying a sinister looking snake-man through the bars of a gate. As the body fell to the ground, the next step was to see what loot could be scavenged from his body. With luck (well, I'm sure it was designed this way), a key was found and the gate opened.
As the gate swung forth, we stepped out and found ourselves in -- what I was told -- was a location that many may never see in the game, Duke's Archive. Walking in to this massive Harry Potter-esque library, the sense of scale was intimidating. As I watched our hero slay more snake-like creatures who were equipped with sword and shield, an alarm sounded to alert more foes.
With the alarm tripped, the hero proceeded farther along the spiraling path to the top of the archive. At this point the snake-men were no longer interested in fighting our hero as they were too busy making a run for it. Even more menacing monsters soon appeared -- something the snake-men apparently wanted nothing to with -- large squid-like medusas.
These slithering blue nightmares were just as punishing as you would expect, but then again this is the spiritual successor to Demon's Souls. As our hero fought fearlessly against the medusas, he quickly learned why the snake-men had been hightailing it out of the Duke's Archive. In one nimble lunge, the medusa-esque monster swooped up the hero and impaled him with a spike created from its body, before turning and hurling the valiant warrior off the staircase to his would-be death.
Luckily for us, this demonstration was more of a showcase for one of the game’s mysterious locations that demonstrates how punishing Dark Souls can be to the untrained and impatient. As our hero fell to his death -- thanks to the power of a debug console -- he landed steadily on his feet to make the trek back up to the top of the archive.
True to Dark Souls’ predecessor, Demon's Souls, never once did the game try to reach out and hold the player’s hand. The fact that we were searching this massive library was all the motivation needed to push forward, exploring wherever mystery and adventure lurked.
As our hero made his way back up the spiraling pathway onscreen, I began discussing with the people at Namco Bandai about how Dark Souls is going to take the addictive passive multiplayer experience of its predecessor to the next level. Players can come to expect similar online systems from Demon's Souls still in place, but what has been added sounds truly astounding.
Dark Souls incorporates what they call the "covenant system," a sort of guild-like structure that has players swearing allegiance by oath to God-like bosses they find in their travels. With allegiance sworn, the player will be bestowed with certain powers and/or attributes that will help them overcome the game's many perils.
How this covenant system plays into multiplayer really depends on whom you've sworn allegiance to. When playing the game in its online state, players of the same allegiance will benefit from each other with what was only described as something truly sensational, the Miracle Resonance.
How the Miracle Resonance works or what it actually does still remains a secret, as does much of Dark Souls, but isn't half the fun of the game discovering every last detail for yourself?
Returning our focus back to the game, the hero finally made it to his destination -- the top of the archive -- where he was able to shut off the alarm. With the more imminent threat of the medusa creatures handled, the pursuit of exploration resumed. A key to a large gate had been discovered while in the Duke's Archive and our hero proceeded onward to unlock the mysteries behind it.
With the large gate opened, more stairs paved the way ahead. Crystal stalactites could be seen covering the walls and ceilings as the hero pressed on, but unfortunately this is where the presentation ended -- well at least what I'm allowed to actually talk about. Let's just say that what I saw was pretty freaking awesome, though something I kind of wish I would have discovered on my own.
Dark Souls looks to truly up the ante in every way from its spiritual predecessor. Bigger, more devious enemies and a true, living open world to explore -- which I was told was three times as large as Demon's Souls level-based world structures -- has me foaming at the mouth to get my hands on the final release.
Oh, did I mention that I got to see the standard-price Collector's Edition of the game too? Anyone who picks the game up during its initial printing on both PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 will be treated to a steel case that contains the game, a special redemption code for some extra goodies, and a lavish art book.
October 4 has never felt so far away...