As my session with the Dark Souls II beta began, I was filled with a sense of dread. Not because of any dangerous enemy or grisly sight ahead of me, but because before this session I’d never played Dark Souls.
Only having heard tell of how brutal the game could be, I looked at the class selection screen carefully (which was just a partial selection available for the demo). I saw Dual-Swordsmen, Archers, Paladins, Mages, and every single one looked like they’d have a pretty steep learning curve. I eventually settled on a sword and shield-wielding warrior and started the game.
After fiddling with the triggers to see how my weapons worked (right-hand weapons had a light attack on R1 and a heavy attack on a R2, the left hand weapon was matched on the L triggers [in the case of the shield I had, L1 was a guard and L2 was a deflect of sorts]), I walked away from the safety of the bonfire I started at into the darkness.
While I couldn’t see much of anything, I heard a snarling and a hissing off to my right and readied my shield. Out of the cave ahead of me burst some sort of ghoul, who struck my shield, giving me enough time to slash him twice. However, the combination of the block and the attacks had nearly depleted my stamina, so maintaining my lock, I moved back, waiting for my health to recover. He attempted another leaping slash, and I simply rolled out of the way, defeating him with a heavy stab. With my first foe vanquished, I wandered into the cave.
Because I hadn’t lit a torch at the starting bonfire (something one of the Namco Bandai representatives pointed out I could do, after the fact), the only things leading me through the treacherous path through the darkness were the approaching ghouls and the bloodstains of former players. With each bloodstain I examined, I saw people walking and rolling their way off of the narrow path through the cave, and their mistakes led me safely to the next area. I took each step slowly, with shield drawn, waiting for something to tear me to pieces.
Having gained some confidence from the ghouls I’d defeated and the danger I’d progressed through, I pressed slowly onward, through an area where an archer pecked at me from pitch darkness as I walked across a narrow bridge. After knocking a few enemies off of treacherous cliffs to their deaths, I finally found the next bonfire. These bonfires acted as checkpoints, with death returning you to the last one you lit… which was fortunate, because my beginner’s luck began to wear out around this point. After cutting through more ghouls (I was getting pretty good at it by this point), I noticed a bridge with a message in front of it.
“STRONG ENEMY AHEAD,” it warned.
I stuck to my normal method, crossing the bridge with my shield drawn. Then I saw it. A giant, fat creature wielding two sickles. My typical approach of “block an attack, hit my attacker, then run away” didn’t work here. His sickles broke my guard and he cut me down.
When I was reborn at the bonfire I was no longer human. While I had 10% less maximum health, I wasn’t too far off from where I died. I ran back to collect the souls I’d lost, and then (before the sickle man got too close), hightailed it back to the bonfire to level myself up a bit. After funneling a few souls into my strength and health (or at least I what I thought were strength and defense—they increased my attack power and HP), I thought I could run past the big creature. The plan worked up until I ran into the next sickle wielder and a whole bunch of bandits… After leading a big group of enemies on a chase, I stumbled into a hut, found a lever, pulled it to lower a drawbridge, and was torn apart by the horde behind me.
Next, I found a different bridge going off in another direction. Hoping I’d fare better this way, I started exploring. After cutting down a few ghouls (one with a dual-ended spear that posed a bit more of a threat, I wandered into an area where I don’t think I was supposed to tread. Several red, ghostly specters started chasing me down with whips and spears. I managed to take about a quarter of one of the whip-users’ health before I was slaughtered.
Time for a new plan… again.
Immediately upon resurrection, I went into my item loadout and equipped the various health-restoring “lifegems” I’d picked up alongside my (generously restocked upon death) “estus flasks”. Lifegems are a slow burn health restoration that can be activated while moving (slowly), and estus flasks (think potions) hold you in place as you drink, but restore much more health at once. I tinkered with my weapons to put a knife and a crossbow alongside my shield in my left-hand selectable items, and gave myself the option for a broadsword in my right. I used a “human effigy” to restore my hair, flesh, and health (all degraded after multiple deaths), and I readied myself for combat.
I put down a warning in front of the path with the red ghosts, used a white soapstone to request aid from whoever might be passing by (which unfortunately nobody ever accessed), readied my broadsword and held it with two hands as I approached the sickleman. I rolled under his first swipe and stabbed him in the back (which was a lengthy little brutal animation that sadly wasn’t an instant kill). As he rose to his feet, I evaded his strike and finished him off in two more hits. As I approached the bandits guarding the recently lowered bridge, I was notified that somebody had rated my warning I wrote earlier and my health was restored to full. A bit of careful swordplay finished them off, too.
From there on, I progressed steadily. Moving forward a bit at a time and using the healing items as I needed to led me through some treacherous cliffs and an underground waterfall. Eventually, I found myself in front of a wall of mist. After a text prompt asked me if I wanted to enter, I walked in…
… and as it would turn out, mist hides bosses in Dark Souls.
I was pitted against a legion of skeleton wizards, soldiers, and wheels that shared a single health bar. While I managed to destroy a few, I was eventually taken down, just as my hour of beta time was up. Even though it was my first taste of Dark Souls, what I played caught my interest. I’m curious to see how many more paths I could have explored in the small area I travelled through.