Dark Souls 2: It-s Not Easy, But It Is Cheap
Remember when Dark Souls 2 was revealed and it was said to be ‘accessible’, and every butt-hurt internet user wailed that it would be easy and not true to the core of Dark Souls.
But what the hell is that core? Is it dying? Is that what was deemed difficult about Dark Souls?
Sadly it probably is, and it seems somewhere down the line someone forgot the difference between a challenging game and an unfair one.
It’s clear a lot of effort has gone into smoothing Dark Souls 2 out. Animations are a little more fluid, the world doesn’t jolter quite as much as with a slicker frame rate and the overall quality is just… well, better.
The beta we played was only a tiny segment of the game, beginning by a shopkeeper, a bonfire and a blocked fog gate where – presumably – our newly created character first appeared from.
Initially it’s all very Dark Souls; uneasy steps into the darkness, careful slashes at approaching enemies and yes, that first inevitable death as a misstep drops us into a pit with three unexpected – albeit weak – enemies.
But the more the beta unravelled the more the truth became clear: you will die, that much is true, but chances are it won’t be your fault.
Now maybe this is more of a longing for the glory days of Demon’s Souls difficulty, where you died because you didn’t know how to fight something, not because a lanky enemy got the jump on you.
Even in the short space of time in Dark Souls 2’s beta we were tricked and cajoled to our deaths far more than Demon’s Souls had throughout. A poisonous chest, numerous enemies suddenly appearing from behind after collecting items or unexpected assaults from concealed baddies.
It’s not the dying that’s the issue – that’s part of the series, of course – but there’s a very subtle difference in the lesson that death teaches you.
In Demon’s Souls and, to an extent, Dark Souls, dying was a fault of your own; you rolled incorrectly during a fight, mistimed your blocking during an enemy’s assault or hadn’t utilised the environment properly.
Simply put, it was your fault you died.
There were moments that would take you by surprise for sure, such as the dragon buffeting your only walkway with fire or ninja-like assassins dropping from the rafters, but death was avoidable by the cautious.
Being cautious means nothing if, when opening a door, it suddenly turns to splinters as an attacker lurches out at you.
It’s perhaps more apparent in the actual combat of the beta. At one point in the beta two rather large manbeast things – all flesh and wobbly bits – each wielding a pair of crescent blades bore on our humble swordsman.
But the battle was won with relative ease; there was no need to understand how to take down the pair, there were no string of deaths before the necessary skills had been learned.
It was stab, roll, stab, roll and little else. Which, come to think of it, was true of many enemies of Dark Souls. There was nothing a little blunt trauma couldn’t resolve.
Where are Demon’s Souls octopus-headed Mind Flayers? The rolling skeletons of World 4-1? Or the always-cackling Fat Officials?
Each of Demon’s Souls enemies provided as much intimidation as these well-designed and smoother animated equivalents in Dark Souls 2, but here the actual challenge in defeating them is considerably diminished.
This was only a small slice of Dark Souls 2, though, primarily intended to test servers and ensure the online features worked well, and was undoubtedly specially tailored to ensure gamers could get through to the end.
But though the beta proved that enemies are far more varied – their attacks are much more unique to each beast than they were in the original Dark Souls – they weren’t especially challenging to overcome.
The difficulty, then, is a false form of challenge; while the series has long been known for its trial-and-error learning curve, for Dark Souls 2 that would be a bit of a misnomer.
Mostly because there’s no ‘error’ on your part. Yes you may learn that there’s an enemy lying in wait, but if you died because of an unfair advantage what are you really learning?
It feels cheap, as though From Software is focusing on getting you to die as often as possible rather than empowering you for overcoming adversity.
It’s clear that Dark Souls 2 is going to be a great game, but we’ll warn you now – if you’re at all worried about the game’s supposed lack of difficulty, then nothing we played in the beta would ease those concerns.
It’s unlikely that Dark Souls 2 will be a worse game for its ease and it does seem like some gamers are focusing a little too much on the series’ penchant for death. It can still be a great game, even if it is easier, you know.
From Software needs to focus on what it is trying to sell with Dark Souls 2, however. If it’s the world and the ‘lore’, then say so; don’t pretend that it’s more difficult because of these cheap deaths. They don’t count.
Players, too, need to learn the difference between trial-and-error – as in a gradual improvement of your own skills – and mind-mapping an area’s obstacles.
Knowing what dangers lie ahead removes any fear once it has been experienced, but knowing you could die because of a mistake on your part is – and always will be – far more rewarding.
That’s what Dark Souls 2 needs and from what we played of the beta, it seems that just isn’t going to happen.