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E3 2011: Dark Souls hands-on preview – bleak, brutal, melancholy, and a must-play

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 We stood there, staring at the vacant spot in front of the HDTV, palms sweating. The screen flashed “Dark Souls – Press Start” – almost taunting us – assuring us that picking up the controller would promise nothing but abuse on a legally actionable level. We smirked and listened as the exhibitor next to the machine went through his schtick about the game being a spiritual successor to the much-lauded Demon’s Souls. Not being a sequel, the game features a new story that the developers are still being tight-lipped about. Anticipation eventually got the better of us and we cut him off, asking to take a shot at the demo. The fellow grinned and tossed us a control. We’d heard enough of the marketing blurb and were ready to take this beast for a spin.


Thumbing the start button, the screen presented us with six different portraits representing pre-made classes for the demo  (the game will have many more). Our choices were the jack-of-all-trades Soldier, the heavily armored Knight, the flame-throwing pyromancer, the magical witch and two uber-level classes. Exhibitor-guy suggested we go with one of the latter classes to help curb the difficulty somewhat. We laughed and went with the low-level Knight. Yeah, we’re dumb like that.

Immediately, the game transported us and our chosen avatar to The Undead Parish – a cursed chapel ground teeming with undead horrors and other scum. Surveying the surroundings, the first thing we notice is just how colorful everything is when compared to the previous game. Dark green vines and moss twist upwards along the stone walls. Dark iron gates stand covered with orange rust. Strands of grass poke up through the ruined cobblestone streets. But though more varied, the change in the color palette doesn’t detract from the oppressive atmosphere, and Dark Souls  still manages to capture that crushing feeling of loneliness that Demon’s Souls was so well known for. This city definitely hasn’t seen any human visitors in quite some time.

Taking a few additional moments, we find that the control scheme is identical to that of Demon’s Souls (attacks and parries on the shoulder buttons). Moving our knight around, we find the heavy feeling that accompanies armored classes has remained as well – more so, even. Our knight doesn’t simply move slower than a lightly armored mage – he lumbers. Subtle character movements portray a man completely encumbered by his heavy gear and our dash offers up little more than a brisk jog.

Venturing beyond the starting area, we move through an alleyway and up a short flight of stone stairs to confront our first opponents – two undead swordsmen standing guard before a stone archway. As we trade blows with the two rotting sentries, we notice something – certain blows thrown by the two guards simply glance off our armor as opposed to interrupting our attack entirely. It would seem that the developers of Dark Soul’s have seen fit to grant a few benefits to wearing a full suit of plate-mail armor instead of just decreasing the damage taken and slowing the character down to a crawl. We also noticed some familiar elements during the battle – the ghostly apparitions of other players in the game world. We watched as these phantoms circled through the environment, diving and attacking at their own assailants in their own games. The ground was littered with blood stains that we could touch to see the final moments of players who didn’t fare so well against the two zombies. Soul signs – messages from other players – also peppered the environment, providing helpful clues to those who would read them.

We move through the archway after dispatching the guards. Next, we find ourselves in an antechamber with a flight of stairs leading up to another alleyway directly ahead and an old stone bridge spanning to another area of the parish to our left…which also happens to be guarded by a mammoth-sized dragon and four undead pikemen. “Nice try, Dark Souls,” we laugh and immediately speed our knight’s happy ass into the alleyway. Any Demon’s Souls veteran will tell you that a dragon is not something one should mess with unless you have a death wish.

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11 comments

  • TheHowetzer - June 14, 2011 1:59 p.m.

    Day One. Will Have. Thanks GR.
  • jackthemenace - June 13, 2011 1:40 p.m.

    I'm still trying to get a hold of a copy of Demons souls, but not of my mates have it, and eBay is not being kind to me -.- I like the look of this, but with things Like Gears 3 and Skyrim, this looks like a 'wait till it comes down in price first'
  • Aletheon - June 12, 2011 12:52 a.m.

    Gears of War 3 Dark Souls Skyward Sword Uncharted 3 Skyrim My Fall schedule is full reCAPTCHA sucks.
  • snipes101 - June 12, 2011 12:33 a.m.

    Reading this has me excited enough to take another shot at Demon's Souls. I admittedly quit rather early on :\
  • Cruddi - June 12, 2011 12:26 a.m.

    I gave my life and soul to Demon's Souls and it gave me nothing but abuse for my efforts. It's going to be even better the second time around :D... Now i just have to get a new ps3 because my old one died
  • MrWrighty987 - June 11, 2011 8:15 p.m.

    When this comes out nothing else will get a look in!
  • Yeager1122 - June 11, 2011 5:48 p.m.

    This or Skyrim gotta see more of both before i decide which my day one and which is my wait.
  • Gahmah - June 11, 2011 2:40 p.m.

    So much fun, And ace combat comes out the week after
  • pepheb - June 11, 2011 5:19 a.m.

    October and November of 2011 are going to be sad, since my wallet is probably gonna press charges for abuse... I mean:SKYRIM! BATTLEFIELD 3! UNCHARTED 3! AND NOW DARK SOULS!
  • Boshanks - June 11, 2011 2:06 a.m.

    Gotta get both man! I'm actually a little more excited for this than Skyrim. Needless to say, I'll lose a lot of sleep with them both.
  • ChrisCultista - June 10, 2011 11:10 p.m.

    This and Skyrim are just one month apart... and they are both dungeon crawlers with lots to offer... GAHHH! I dont know which to get! FUCK YOUR CAPTCHA! Upside down ancient Norse is kind difficult.

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