As others around me progressed through the gloomy cavern and unlit fort, my attempt to blitz the dark had left my hero in dire straits. Developer From Software's tweaks in Dark Souls 2 are designed to further punish dying and being undead: consecutive deaths whittle down max health when you're not human - mine was at around 60 percent at this point - oh, and you can be invaded even when you're undead now.
An invasion was the only thing missing from my Dark Souls 2 debut. When I relived my woes with director Yui Tanimura after, he laughed with a big, maybe pitying smile, joking I'd "unfortunately" played the dual swordsman wrongly.
As ever with Dark Souls, the joke was on me. One blind but brave death more and I resigned to using a torch, negating the quick 1-2s the dual-wield build provides, or its powerful two-sworded sideways slash attack. I was still without nearly half my max health, but I wasn't prepared to become human again to restore it. From wants players to value human status more in the sequel, and that's all good and well, but I only had two of the required human effigy items (these doing the trick instead of humanity). So I quickly switched to another terminal, chose the warrior build, and started again.
Yes, I reset. Pity me for I am weak.
Things progressed much smoother (relatively) as I finally settled into a familiar Dark Souls rhythm. I switched in the torch correctly, bided my time, and grew wary of enemies that were being triggered in front and behind me at the same time, a theme that repeated throughout. It wasn't an issue with the hollows, still leaden-footed and a bit dim, but the hooded rogues frittering about were another matter. When they worked in tandem, which was often, it was gnarly.
When I allowed them to take an opening they unleashed three and four-move combos, their dual blades-a-whirling as they removed chunks of my health. A particularly evil area had them spawning in twos and threes around small, intimate huts, often leaving little room to either deal with or maneuver around the quick-footed devils. Not to mention the archer-like dudes, arrowing me from afar while their buddies took me head-on. The rogues also had a propensity to literally pounce around corners - triggered ambushing was much of what Dark Souls was built on, but the way these guys attacked felt, somehow, more fluid of a pounce. Or maybe I was just starting to lose it.
And that was the problem: I had encountered the entirely familiar challenge of not knowing where my next bonfire was. Without it I couldn't use the many souls I'd acquired to boost my stats, and I'd be sent back to start again from the original bonfire... I dwelled on the possibility my progress across the last 30 minutes would be going to waste, this an achingly familiar feeling.
While I had an inkling where there might be another bonfire, I wasn't prepared to gamble on the sprawling, darkened cavern in the way, lined as it was with immortal skeleton bastards. That was one route, another was to go back and search for the key to a locked hut, in which I could sense there was another bonfire, mocking me with its unobtainable proximity. The other was to press forward into the unknown, further into the darkness. The old Dark Souls dilemma.
Arguably balancing against the whittling of maximum health were the newly introduced lifegems, these gradually restoring health across a short period of time. They're findable as items dropped by enemies, unlike the estus flasks which refill at bonfires. With all that in mind, they feel a bit like a not-quite-concession, another rope dangled in front of me suggesting a route for escape. But while I seemed to accumulate lifegems fairly quickly, as I struggled to find a bonfire my estus flask was soon depleted, and shortly after that my lifegems stack hit nil. I was in dire straits.
No matter, I thought, I'll press on round this bend and see what I find. What I found was a long, incredibly narrow cliff-edge overlooking a bottomless abyss of death. The path went on and on into the blurry distance. My hope was little, but so I ventured. Two minutes and a few hooded rogues and two scythe flabs (at the same time) later, and I'd lost it all as I dropped into the nothingness. And that was fine. Because that is Dark Souls.
One thing I didn't have time to explore in my miserable attempt were the changes to summoning, such as how players who are summoned into other players games are allotted different amounts of time for co-op play (rather than automatically exiting after defeating a boss), or the ability to have a three-player co-op experience. Happily, the beta is not far, and will give ample opportunity to see how these elements play out. The first round launches on October 12 for 5000 players in North America, while a larger player group will be entered into the second round on October 26.
The game proper hits North America on March 11, 2014 for PS3 and Xbox 360, with a PC launch due shortly after that at an as yet unannounced date.