If there is something that defines the opening beyond its genetics, it's a new attention to accessibility. Yet that DNA of slow, torturous exploration remains encouragingly unscathed. What I like about the tutorial area, a maze of underground caves that seem to twist and turn on each other, is not that it's basically skippable. You can, if you want, just go down a straight path and rush into the world proper, rather than wander side alcoves that lead to rooms and areas tailored to introducing the game's weighty combat and lateral puzzles. I wouldn't say the previous games didn't teach you how to play them, more that Dark Souls 2 tries a little harder, a little more explicitly without overstepping the mystique.
No, what's interesting about this opening area is that there's a mystery inside the winding caverns, a reward for exploring the tutorial beyond its tutoring. Delve far enough and there's a beach with some kind of weird, lumbering bastard on it; I would provide a better description, but I didn't go all that near it. A fellow player told me about finding a coffin, lizards and treasure on the beach, and it all sounded great. Like a coward - and it's often good to be a coward in a Souls game - I retreated.
As with Dark Souls, some of the subtler changes are soon apparent, such as the gradual depletion of maximum health with subsequent deaths, or how lifegems can be found and restore health in a trickle, rather than in one go. And, while the game retains a roughness, there's a flourish of imagination to the environment, a flourish built upon success. The ruins that lead to the opening village almost jaunt at Escherian angles, while the village itself has the amber serenity of a wheat farm, belying the pitfalls ahead, or even nearby.
Nonetheless, the abundant feeling at the end of those opening hours is the real Dark Souls 2 lies in wait, for better or worse. Little can be judged on this opening area, or without seeing how grander changes affect the landscape, changes like opt-in voice chat in co-op (now confirmed), or being able to teleport between the checkpoint-like bonfires, a feature that wasn't made available until the latter stages of Dark Souls. Moreover, even with the way Demon's Souls and Dark Souls reveal themselves in their openings, it's just a glimpse of what lies beyond. Surely the same applies here, and hopefully with the same results.