Dark Souls 2: Hoping for More Pain

Editor's Note: This article also appears on The Nerd Machine.

There’s a video making the rounds on the internet. Well, there are millions of videos making the rounds on the internet, but one in particular that bears mentioning. That video is the trailer which debuted at the Spike VGAs for Dark Souls 2, the sequel to the critically acclaimed and universally feared game Dark Souls. Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura have taken the directorial reins from Hidetaka Miyazaki, and it’s a statement by Shibuya that has Dark Souls purists a little on edge:

“I personally am the sort of person who likes to be more direct than subtle,” he tells us. “[Dark Souls II] will be more straightforward and more understandable.”

Now, the combination of the statement and the venue for the trailer’s unveiling has led to some handwringing amongst those who appreciated the challenge of Dark Souls. Does that mean the game will be more mainstream? Will it be easier? Will Namco Bandai try to make this an annual property, a la Call of Duty? All manner of questions have been raised about the sequel. Judging by the trailer though, it looks like a lot of the fears may be as big as Seath the Scaleless.

There seems to be a greater emphasis on story in the sequel, something that was sorely lacking in Dark Souls. Sure, there was a very thin plot about restoring light to the world or keeping it dark and there were NPCs scattered throughout, but the story didn’t drive the experience. What drove the experience were the RPG elements, such as combat, leveling up and equipment/inventory management.

From that perspective, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? Yes and no.

The original game could elicit such emotion in a gamer that is really unparalleled by most other games. At some points, you would marvel at your insignificance against the backdrop of a mammoth castle. Or you would fear for your life when confronted with a massive demon that could kill you with three swings of his hammer. And there was always the sense of safety when sitting at a bonfire, collecting yourself and preparing to venture back into the thick of it.

For all those true emotions brought out by the game, there were other instances where different true emotions would arise. For instance, Blighttown is one of the worst designed levels in any game, period. It was such a chore to go through and—thankfully—it wasn’t somewhere you had to venture through too often within the scope of the entire game. Level design is one area where maybe the sequel could refine things just a tad.

The biggest concern about the sequel is the exclusivity of it. Does Shibuya’s comment imply that the game will be easier and more “mainstream?” Part of the appeal of Dark Souls is that not many people know about it, despite everyone who’s played it likely recommending it heartily. It’s almost like a special club that not everyone knows about. If it’s easier, then the game will lose some of that charm and then everyone will play it.

For Namco-Bandai, they want everyone to play it. At the end of the day, it’s all profits and losses for them. The thing is, though, that what the first game lacked in story, it made up for with sheer challenge. The game punished you for being foolhardy and rushing into battle; instead rewarding you for patience and methodical approaches to bosses. The fact there was virtually no story at all was excusable because you spent all your effort focusing on survival more than anything else.

It’s still early on in the news cycle for the game and there’s really nothing else to report about it other than the trailer. Yes, there is some reason for trepidation considering Namco-Bandai may now realize that they have a potential perennial hit on their hands. However, gamers should have a little faith and remain optimistic. Hopefully the game retains everything that makes it Dark Souls, starting first and foremost with the insane level of difficulty.

The game is a tribute to honing your craft, even if that craft is dying repeatedly at the hands of a giant wolf that swings a huge blade he’s holding in his teeth. Sometimes life is like that.