Dark Souls is my favourite game of all time, so it’s not really surprising that I’m really looking forward to Dark Souls 2. However as a fan of distinct follow ups, or new games rather than similar sequels, Dark Souls 2 had to do more than exist to pique my interest. Dark Souls is (in my opinion) the best thing ever, but it already exists. Dark Souls 2 excites me because of the way it diverges from the original, recapturing the appeal of the first game rather than just recreating what came before.
Part of why Dark Souls is so good is because it’s a pretty unique product. Yes, there was the excellent Demon’s Souls before it, but many of Dark Souls’ touches of brilliance were unique to it. The way the world was designed and the progression of the adventure was very different from how its spiritual predecessor worked, and that was a key part of Dark Souls for me. Moving on from this, a major appeal of Dark Souls is in the way it surprises you and diverges from what you expect. It plays by a strict set of rules, but knows how to trick and surprise you in clever ways. The game teaches you to attack and how to counter by way of text prompts, but it never directly tells you that enemies will counter you. You learn this by seeing and the first time you go to attack a foe, only to have him deftly counterattack and drain your life bar, is a pretty surprising moment. Dark Souls is at its best when you feel uncomfortable in the world, you don’t feel like a master of it and are scared to press on. Of course this only works because of the creative things they put round each corner, the things you know you have to see but are too scared to, and the sheer level of reward you can gain from the game.
The things that I’ve heard about Dark Souls 2 that make me excited about it are the things that make me scared to play it. I’ve completed Dark Souls about five times, I can now breeze through it because I’ve spent so long in the world and am so familiar with its mechanics. I know every encounter, I know every area. I know the rules the game plays by and I know how to exploit them. The gameplay is so solid that the game is still fun to play (and this is of course helped by how great the game world is), but my enjoyment now is built upon my trials before. The reason being able to play Dark Souls with ease is so appealing is because of how impossible this feeling was to start off with.
A lot of the things that are new in Dark Souls 2 seem to be geared around recreating a sense of unfamiliarity. Changing the rules ever so slightly so that the comfortable way I play Dark Souls won’t work for me in Dark Souls 2.
Oh, you walk around with your shield up a lot?
Well in this area you need a torch in that hand or you can’t see.
Oh, you’ve mastered the backstab and use it to make your way through hordes of enemies happily invincible?
Well this enemy flattens you if you try to backstab it and back stabbing no longer gives frames of invincibility.
It is the little changes like this that make me so excited to play Dark Souls 2, because they bring back a sense of unfamiliarity. I can’t be comfortable playing this game despite my history with the first game.
Of course this all only works because of how excellent and satisfying the core combat of the game is, and due to the amazing design. What I’ve seen of Dark Souls 2 has already shown signs of the latter. New enemies look amazing, new locations look terrifyingly wonderful, the bosses look incredible (and suitably impossible) and the visuals look great.
Dark Souls 2 looks like a product which understands what made its predecessor so good, and is trying to replicate that game’s philosophy rather than recreate a previous product. It’s the kind of sequel I like and it’s coming as a follow up to my favourite game ever. I’m really excited about this game and you should be too.