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Viewers of the 2012 Video Game Awards got a special treat in the form of an announcement teaser for Dark Souls II.

The teaser is a pre-rendered cinematic that gives only vague hints of the sequel's plot and provides absolutely nothing in terms of gameplay information. In any case, we have confirmation that a direct sequel (rather than a spiritual successor, ala Demon's Souls to Dark Souls) is in the works. Dark Souls was almost universally acclaimed by fans and critics, but a large portion of the loyal Demon's Souls fans held out that Dark Souls was actually a step backwards from its predecessor. Since a very large portion of Dark Souls players were Xbox and PC users who had never tasted the greatness of the PS3-exclusive Demon's Souls, many of them didn't know any better than to love the game without reservation. Being a big fan of Demon's Souls, I knew better and was one of the critics who argued that Dark Souls didn't quite hold up to Demon's Souls.

Don't get me wrong, I like Dark Souls! It's a really good game! I just felt that Demon's Souls was a more competent and cohesive overall package (especially factoring in the time it was released), in which all the features and mechanics worked fluidly with each other, and which was immensely better balanced (i.e. providing a challenge that was brutal, but fair).

I'm going to reserve my excitement for Dark Souls II until we start learning details of the gameplay. I fear that the marketing folks at the publisher might push FROM Software into making an even more mass-marketable game than Dark Souls was, which could lead to an even further simplification and dumbing-down of the game mechanics and concepts.

However, I'm not going to let that reservation stop me from expressing my desires for what I'd like to see in the game, just like I did prior to Dark Souls' release.

“This new chapter in the Dark Souls saga presents opportunities for us to drive innovation in gameplay design, develop an entirely new story, and expand the scope of the world in which the player interacts with the game. We have taken these necessary steps with Dark Souls II in order to evolve the overall experience of the Dark Souls series. The entire development team is striving to make Dark Souls II an experience that is fresh while not forsaking its roots in presenting players with challenging gameplay. Our goal is to surprise and delight our fans with new experiences and plot twists while enticing new players to join our dark journey.”
   - Tomohiro Shibuya (director, Dark Souls II)

A Dark Souls II wishlist

  1. Better PvP balance

    One of my complaints with Dark Souls was that the PvP mechanic was incredibly unfair. In summary: since the ability to invade repeatedly requires that players join a specific covenant that is only found late in the game (and isn't easy to stumble onto without looking for it), invaders tended to be elitist snobs. They were players who had already cleared the game, knew it inside and out, and had all the best equipment (fully upgraded). Players would do speed runs of the game, picking up all the essential loot, summoning allies to help them get through bosses (assuming they didn't exploit the bosses to death), and finish the game at low levels (10-20) so they could camp in the Undead Burg and murder any poor noobs who were stupid enough to revive at the first bonfire.

    First and foremost, everybody should be able to invade freely, and there needs to be a better incentive to invade someone's world (as well as substantial risk). By opening unrestricted invasions up to everyone, players are more likely to encounter invaders with beginner and intermediary skill levels, instead of invasions being the exclusive territory of the most elite players.

    Furthermore, I propose a new level-restriction forumla for online PvP (but not necessarily for co-op) that takes the players' respective equipment into account. An invading phantom must fall within the range given by the following equation:

    Value key:
    i_l = [invader's character level]
    i_e = [average upgrade level of all equipment in invader's inventory]
    h_l = [host's character level]
    h_e = [average upgrade level of all equipment in host's inventory]

    Formula:
    (i_l + i_e) * 0.9 <= h_l + h_e

    Such a formula would put the host on a roughly equal playing field with the invader and make the contest a battle of skill rather than a test of who has the optimal equipment load. The formula may have to be adjusted a bit to take into account the possibility of the host having phantom allies summoned. You may also notice that there is a huge exploit available with this formula (or any variation thereof): either player could force their average equipment upgrade level lower by stockpiling a large amount of unupgraded junk equipment into their inventory. This could be resolved by taking the average upgrade level of only each player's most upgraded headpiece, armor, gloves, boots, and top 4 equippable weapons. Another possible solution to this is my next wishlist item:

  2. Bring back "Item Burden"!

    One of the fun challenges of Demon's Souls was having to chose which weapons and equipment to take with you into a given level, since there was a finite amount of weight that you could carry on you at any given time. This meant you couldn't just take all your good weapons with you and find out which one works the best; you had to determine which weapons and armor were likely to be most effective in advance.

    If you were in human form, you'd also have to consider taking PvP-specific weapons and armor, and would need to balance that with the desire to leave some room in your inventory to pick up loot. Yes, it was annoying to get overburdened with upgrade stones and weapons mid-level, then have to warp back to the Nexus to unload it all, and then warp back to the level only to find that everything had respawned. But if you took too much unnecessary junk with you and ran out of room, that was your own damned fault!

    Removing Item Burden entirely was not the proper way to address this annoyance. It cheapens the game and adds its own annoyances, such as having to fumble through a list of several dozen (or even hundreds of) weapons and armor to find the one that you want. Bring back the Item Burden, and find a way to reinforce the idea of "taking only what you need to survive"! Do you really need that 15th set of Hollowed Warrior Waistcloth? Yeah, I didn't think so. So don't pick it up!

    Demon's Souls handled this pretty well by not ever giving you any opportunity to sell unnecessary equipment. So if you weren't going to use it, then you didn't need to pick it up, or you could drop it if you needed to make room for something that you actually might use.

  3. Bring back a downside to not reviving and a unique reward for killing invaders

    In Dark Souls, there really is no reason to not play the whole game as a hollow. Unlike Demon's Souls, you don't lose half your health when not revived, so the only reason any player has to revive is to summon allies or (for some reason) if they want to be invaded. And since there's no real reward for killing an invader that you couldn't also get by killing a boss (there's no character tendency), then there really isn't any reason to want to be invaded either.

    I'd like to see there be some gameplay benefit to being in human form, other than just the ability to summon allies. This would lead to more invasions, but that can be counter-balanced by providing players with a unique in-game incentive to defeat invading phantoms. Perhaps you can acquire their weapon or a random item from their inventory, or maybe even add a special ore that can only be obtained by defeating player black phantoms, and which are required in order to craft and upgrade certain unique weapons.

  4. Use a better game engine, or build one of your own

    I'm sorry, but the Havok engine is dated. It's ugly, is plagued by annoying ragdolling of bodies, and (worst of all) the collision detection is bad! Collision boxes for walls and other environmental obstacles are severely broken. Weapons can pass right through some walls and corners, but not others.

    Demon's Souls - arrows stuck in air (First Person)

    Looks like an ideal sniping position; if only the environmental colliders were actually wrapped around the scenery...

    Arrows routinely get stuck hanging in thin air because the collider for a wall extends well beyond the edge of the actual model. Trying to snipe an enemy through a window or hole in a wall is impossible because the arrow won't pass through the opening. I don't expect the game to be completely free of clipping issues, but for the love of Bob, in a game this challenging, players need to be able to rely on the protection of cover and the ability to shoot over, under, or around walls and corners.

  5. No more cheap kills

    Dark Souls went a little overboard with the difficulty at times. Some situations just weren't fair. You'd be forced to fight on a tiny ledge where even the slightest knockback would send you over the edge, or other situations where the game engine and controls were the source of difficulty rather than the enemies or environment. The best example is the Black Knight Archers on the ledge outside of the castle in Anor Londo. This section is just cheap and unfair. Don't do that again! We're not playing this game because we're gluttons for punishment. We're playing it because we enjoyed the brutal but fair challenge that Demon's Souls provided.

  6. Less rote memorization of levels

    Nothing helps make a game challenging like a little bit of unpredictability. Face it, once you've gone through a particular area of Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, and start to learn the attack patterns of the enemies, the games start to get very easy very fast. Dark Souls seemed to be a little bit easier to turtle through than Demon's Souls (unless you relied on Soul Arrow + Fragrant Ring in Demon's Souls), but it was a mood-killer in both games.

    It would be nice to see the levels change a bit over the course of the game, either by repositioning enemies on return visits, or by actually physically changing the levels. Perhaps defeating bosses could cause some environmental destruction that reshapes the environment, so that if you try to backtrack (or return through the same level later), it will have changed. Basically, I want the level-designers to try to find a way to take that feeling of dread and caution that players have on their first pass through a level, and then maintain that feeling for repeat visits to a given area. Try to keep the mystery alive! Demon's Souls had the world tendency events and black phantom enemies, Dark Souls had a few new enemies pop up in completed levels, but neither game really maintained that sense of anxiety through repeat visits to a level.

    Introducing enemies that learn and adapt to your tactics could be an awesome addition that could help keep the challenge up. Scripting the enemies to work collaboratively would also help. But I'd still prefer that the levels themselves change.

  7. Better camera and/or obstacle transparency

    Demon's Souls - Valley of Defilement (5-2) camera issues Dark Souls - Lower Undead Burg camera issues

    [LEFT] Camera problems plagued the Valley of Defilement world in Demon's Souls.
    [RIGHT] Sadly, that issue was not addressed in Dark Souls.

    I asked for this before Dark Souls released, and didn't get it, so I'm going to ask for it again: either fix the camera so it doesn't put environmental obstacles between the player character and the environment, or add a transparency effect to objects that would block the camera's view of the player character. Losing track of what was going on because your field of view is blocked by wooden beams and foliage is an inexcusable problem for a modern game. If this was never a problem for you in Demon's Souls and Dark Souls then you probably never played the Valley of Defilement (5-2) or the boardwalks overlooking the Blighttown swamp.

  8. Display all equipped items on the character model

    This is another aesthetic change that I asked for prior to Dark Souls' release, but didn't get. Being able to see the alternate left and right-hand items on the character model would be a nice addition, particularly when phantoms are involved (seeing what an invader or co-op ally's alternate weapons are could be quite useful). So for example, if you have a sword as your primary right-hand weapon, a halberd as your secondary right-hand weapon, a shield as your primary left-hand weapon, and a bow as your secondary left-hand weapon, then all four items should be displayed on the character at all times! Obviously, the unequipped item(s) should be sheathed/holstered, but they should be visible.

  9. Being able to sheath/holster your main weapon

    Speaking of sheathing/holstering, I'd also like to have the ability to sheath or holster my equipped weapon(s). Even if it requires going to a menu to do it. Since the game automatically saves everything you do, accidentally attacking an NPC can be devastating. The attack commands being mapped to the trigger buttons doesn't help, since it's annoyingly easy to accidentally activate one of the triggers if you pick up, put down, or drop the controller. If this happens when in conversation with a merchant or other valuable NPC, it can ruin your game. And it's happened to me (in both games)! Thus, I would like to be able to sheath my character's weapons and assume a non-aggressive stance when in hub locations (i.e. the Nexus or Firelink Shrine) or when talking to merchants and NPCs so that I can't accidentally attack said NPC.

  10. A "pee pee dance" gesture

    Have you ever been playing one of these games and suddenly really need to go to the bathroom (or answer the phone or door or get a drink)? Ever come back from what you were doing only to find that had been killed by a phantom invader, or that you had been summoned by the eye stone that you forgot you laid down? Ever been in the middle of a PvP or co-op session and realize you need to take a short break, but you don't want to abandon the session?

    I propose a new gesture or command that would allow players to notify each other that they need to take a short break or that they are away from the console for a short time. This could be handled with a gesture of the character performing a pee pee dance that would loop indefinitely until the controller receives an input. This gesture could also temporarily disable any summon signs you may have laid down and prevent invasions, as well as send a notification to any other players in your session that you are "AFK". This wouldn't prevent your character from being killed while you're away, but it would at least notify the other players that you needed to stop away for a moment. This would allow players to step away from the game for a minute or two with minimum risk and without having to quit back to menu.

  11. Ability to record a replay of PvP sessions and boss fights

    Personally, I think that modern consoles should have a built-in screenshot capture and gameplay recording feature, but I doubt that will happen due to "copyright concerns". These Souls games are a great example of games that I wish I could record. Some of the PvP sessions can be very intense, and sometimes even funny. I've watched several of my roommates' PvP encounters, and they are always amusing because my roommate is very good at finding creative ways to defeat his opponents. I'd love to be able to record those sessions and put them online or show them to my friends, but I don't have any kind of video-capture devices for my console. Sports games have replays, racing games have replays, some fighting games have replays; so why not Dark Souls II?

  12. No more inflation

    Sequels have an annoying tendency to "inflate" the cost of leveling up and purchasing items. The first Devil May Cry handed out Red Orbs a half-dozen at a time, and having five-hundred made you feel rich. By Devil May Cry 3, individual baddies were dropping a hundred of the things, and even the cheapest of purchases was in the several hundred-to-a-thousand range.

    Demon's Souls had a similar problem. The dredglings at the beginning of Demon's Souls only have up a handful of souls, and if you managed to save up a thousand souls, you felt filthy-stinking rich early in the game. Even late-game bosses were only awarding the player 16-20 thousand souls. But in Dark Souls, you could get almost a hundred souls from each undead you kill in the Burg, and even early bosses would drop 20-50 thousand souls. Leveling became more expensive, but buying stuff became cheaper, making it even easier to load up your inventory with redundant crap.

    FROM Software, please don't pad our soul counters with unnecessary zeroes! If there is nothing in the game that actually costs less than 10 or 100 souls, then drop those digits completely!

  13. Settle the issue of continuity between Demon's Souls and Dark Souls

    I'll admit, I haven't managed to finish Dark Souls yet. I got pretty close, but then my PS3 yellow-light-of-deathed, and I lost everything that was on my hard drive, so I had to start over and haven't played the game enough to cross the finish line. So I'm not sure if the finale of Dark Souls ties into Demon's Souls at all, and so I'm not sure if the two games are supposed to take place in the same universe/continuity or not.

    Dark Souls II - unknown new city

    Could this be Izalith? Or possibly New Londo? Those tilted towers in the distance are even somewhat reminiscent of the Tower of Latria from Demon's Souls; although, I doubt that is what they are.

    The presence of the character, Patches, in both games seems to imply a continuity, but that might just be an homage (the Sword of Moonlight appears in some form in almost all of FROM Software's games). The two game's mythos and lore don't seem to connect. The presence of dragons in Demon's Souls seems to contradict the origin story given by Dark Souls (in which the dragons were eradicated by the ancients), and Dark Souls mythos makes no reference to the "fog" or "Old One" from Demon's Souls. Plus, one game is about souls, and the other is about zombies. So there's a big disconnect, but it's still ambiguous.

    I'd like to see Dark Souls II settle the question of whether the two games take place in the same world or not. If they do exist in the same world, then it would be really awesome for Dark Souls II to revisit some locations from Demon's Souls! A trip back to the Tower of Latria or the Valley of Defilement would be an awesome inclusion for fans of Demon's Souls!

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Comments (2) -

Dem
Dem
05/21/2013 01:50:09 #

I couldn't agree with this article more... I'm glad I came across this. Albeit a bit late.

Now that the DS2 gameplay trailer has released, what's your take on it?

05/21/2013 12:21:34 #

@Dem,

Actually, I was pretty pleased with what I saw in the DSII trailer. I haven't had a chance to closely examine it (I watched it at work), so I don't have much specific to say about it yet.  It does look like I'll be getting my wish of a new game engine, though! And I think I've heard a comment from the developers along the lines of the studio taking a good hard look at the online elements, so hopefully we'll get better balancing.

Thanks for the positive feedback! Come back soon!

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