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Dark Souls 2 leaves a leaner, smarter world in your direct control (preview)

Above: Regular enemies have been tweaked just as much -- if not more -- than bosses.

Image Credit: Bandai Namco

If From Software has its way, you won’t just finish Dark Souls 2, you will live it. The world of Drangleic is much bigger than the kingdoms of Lordran that comprised the first Dark Souls, but it’s how the player will be developing their role in this world that concerned the developer the most.

We spoke at length with Takeshi Mizayoe, the global producer at Namco Bandai and on Dark Souls 2, while getting some playtime with the PlayStation 3 version. As we soon found out, just because From Software wanted to trim the fat does not mean that it sacrificed the difficulty.

Combat animations are motion-captured for the first time in Dark Souls 2.

Above: Combat animations are motion-captured for the first time in Dark Souls 2.

Image Credit: Bandai Namco

This immersion begins with movement in Dark Souls 2. For the first time in the series, From used motion-capture for the dodge rolls and side-steps pivotal to your survival, and this gives a more natural weight to character movement. Veteran Souls players will have to adjust their timing in combat to this new, faster movement and animation speed. The changes may be subtle, but they go a long way – according to Mizayoe – toward cutting down the divide between player and avatar.

“One of the concepts to Dark Souls II was to improve the character movements for a more immersive, realistic feel when players control their characters.” Mizayoe explained, “As a result, we hope that players will feel more attached to their characters for a more natural, in-depth experience.”

The speed increase wasn’t made in a vacuum, however. From balanced the enemy A.I. to better counter these faster characters. So if you do not take advantage of this better movement, your foes will.

“… We have revisited the enemy A.I. for not only bosses but for normal enemies as well, so players can experience a challenging experience throughout the game,” Mizayoe said, “Dark Souls II is a game where players spend more time with the normal enemies than they do with [its] bosses. In this sense, there has been a lot of time put into the tuning of the enemies players face most frequently.”

Covenants - like the Way of the Blue - task you with different roles both in your game and those of other players.

Above: Covenants — like the Way of the Blue — task you with different roles both in your game and those of other players.

Image Credit: Bandai Namco

The roleplay doesn’t end at more immediate movements and fiercer enemies. The Covenant system – a collection of dubious quests in the first Dark Souls – now more clearly force players that join them to adapt certain social roles in the wider context of not only their game but those of other players online.

“The covenant system has been revisited for players to take on a stronger role in the universe, at the same time to loosely impact the worlds of other players,” said Mizayoe. “It will be up to the player to understand and determine which covenants to join, but we hope that joining covenants will help players make certain decisions as they try not only to complete the game, but live in the Dark Souls II world.”

Covenants like the Way of the Blue, for example, cast members as Blue Sentinels. Once you have earned that rank, you must prevent the worlds of other online players from being invaded by other, more malicious players. Other covenants include the Brotherhood of Blood and Bell Keepers, but the fear of spoilers kept the producer from going into too much detail.

Especially with these extra-game objectives, From Software wanted to make sure players will spend more time actively pursuing their goals without mindlessly backtracking through the same areas. The bonfires and warp abilities that remained locked until a significant way through the first Dark Souls will now be available as soon as you connect two bonfires in Dark Souls 2.

Players won't have to wait too long before fast-travelling between bonfires.

Above: Players won’t have to wait too long before fast-travelling between bonfires.

Image Credit: Bandai Namco

“We had a lot of feedback regarding elements such as the warping between bonfires and how they were only available later in the game,” Miyazoe said . “We felt that travelling in the game was an important element from an exploration perspective, but once areas had been explored … continuous travelling was in essence a ‘tediousness’ task that could be cut out by allowing the warping right from the beginning, as long as the bonfires have been lit.”

If you are worried that smoother movement controls and no backtracking have diminished that trademark Souls challenge, From Software sets your concerns to rest.

“There were also some comments saying that the game was too difficult,” Mizayoe said. “After reading these comments, we actually decided to keep the challenges in the game high, again for the high sense of satisfaction when overcoming the challenges. …  We feel that this is … an important element to the experience of Dark Souls II.”

From Software is making the world of Dark Souls 2 a leaner, smarter beast and tossing you the keys. The tedium of travel has been exorcised and the dodge controls are smoothed out, all in the name of cutting hang time between your inputs and your avatar’s reaction. If you can’t find a role for yourself, the Covenants are there to endow you with clear objectives in your game or in someone else’s. Drangleic is just as dangerous a place as any world we’ve fought and died in before, but the barrier between us and our fragile characters is now that much thinner.

Just because you can move smoother doesn't make your travels any less precarious.

Above: Just because you can move smoother doesn’t make your travels any less precarious.

Image Credit: Bandai Namco

Dark Souls 2 is launching Tuesday for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A PC version is scheduled for April 25. Check back soon for GamesBeat official review!

More about the companies and people from this article:

Namco specializes in the production and sales of home and portable video games. Namco provides high quality entertainment on several platforms including Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PSP, Nintendo DS, mobile phones, iPhone, iP... read more »

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