Right, let's clarify: Dark Souls is no harder than its contemporaries. Master the arts of parry, block and blacksmith, and entire realms can be passed unscathed, great jagged gargoyles turning to ash on the end of your halberd.
The careless will quickly get stuck by a shortsword, but all games have laws to abide. Neglect cover in Gears of War and you'll be reduced to meat cubes. The law here is patience, and if you break it, AotA will break you.
This healthy ten-hour chunk is Lordran's new toughest area, introducing enemies that make final boss Gwyn look like a teen idol. Hell, you've got to level considerably just to stand a chance (we recommend 40+), and accessing the thing's a challenge in itself: kill the crystal golem in The Duke's Archives then take the trinket it drops to Darkroot Basin, just past that seven-headed hydra.
Knights of Ni
The payoff, in keeping with fine Dark Souls tradition, outweighs the investment - cliff-top gardens streaked by deep purple crevices; inky marshland under a moonlit sky; gaping chasms crowded by languid spectres; a city in a sinkhole. First, though, you've got the Sanctuary Guardian to deal with, a scorpion-tailed lion with curled horns and angel wings.
But he's a pussy cat next to telekinetic-dragon Kalameet and his one-hit kill fire breath, instantly unfair until you remember - patience. Study him, learn when to roll, when to strike, when to ready a soul arrow, and you'll win, and it'll be glorious.
If it's loot and levelling you're after, between four bosses lie grinding opportunities in scissor-handed scarecrows tending to the Royal Woods, or Oolacile Township's demented puppets. Corpses drop powerful new dark magic, chests bear armour fit for warriors and wanderers, and merchants peddle fresh consumables like giant's arrows and reinvigorating mushrooms.
Kill them for more attire (Chester's grinning mask and top hat combo looks like Slash meets an Anonymous protestor), but beware - they don't come back. Few things do. Artorias of the Abyss, however, successfully revitalizes your initial wonder through Dark Souls' world, and for that it's worth every Microsoft Point.
By Ben Griffin
Ten more hours of rock-hard action