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Into the depths: the unanswered questions of Dark Souls 2

Insights from 17 minutes in From Software's new universe

Sometimes, knowledge is power. Other times, not knowing can be more powerful still. Magnificent though it is, the original Dark Souls is guilty of flaws that might have doomed a project that isn't as seductively, compellingly swaddled in enigma. I'm looking at you, silly weakpoint-based Bed of Chaos, and you, horrible Blighttown frame-rate, and you, godforsaken backstab-dependent PvP.

What a difference a splash of real mystery makes, eh? The thrill of learning more about From Software's eldritch, gutted world, deciphering the myths that infuse the very geology, is seldom unequal to the frustration these rough spots inspire - and with that in mind, the highest praise I can give what I've seen of the sequel is that I currently have more questions than answers.

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Oh, such questions. Questions of labyrinthine extent and potency, gnarled with jargon. Questions to brood over while you sit on the loo. For instance: what exactly is a "dropstone of healing", and why does it "glisten" and lose value at points in the demo playthrough? Namco's PR chaps aren't budging on the subject, though they do assure me that the original's healing Estus flasks are back - refuelled, presumably, at the bonfires that, also presumably, still serve as level reset points and character development hubs.

The bonfire kindling effect has changed, too - a rumbling shockwave of charged particles - but I'm given no insight on whether the business of gear and stat advancement has been overhauled. Still, the flow of the game appears to be as before: locate a bonfire, head out into the darkness, die hideously at the hands of some unsuspected aberration, then journey back to the scene of your death to recover those precious, precious Souls and, just maybe, advance a little further.

In the past you'd have recovered any loose Humanity, too, but From Software has done away with the concept in what could be a hint as to both the game's plot and its online functions. To abbreviate the lore, probably incorrectly, Humanity is a sort of index of your existential worth in Dark Souls - the more of it you have, the sturdier you are against both physical and paranormal punishment, and the more likely you are to find items on the bodies of slain foes.

Human status is also needed to uncover certain NPC interactions, and to perform and answer the player summons that are often the easiest way of making progress. There's a catch, however: Revive to Human, and you're popping your head above the online parapet where any rampaging Darkwraith can take a swipe at it. In junking Humanity, From Software has thus both fundamentally altered the multiplayer and suggested that Dark Souls 2 may occur before the Age of Fire, an idea corroborated by the presence of numerous living, breathing dragons in the demo build.

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Here's a more immediately practical question, which is slightly less dependent on foreknowledge of the universe: just how representative is the Senior Knight from the demo of the final game's characters? Because he's rather quick on his pins for a chap in full metal armour, equipped with a bow, wooden shield, two-handed sword and axe. This points to high Dexterity and Endurance stats, perhaps, or a magical weightlifter's ring of some kind. Again, the PRs are unforthcoming, though they do draw my attention to the sophistication of the animations: unlike its predecessor, Dark Souls 2 benefits from motion capture software, which appears to mean swishier cloth, fewer cringe-worthy instances of ankle-bending when heading along angled surfaces, and less of the exaggerated side-to-side rolling that used to attend on forward movement.

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