Of all the things to adore about the Dark Souls universe, it's the empty spaces I love most of all. It's the quiet kind of pride that crackles as you pass through the scene of a past and deeply personal battle, unhindered and en route to a new and greater challenge.
As I begin to clear through areas in its sequel, Dark Souls II, defeating its first major figures - the monstrous Last Giant, the silent Pursuer, the stoic Ruin Sentinels and the relentless Lost Sinner - I realise that some of that feeling is gone. The fact that Dark Souls II has a fast-travel mechanic unlocked from the off means that there's no need to pass through these abandoned monuments again and again, leading to a lessened sense of discovery and danger as I set out to explore the entirety of this new land, Drangleic.
That said, you will experience far more empty spaces in Dark Souls II. From Software has introduced a new mechanic whereby standard enemies disappear after you've defeated them a certain number of times. This is, apparently, to prevent players from grinding souls and farming certain items to make their journey easier or to negate later dangers. It certainly makes things unpleasant when you're stuck on a boss fight, with no alternative but to carry on with your current strategy in the absence of extra souls to spend on helpful items or upgrades. The upside, however, is that repeated traipses back to the fog gate of a boss fight that has you on the ropes will get easier over time, as the enemies standing between you will gradually fade away.
Other major changes to the Dark Souls formula relate to its central bonfire system, which returns with a few new tweaks. Bonfires are linked, which means you can fast-travel back to ones you've already rested at, and also use them as an item box for storing equipment you don't want cluttering up your inventory. You can also burn certain items in the bonfire's flames to evoke a desired status effect or activate permanent stat boosts. Burning Sublime Bone Dust, for example, will strengthen Estus Flasks, increasing the amount of HP replenished per use. You no longer level-up at bonfires either, but must instead journey back to Majula and speak with the mysterious Emerald Herald, who will do it for you with a flick of her magic wand. This friendly figure will also gift you further Estus Flasks if you find and return the required Shards to her.
You'd be wise to make full use of this favour too, as Flasks are not quite as plentiful as they were in the original game. In Drangleic, you start out with just one, and in the place of additional flasks you have consumable items, lifegems, which enable you to regenerate health over time. Though the amount of HP they restore is minimal when compared to a glug of an Estus, these gems can sometimes be more beneficial during lengthy boss battles, as they allow your character some small freedom of movement while they're being used.
Consumable Humanity is now gone, too. In its place, you can use a Human Effigy to restore your humanity no matter where you are. It's only in this form that you'll be able to summon NPCs like Mild-mannered Pate and Lucatiel of Mirrah to aid you in battle. But there's another reason to keep your humanity intact: each subsequent death you endure while hollowed will restrict your HP, until up to half your life bar has been locked off. Only using a Human Effigy will restore lost life at this point, but these can be hard to come by, especially in later stages of the game. This dwindling health makes the game all the more difficult, and the pressure to perfect your fighting technique all the more pronounced.