As a  fan of the Demon’s/ Dark Souls series, I was very excited to participate in the 2nd beta for the upcoming Dark Souls 2. It left a good impression, but how did the next entry in the renowned series feel? Hit the jump and prepare to read.

Dark Souls 2: Despair

The  beta ran on Sunday, November 10th and gave testers a chance to explore some areas with a choice of six characters. The fighter-classes were the Soldier and Warrior. Magic users had the Sorcerer and Temple Knight, and rogues had the Dual Swordsman and Hunter. My first choice was the Warrior, the guy on most promotional artwork with the incredible armor design.

Dark Souls 2 characters

The beta started on a cliff side next to a bonfire and a merchant (who looks like she has a gypsy caravan on her back). I immediately charged straight into a pitch-black cave (where I couldn’t see a thing) while battle-crying: “DARK SOULS!” to psych myself up. After dispatching a zombie who posed no threat, I noticed the first major difference: you don’t have an automatic light-source attached to yourself. I walked cautiously to the left and immediately fell down a hole. Damn.

Once out, I played cautiously and picked up small details. The game looks great, and everything has a nice new coat of shiny, detailed paint. The animations were improved too; grass waves in the breeze and the skirts on my Warrior’s surcoat billowed around him as he moved. The backstab works the same, but is now a unique attack for different opponents.

Darkness also plays a bigger role. Remember what I said about the automatic light source? That’s replaced with a flaming torch collected at bonfires. It’s held in your character’s left hand and provides useful firelight, but takes away your block/ secondary attack. In one area of the beta, I had to storm a dark guardhouse. I first broke open shutters to let the moonlight in, then ignited a firepit to illuminate the room, all the while carrying a burning brand and unable to guard. I can see how throughout the final game you’ll need to light up the areas as you go, and it will be interesting to see if these elements will play into boss-battles or puzzles.

Next, I tried the Dual-Swordman, who looks awesome in his black cloak and is nimble enough to run circles around my Warrior. He demonstrated the improved dual-wielding system, which you could probably beat the game with. It’s best for skilled players, and your dodge-rolling must be flawless because you can’t block. It was because of this that my Swordsman was quickly destroyed by archers. Damn.

I also tried the Sorcerer. I’m not usually a magic-user in RPGs and I didn’t find enough here to change my mind. However, the magic-system is better than it was previously and your pool of spell uses can be topped up with items, unlike Dark Souls where you needed to rest at a bonfire to do so.

My favourite class was the Hunter. Despite her ridiculous hat (think Robin Hood: Men in Tights), she moved like the Swordsman and hit like the Warrior. She could easily flank and backstab even the toughest enemies and, using her bow, I could draw out powerful foes and cut them down individually.

Not much else has changed. Bonfires still act as checkpoints and dish out your curative Estus Flasks. New items have been introduced called: ‘Lifegems’. These heal slowly and are good for topping health up while saving your precious Estus Flasks. Another subtle change is your character’s movement speed. Even as the buff and armoured Warrior, I could still haul-ass quickly when needed, although using heavy equipment slows down your roll speed.

However, none of this makes the game easier. Enemies, even weak ones, will wipe you out unless you fight smart, memorise patterns, and exploit weaknesses.  Another change is that your stamina recharges slowly while blocking, forcing you to time your guard well.

The beta left a positive opinion of the game. Dark Souls 2 feels, looks and plays better than its predecessors and the formula has been refined to perfection. So, to sum up my opinion: This is the best reason to keep your console after you upgrade.

Dark Souls 2 launches March 14, 2014 on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC at a later date. The collectors edition looks pretty sweet too.