Dark Souls 2 – From Software’s Tanimura & Shibuya explain summoning, covenants & more

Dark Souls 2 screens

Anyone who’s played Dark Souls knows the hard swallow that occurs on being briefed that someone with an intimidating PSN ID like Psycho_Punisher666 has invaded your world. You see that person’s glowing-red phantom sprinting across the map with Zweihander at the ready, hunting you like prey and closing on your position fast. No survival-horror game has matched the terror of the seconds leading up to that fateful clash.

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Forget, for a second, about Dark Souls 2’s enhanced, almost photo-realistic graphics, fluid mo-cap character animations and tantalising new story. The game-changer in the upcoming sequel is how it pushes the series’ “loose connection” online play to the fore. Prepare to be invaded.

Dark Souls 2 Mirror Knight

The Mirror Knight is on of Dark Souls 2′s new boss and summons other players to fight you.

“Our main intent is not to foster a greater frequency of multiplayer, but more to give players the opportunity to interact even within the ‘loose’ parameters allowed,” From Software’s Yui Tanimura, Dark Souls 2 co-director (along with Tomohiro Shibuya), tells OPM. The franchise has always made innovative use of online features – and then evolved them for future titles. In Demon’s Souls, players could choose to leave messages with hints for the road ahead. In Dark Souls, players who used Humanity to take on a living form could be invaded via PvP or summon some additional help, and in Dark Souls 2 a new server-based network will bear the load as even players in a Hollow (undead) state are vulnerable to invasion from other human adventurers.

In Dark Souls 2 even players in a
Hollow (undead) state are vulnerable to
invasion from other human adventurers

Scared? Don’t be. Namco Bandai producer Takeshi Miyazoe explains that the game will be balanced in other ways to ensure that newcomers are not constantly griefed by professional invaders. “Before, the matchmaking was based upon player level,” he tells OPM. “That will remain, but we also want to focus on how much time you’ve played the game. Also, there will be penalties for players who invade, but still lose. There are risks. And there will be ‘policemen’ against invaders and a ransom system where if you constantly invade or kill NPCs there will be motivation for summoned players to go after you.”

This is where the game’s next online enhancement comes in. An overhauled Covenant system means that players in need of protection can find their protectors. Way Of Blue members who are invaded will automatically summon members of the Blue Sentinels, while the Heirs To The Sun will act as benevolent heroes who get summoned by priority to players in PvP and PvE situations. The Brotherhood Of Blood, meanwhile, get to role-play as the bad guys, with an increased capability for invasion, while the Bell Keeper apostles will automatically invade players who enter a certain area of the game. There will be seven or eight Covenants in all, and another of these will be the policeman class that Miyazoe mentioned earlier, who will reap bounties on the heads of “wanted” serial invaders.

Dark Souls 2′s bonfires act as checkpoints and open up new areas to explore once you’ve reached them.

Summoning itself has been enhanced, too. Dark Souls’ soapstones are back, but now carry a time limit. Large White Soapstones have a generous timer, but smaller ones give a shorter window of around 15 or 20 minutes, which gets narrower with every kill – offering clearer rewards for players who choose to go into battle for others. Some boss fights will also make creative use of online for a more immersive world – such as the Mirror Knight. This hulking armoured swine summons real-life players with his reflective shield to attack the player. Of course, if all of that sounds nightmarishly difficult or just too complicated, there is also an Offline mode on offer as well.

“Even when playing offline, we’ve implemented AI elements and enemy elements that will function as if the player is playing in the online space,” says Tanimura. “You won’t be able to see blood messages and bloodstains, though,” adds Miyazoe. “You won’t be invaded, but you also won’t be able to summon – and there are difficult bosses out there. But the bosses and the venue structure will be the same offline, and the challenge and sense of achievement and satisfaction when you overcome something will be there. We’ve also implemented some elements that will make you feel as if you’re online, like you might be invaded by an AI enemy.”