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

Dark Souls 2 screens

The recent network beta gathered 30,000 fans in the Huntsman’s Copse woodland area as a means to test server load and the functionality of invasions and summons. Effectively it spoiled some elements of the game, something Miyazoe says “was a tough one”. It was a necessary evil, though, he says in order to check technical aspects: “We had to test things like summoning and invasions”.  Other elements where there “to keep players excited” he explains. “There were a couple of mid-level bosses in there that we were forced to spoil, and the venue too, of course. But there are a lot more elements that we’re still hiding from you guys!”

“There are going to be castles, dungeons
and caves as well, but as soon as we start to step into castles or caves there will be a lot
of puzzles and gimmicks that we want the players to figure out for themselves”

Takeshi Miyazoe, producer

Spoilers aside the beta offered a glimpse into the aesthetics of the new game. A puzzle-based design philosophy adds a new dimension of exploration, with paths branching off to hard-to-reach bonfires or non-essential items that may tempt die-hards aiming to 100% the game. “The forest is just a single part of the whole world,” explains Miyazoe. “There are going to be castles, dungeons and caves as well, but as soon as we start to step into castles or caves there will be a lot of puzzles and gimmicks that we want the players to figure out for themselves when the game is released”.

“Our brand new engine allows us to illustrate more photo-realistic visuals and make more effective use of the contrast between light and dark,” says Tanimura. “We have put emphasis on moving shadows and movement of light, which are not only visual enhancements but will also have a lot to do with the strategies and tactics the player might decide to take.”

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One example of this is in a pitch-black cave or room, of which there seem to be many. Will you brave the darkness and tiptoe a treacherous path over an abyss? Light a flaming torch off a nearby brazier to illuminate the path at the expense of equipping a shield? Or maybe search the walls for a stone face in whose mouth lies an item-activated light switch? Most likely you will try all three, until multiple deaths reveal a solution.

Dark Souls 2 screens

In Dark Souls 2 Blue Sentinels will protect players who join the Way Of Blue covenant

Motion capture, too, has been implemented not only to make the game look prettier, but also as a way of giving players more subtle feedback as they fight their way through the hordes of darkness. “We hope that the natural movements will help players make reflex decisions as if they were actually the ones fighting in the world,” says Tanimura. Environmental effects and sounds will signal clues, for those players perceptive enough to notice. For instance, the grass could simply be swaying in the breeze, or it could be a sign that something is approaching – “Something big, perhaps,” Miyazoe teases.

Dark Souls 2 screensThe visuals are incredible in places, squeezing triple-A graphics out of a less-than-triple-A budget. In the opening movie, which Miyazoe shows us, a soft-spoken old hag fixes the camera with a gaze so deep you could get lost in her milky-white cataracts, while stone ruins are reach-out-and-touch realistic – and all this on PS3.

Storytelling and descriptions, meanwhile, will be opaque as ever. While the UI has been upgraded for legibility’s sake and NPCs will help flesh out the information, you’ll have to fill in the blanks with your imagination – or better yet, be clasped to the bosom of the Dark Souls online community.

“The start of the game is crucial for new players to get involved in the game, so at least we will try to relay the key elements, such as the sense of achievement and the loose connections, earlier on so that they can taste what Dark Souls is about from the beginning,” says Miyazoe. “But as the publisher, it’s very interesting for us to see the community setting up forums and whatever online, so we don’t intend to provide too much more in-game context.”

Dark Souls 2 screens

Dark Souls 2 Heirs To The Sun covenant members can be summoned by players in PvP and PvE situations

And that of course is the charm of Dark Souls. The network beta, trade-show demos and info revealed online have provided plenty of feedback from fans on what could make the game better: optional avoidance of invasions, brighter environments, clearer explanations of how to light a torch, heavier character movement. And From Software is tuning just the unbalanced parts, while ignoring the rest.

“We’ll create what we think we need to create and it will be up to the fans to dissect it how they want,” insists Miyazoe. And that’s what it’s all about. Although hardcore Souls fans may be convinced they know what they want from Dark Souls 2, From Software still knows better.