Dark Souls II Network Test Beta Impressions

dark-souls-2-logoNamco Bandai and From Software kicked off the start of a series of network tests with a beta for Dark Souls II late last night / early this morning on PS3. The test ran for about three hours (an hour longer than initially revealed) and gave a select number of players the chance to go hands on with the game for the first time. While connectivity tests can be an iffy way to try out a game, I found this to be a pretty solid look at what From Software has in store for Souls fans come March 2014, and I’m definitely looking forward to playing more when the next test commences on October 27th.

The network test beta for Dark Souls II showcased a relatively small area to explore. At the onset of the test players were given the opportunity to choose from six character classes, including Soldier, Warrior, Sorcerer, Temple Knight, Dual Swordsman, and Hunter. For this test I tried out three classes, and really found myself gravitating towards the Temple Knight as my go-to character of the evening. After selecting a character and naming him, I was dumped into the server with no issues to speak of and a pretty short loading sequence, and then my adventure began.

Dark Souls II_Bonfire_RestI started off at a bonfire, a sight most Souls players will be familiar with as a safe spot where you can spend earned souls (gained by defeating enemies) to level up various attributes. At the onset of the test players were given 5000 souls to spend, with characters starting at level 21. I dumped souls into a variety of stats, but found agility to be the most useful here, and even with only a few points devoted to the stat I saw what I thought was a significant upgrade in character speed.

Once those initial souls were spent it was time to venture out into the world, and my initial reaction was that of trepidation and fear, an appropriate reaction to any first step into a Souls game. I was immediately greeted with a large, very dark cave to step into, and as I entered the mouth of said cave the first of many enemies came charging forth. The initial introduction to combat was easy enough, with a simple hollow soldier wielding a single blade, basically the Goomba of Dark Souls if you will.

dark-souls-2_SurroundedCombat feels spot on in comparison to the first game, suitably weighty and punishing if you’re not taking care to actually land blows and deflect attacks. For characters armed with shields it was easy enough to block simple attacks, and for lighter geared characters the ability to roll is still a godsend. It was also still relatively easy to trick enemies into overcommitting on attacks, and I knocked quite a few foes off of cliff sides for cheap kills and earned souls.

One of the newer elements introduced via this cave is the need to carry a lit torch. From the opening bonfire you’re given the option of lighting a torch, which replaces your left hand equipment, so in the case of my Temple Knight I wielded this torch instead of my shield. Obviously this puts you at some risk, but that initial cave is so dark that the torch is essentially a must have item for your initial journey. I quickly came to realize that the path through the cave was a straight shot, so I was in no danger as long as I didn’t venture off to the sides which featured bottomless pits to fall into. So on subsequent runs (of which there were plenty) I didn’t see the need to carry the torch through to the next area. There were other dark interior areas that benefited from torchlight as well though, including one ruin that gave me a place to light kindling on a post, which remained illuminated even if I died and respawned back at the bonfire.

Dark Souls II_Covenant_BlueSentinelOnce I emerged from the cave and made my way through a small ruin filled with enemies, I came to a more open portion of the world that allowed for a little more exploratory freedom. The network test beta has two bosses to tackle, one behind a waterfall with another tucked away at the tail end of a busted wooden bridge. These two pathways are filled with danger, consisting mostly of dual wielding rogues, powerful phantoms, and other larger enemies. My initial encounter with one of the tougher foes here, a dual wielding fat creature with giant scythes, didn’t go so well. But eventually I managed to make my way to both boss lairs, and while I wasn’t able to defeat the Chariot boss, I did take the Skeleton Lord down with a couple summoned partners.

Or course being a network test it seemed like a good idea to try out some of the connectivity features. While not too far removed from Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, I did find it pretty easy to jump into other people’s games and have them join mine. I was invaded a fair number of times with different results (mostly me dying), and was able to successfully invade a number of others. Summoning partners to help was a painless process, and despite this being a beta, I encountered few errors. I was only dumped from the server once over the three hours that I played, and when being summoned I encounter an error twice that put me back into my own game after a few seconds with no progress lost. But considering the number of games I was able to join successfully, the couple occasions where things went bad were pretty minor.

Dark Souls II_SummonCoop_WhitePhantom2It was also worth noting that load times were miniscule here, whether that was booting into a new game for the first time, or joining/invading other players. Maybe five to ten seconds of loading for each session joined, which was a lot better than I expected. It’s also clear that From Software is working to make this a better looking, better running experience than Dark Souls was, but the framerate clearly has issues still. Of course, this is a beta, and has a ways to go before it’s actually released, so I imagine we’ll see some of that cleaned up in the coming months.

Overall, this was a pretty solid showing for both a network test and a glimpse into the beta. I’d love to have more hands on time with the game, and trust me when I say that this is just as addictive as its predecessors. It’s hard to have to step away from the game from now until the next test on October 27th, and I’ll certainly be marking off the days on my calendar until the next run.

Dark Souls II (Black Armor Edition) – PlayStation 3 Black Armor Edition (Video Game)

Manufacturer:  Namco
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