I've been a bit lax in my writing lately, for two primary reasons. First off, our scores of adoring and dedicated readers will surely have noticed our recent redesign, which ate up much of my free time. Second is my knee-deep immersion in the follow-up to Demon's Souls, Dark Souls.
Though studio From Software and publisher Namco Bandai refer to Dark Souls only as a spiritual successor, lets be honest: it's the sequel to Demon's Souls. Sure, it takes place in a different world. Sure, it has some minor changes to the foundations of the game. Sure, it's not called "Demon's Souls 2: Just More Souls." Regardless, it's the sequel to Demon's Souls, and I won't hear otherwise, nor will anyone with two braincells to rub together.
In many ways, Dark Souls improves upon its predecessor. The game is longer and more expansive, the mechanics have been tweaked, the environments are more varied, bosses and enemies are bigger and meaner, and some of the little fat from Demon's Souls has been trimmed.
One of my least-favorite elements of Demon's Souls, World Tendency, was removed from Dark Souls, and I don't miss it. The World Tendency system – designed to change the complexion of the game based on various game events – was overly complex, confusing, and never seemed to work quite the way that people explained it online. As such, I mostly ignored it and am somewhere between ambivalent and glad to see it go. In its stead, Dark Souls presents a new system of Covenants, or factions to which you can pledge your allegiance and change your gameplay slightly. There are nine Covenants in all, each with a different focus, mostly having to do with interactions with other players. One Covenant serves only to protect an area of the game from invaders. Another seeks to help as many players as possible in co-op mode. Yet another focuses solely on getting redemption against people who are guilty of invading others. It's a fun and clever system that adds some depth to the game. Most of the Covenants are a bit too hard to find, but it's still a step in the right direction.
Another strength of Dark Souls is that, unlike Demon's Souls, it features a continuous world. Gone are the days of returning to the central Nexus and choosing a new world to explore. The continuous world is a double-edged sword, in that it leads to a more engrossing experience and makes it feel like a more complete fantasy world, rather than five disconnected worlds, but for most of the game it also requires a lot of additional walking. The issue is exacerbated by the vastness of the new world that's been created. Want to go from The Duke's Archives to The Depths? Better hit the bricks, because it's gonna be a haul.
Anor Londo, one of dozens of areas to explore in Dark Souls
Eventually you'll receive an item that allows you to cut out some of that walking, but for most of the game you have to rely on shortcuts and patience to get from point A to point B. At first I found the constant walking to be a bear, but ultimately I came to enjoy the vast and engrossing world of Dark Souls. I'd like to have seen a few more shortcuts than there were, or a little less walking through some other means, but I'd still call it an improvement over the Nexus system. Though she's played only a few minutes of it herself, Rebekah watched me play a great deal of the game and complained that there's no in-game map, and maybe she's right that there should be one, but I never found it to be a problem, and I think it adds nicely to the challenge. And let's face it, chicks dig a guy who can navigate a sewer system without a map.