Praise the sun!
Okay, so. Dark Souls II has been confirmed. And it's got two new directors (both new to the series) in the stead of Hidetaka Miyazaki, the previous director of Demon's and Dark Souls turned supervisor. And yes, one of them said he wants Dark Souls II to be more straightforward and understandable. So, we're thin--WHOA, HOLD ON! Before you start furiously smashing the keyboard and cranking out complaints about how the series is doomed, stop for a second and take a deep breath.
We get it, we do. We loved Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. But we also think some fresh blood on the development side might take the Souls series from capital 'A' awesome to unprecedented levels of incredible. How, you ask? Well, we've got a few ideas that might just help. Read on to see what we'd like to see from the upcoming addition to the Souls franchise.
Retain the connected world from Dark Souls...
Dark Souls' connected, seamless world made it feel far more alive than that of Demon's Souls. It also made playing the game a far more tense experience. Returning to the Nexus in Demon's Souls gave you a temporary reprieve--you could relax, gather your bearings, plan your next move. But in Dark Souls, constantly inhabiting a hostile world amped up the intensity a billion times over, especially considering so many of its environments were bleak enough to sap the hope straight from your bones. We'd love to revisit Dark Souls' world, provided we get to check out some new zones, of course.
What's more, Dark Souls was the kind of game you could play through multiple times without discovering all of its secrets; there were back entrances to multiple areas, tons of hidden places to find, and plenty of goodies guarded by droves of powerful demons. Ideally, Dark Souls II will build on the interconnectedness of its predecessor and give us the freedom to explore it however we wish.
...but ensure each zone is intelligently designed
One of the complaints that Dark Souls frequently garnered was that its level design wasn't consistently great. There were moments of brilliance in zones like Sen's Fortress, Anor Londo, and the Painted World of Ariamis. But areas such as the lava-laden Lost Izalith and the Crystal Cave, home to a plethora of invisible gap-spanning walkways, required more luck than skill to traverse.
Seeing as FromSoftware has had a bit of practice with building a more connected world, perhaps the development team will be able to spend more time ensuring that each and every zone in Dark Souls II is up to par with the architectural excellence we know the designers are capable of.
Keep the combat simple but punishing, and boss battles epic
The sense of discovery and achievement are arguably the most important aspects of the Souls franchise, and combat plays a huge role in both. This is a series that places an emphasis on learning the ins and outs of your preferred weapon type over button mashing. It's a lot like a fighting game in the sense that you need to learn how to read your opponents; knowing when to block, dodge, and strike is crucial, and a single misstep often means death, even when facing the puniest of enemies. This style of slower-paced, timing-based combat must remain intact.
Of course, boss fights are a huge staple of the franchise as well; we're looking forward to even more harrowing by-the-skin-of-your-teeth encounters with varied mechanics and terrifying enemy design.
Iron out the technical stuff
So, yes, combat is incredibly important to the Souls franchise--but Dark Souls suffered from a few technical hiccups that made it unfairly grueling at times. For instance, a side effect of building such a gorgeous, giant world was that a lot of processing power was required to render it. That became problematic when a mammoth undead dragon suddenly lunged at you full force while the frame rate dipped into the "oh god this is unplayable" range.
To make matters worse, the targeting system worked sporadically at best when Dark Souls launched, making already tough encounters all the more difficult. And for fans of online PvP, nothing killed that human-slaying buzz quicker than a hefty dose of lag. Thankfully, Dark Souls II will have dedicated servers, which should alleviate that issue--but ensuring the frame rate and control elements are in perfect working condition will make the game a far more enjoyable experience.
Expand the weapon upgrade system
There are tons of awesome weapons in the Souls games, most of which can be upgraded to become more effective so long as you have the required materials on hand. To boost the effectiveness of your weapon of choice, you can imbue it with one of several special properties--lightning, enchanted, chaos, etc. Not only do these often add elemental or magic damage to your otherwise physical attacks, but certain properties scale a weapon's attack damage with specific character stats. The brilliance of this system was that it allowed you to create a powerful weapon tailored to your character build, regardless of what stats you'd dumped points into. But what if that system were taken one step further?
We'd love to see some new paths for weapon upgrades--maybe ice or other elements could make an appearance here--or, perhaps, a duality system that lets you to imbue a weapon with multiple properties. This would produce nearly limitless possibilities when it comes to crafting the perfect weapon for your character.
Make the game's systems more accessible
New director Tomohiro Shibuya said that he aims to make Dark Souls II more straightforward, which could mean any number of things. While we agree that the Souls series should continue to resist hand-holding its players, we do think its vague and confusing systems could use a bit of explanation. That weapon upgrade system we mentioned before? It's a tad bit complicated; we'd wager all but the most hardcore Souls players didn't even know so many upgrade paths existed.
Any new systems that might be introduced in Dark Souls II, akin to Demon's Souls' World Tendencies and Dark Souls' Covenants, could use a bit of clarification as well, because missing out on those mechanics in previous games would mean missing out on a large part of what made them so unique. The challenge should not reside in figuring these things out, but in how to best take advantage of them.
Give us more nuggets of story, but keep them subtle
Dark Souls' approach to storytelling is vastly different than that of most games. Instead of spelling everything out in direct cinematics or dialog, it tosses players scraps of lore in the form of flavor text that accompanies some items, and, occasionally, brief conversations with NPCs.
There's a wealth of information to piece together, and uncovering nuggets of lore--whether from your interactions with items and NPCs or exploring the world--is one one of the most rewarding aspects of the Souls games. We'd love to see even more of this approach in Dark Souls II, with even more items and environments rife with brief glimpses into the world's history.
Add customization options
Awesome looking armor sets are commonplace in Dark Souls--but we want Dark Souls II to bring customization options for personalizing our character's appearance. Things like capes, emblems, and armor dyes would go a long way toward making our character stand out, especially in the online arena.
Vendors could stock the most basic of these items, but it would be cool to find rare dyes and the like while exploring deadly zones. Perhaps these could also be awards obtained by participating in competitive PvP or online co-op with others. It would be pretty cool to have more incentives to help or hinder players online.
Do right by PC gamers
After lots of petitioning by PC gamers, Dark Souls finally received a PC port--unfortunately, it shipped with virtually no settings options, and it was poorly optimized for the platform. It wasn't until player-made mods added a bevy of configuration tweaks to the game that PC players were able to tap into the game's full visual potential.
Hopefully FromSoftware has learned from its past mistakes. Seeing as the developer announced a PC version of Dark Souls II right from the start, we can only assume that the developers will spend more time creating a fully functional PC edition of the game, one that won't require player mods to enjoy.
Make a Wii U version
So far, Dark Souls II has been announced for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, and FromSoftware has no current plans to bring the game to Nintendo's Wii U. But more than 11,000 gamers have signed a petition on Change.org in hopes of changing the developer's mind.
We think a Wii U version of the game would be a wise move. For starters, more gamers would have access to the series, which would likely result in bigger sales. But the Wii U's GamePad could be used in interesting ways; moving the inventory to the touch screen would allow for quick access to items and equipment, and the addition of easily swappable equipment sets would be a welcome treat.
Include an easy mode...
And then the internet exploded and all life on Earth came to an end. To add an easy mode to the Souls series is to miss the point of it entirely--but a TOTALLY OPTIONAL EASY MODE could be as simple as decreasing enemy damage or increasing the frequency with which players find consumable items. Doing so would make Dark Souls II more accessible to timid players more interested in exploring the game's world and seeing all it has to offer without fear of getting immediately destroyed.
But we propose another twist: Players who complete a game in easy mode cannot carry their character over to normal and beyond, meaning they have to brave the dangers hardcore fans crave should they wish to further their progress.
...but also offer a hardcore mode
Optional permadeath. In Dark Souls. Via some kind of undead...killing...thing. 'Nuff said.
So the world might be mended
Just because Dark Souls II has new directors doesn't immediately mean it's going to be a "dumb baby game." FromSoftware has two Souls games under its belt, and we seriously doubt it'd do anything to jeopardize the success of such a beloved franchise. And lets not forget: FromSoftware isn't in the habit of making "simple" or "easy" games. That's not how the developer rolls. But we want to hear from the Souls fans out there: What are you hoping to see--or to not see--in Dark Souls II? Drop us a line in the comments below.