Dark Souls 2 is finally here, and with it, an entirely new labyrinth of hidden information, mechanical changes, and soul-crushing wonderlands to explore and learn. What’s most interesting about Dark Souls 2’s changes are how much they are inspired not only by the game’s direct predecessor, Dark Souls, but the series original title, Demon’s Souls, as well. The result is a system that is both familiar and new to series veterans. Whether you’re new to the series or been preparing to die since Demon’s Souls, these are the biggest fundamental changes you’ll want to be aware of when heading into Dark Souls 2.
Health is by far the most interesting change to Dark Souls 2, establishing a death loop more punishing than Dark Souls, but not quite as needlessly harsh as Demon’s Souls. Players start the game as human with a full health gauge. Upon death, players will respawn at the last visited bonfire with a fraction of their maximum health shaved off. This pattern will repeat with subsequent deaths, until only 50% of the players health remains. The only way to revert the health gauge to maximum capacity is to use a Human Effigy, which will reverse the “hollowing”. It’s important to note that a Human Effigy is not always easy to come by, and should be used sparingly.
While the simple act of parrying is still the same, a significant change comes with enemies now being able to interrupt back-stabs and counters to deal damage to the player. Simply stated, it is now much harder to deal with multiple enemies at once. In past titles, it was relatively easy to counter simple foes while its friends stood and watched in awe, but this is no longer the case. Be wary of locking yourself into these animations when taking on multiple enemies at once.
Estus Flasks were a monumental addition to Dark Souls that made the game more digestible and reasonable, providing a constant to the player that they could count on for health. Flasks make their return in Dark Souls 2, but with a new twist. Players receive their first flask very early in the game, but only one. Equipping more flasks is no longer a question of which bonfire one visits, but rather how many you can find. The same goes for upgrading the effectiveness of Estus Flasks, which is now achieved by burning Sublime Bone Dust at any bonfire. In addition to flasks are a myriad of one-time-use healing items that are found by more traditional means like enemy drops or shopkeepers.
Dark Souls 2 tweaks its durability system for, what I think is, the better. Instead of weapon and armor degradation resulting in an inevitable trip to the blacksmith for repair, they are now fully reinforced after resting at any bonfire. This applies to any and all weapons and armor. The only stipulation comes when a piece of armor or weapon actually breaks, in which case a blacksmith must repair it for a soul fee.
This is a simple one. Compared to Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, falling generally does more damage from the outset in Dark Souls 2. That plank you were pretty confident you could fall onto without dying in Dark Souls? Rethink that this time around. The game’s hub town Majula features a perfect example of this with its sizable pit that has a number of bodies waiting to be plundered below. Don’t fall for this, at least, until you’ve steeled yourself.
I hope this short list helps ease new and old players into the groove of Dark Souls 2. It’s an incredibly intimidating and complicated game, and this list of merely scratches the surface. Feel free to leave feedback and tell me what I might have missed!