Namco Bandai went all out this year in trying to make the people playing the demo for Dark Souls feel helpless. The company put its demo stations inside a mock dungeon that was barely lit by torchlight, setting the mood for the dark and dreary castle that the demo took place in. This only added to the despair that came from the many times players died in the demo.
Dark Souls plays very similarly to its predecessor, Demon's Souls. The demo puts you in the shoes of a character armed with a sword and a shield, but unfortunately without ranged weapons. The controls for combat are the same as in the previous game. R1 and R2 are used for your main attacks, while L1 is used to raise your shield and you can press L2 to parry. The most important control, however, is pressing the Square button to refill health, which comes up a lot since this game is as brutal as the first one.
Every enemy can kill you. Care must be taken with each step, as skeletons lay in wait to ambush you from unseen holes in walls, and evil armored warthogs happily gore you while you are distracted with other foes. Of course, if the demo character had a bow it would be easy to turn the warthogs into bacon from afar, but no, they are on to your schemes, and you have to run instead.
Speaking of running, there was one point where you can find a large wyvern hanging out on top of a bridge. If you went to say "Hi" you would be quickly barbecued, making you wonder how it is possible to take on such a foe. However, the game still has its player based hint system which lets people leave warnings on the ground near such areas. This lets you know that you were not ready for the wyvern, and should leave him alone for now. Smart players heed the warnings and leave the dragon to his brooding, hoping to come back later and figure out a way to get the loot they know is beyond him.
In addition to the familiar features, there is one brand new feature to lighten the journey. The bonfires that were added to the game serve as checkpoints throughout the level. When you reach a bonfire, you simply select it and from the on you'll start at that bonfire the next time you die, significantly reducing the amount of backtracking you must do upon each death. However, they're not so frequent as to remove all challenge in the game. In fact, they seem rather skillfully placed to ensure you must possess a good amount of control, patience, and skill to be able to make it to the next bonfire.
Beyond the fires, though, the game feels remarkably similar to the first one. This could possibly be due to how the demo showed nothing about getting new equipment or spells. While you can collect Souls from enemies or lose them if you don't find your body after you die, there was no way to spend them. But, based on what the demo did show, it seems the game still maintains the same balancing act between frustration and challenge that Demon's Souls did. It's going to require the same amount of careful treatment of each battle and each situation to ensure survival. RPGamers looking for another challenging adventure will surely be happy to get their hands on Dark Souls.