Got my hands on a pre-release copy of Demon's Souls from Atlus today. It's certainly been one of my more anticipated titles, yet has remained a fairly large question mark. It's easy enough to get the gist, but as we all know, the devil is in the details… Fortunately, although I didn't have as much time to sink into it as I would have liked, the time I did have was extremely impressive—even moreso than I had anticipated after watching several videos available via the Internet.
Basically, the king of a faraway country has unleashed ultimate evil and the player takes on the role of a warrior intent on sealing it back up. The twist here is that thanks to the supernatural properties associated with this demon, the kingdom and surrounding lands are places where the player can't die. Or, at least, not die in the classic sense. It's certainly easy enough to be defeated by enemies, but when this occurs, the player is reincarnated as a spirit to return to battle.
It's not immediately obvious how this scheme plays out just from reading or hearing about it, but after spending some time it became quite clear. Essentially, the section of kingdom I was in is one level and certain aspects of it are presented persistently. For example, after making my way through a certain distance, I was able to hack through some chains and open a gate that had been previously locked. I died shortly afterwards, but after reincarnation, I returned to find that the gate was still open. It's progress gained by degrees.
There are other unique aspects, such as the ability to leave messages or read messages left by others. For example, before rounding a particular corner, one message scrawled on the ground said "watch out for the ambush". Sure enough, after stepping foot into the next room, I was waylaid by an enemy in hiding. Thanks to that message, though, I was prepared and made it through without a scratch. Apparently, this system comes into play not only through messages developers have left, but other players can leave notes that can be read by anyone. In effect, each chunk of the game's world is a persistent place that can be altered by the actions of other players.
Although these things were interesting enough, I found myself most fascinated by the attention to detail given to the combat system. I've played nearly every game that FromSoft has put out, but after spending time with Demon's Souls, I was extremely impressed by the advances they've made in terms of control and fluidity of motion. This is by far the most sensible, natural control scheme they've come up with, and it feels comfy.
Additionally, they've really spent time implementing the weapons in a very logical way. My character wields a halberd, so I'm at a disadvantage and narrow hallways since the weapon can't be effectively swung. However, I do have the option of controlling the weapon with both hands, and in that particular stance, my attack options are modified, granting me more freedom to defend myself in small spaces. It's pretty clear that the developers really put a lot of time and attention into the nitty-gritty details of how melee works, and I'm loving it.
I'll have more to say later, but for right now I'll also throw in that it's extremely atmospheric, the graphics are quite impressive, and the slow, deliberate pace of combat is a perfect fit.
I've only just scratched the surface of the game, but so far, it looks like a real winner.
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