Eyes-on at E3 / Demon’s Souls

I’m really… really really really tempted to call From Software’s Demon’s Souls the PlayStation 3’s answer to Fable II. It’s an RPG with more action-oriented combat, character interactions can affect your reputation for better or worse, and you’re that lone character. It wouldn’t be fair, though. You can’t buy land, you can’t fart, its mechanical emphases are not nearly the same, especially with regard to online play, you can’t fart, and you have no dog.

What you do have is a game that heavily revolves around the idea of death and resurrection. In the story, you actually begin the story after having died trying to fight an evil unlocked by a greedy king. You’re stuck in an afterlife realm called the Nexus, and your new quest is earning passage back to the realm of the living. A neat twist, but the core journey through dungeons will remain familiar to players.

Said journey revolves around two familiar activities: exploration and survival. As you collect Demon’s Souls, you earn passage through more of the Nexus until eventually achieving your ultimate goal of resurrection. Therein is exploration of the game world, and the baddies that want to stop you from doing so fills the survival part. Controls involve blocking, attacking, casting spells and the like. The game is meant to last somewhere between 80 and 100 hours, so fat chance I saw a worthwhile fraction of anything. What I did see was the central hub of one of the realms in the Nexus, and it looked like something out of The Lord of the Rings. Black stone spiking out of the ground with lava beneath illuminating everything that familiar orange incandescence. It looked good and ready to rival the dragon ages it will be competing against.

All this, though, is the familiar RPG stuff. The twists come from the online component. Not content to just haphazardly throw in co-op and hope for the best, From Software did one a little more odd and interesting. Sure, you can do a co-op boss run or duke it out with three friends if you want to, but how about seeing some online play in your solo game? Yeah, you’ll actually see small pools of blood in your travels, and going up to them will create a ghost showing another player’s death. A handy little hint guide of sorts built right into the game. I also like to consider it a sort of in-game YouTube, letting you enjoy some hopefully-hilarious bloopers. I dare a group to even concoct deliberately entertaining deaths throughout the game world.

Adding to the idea of “communicating with the other side,” as it were — except not since you’re all technically already dead (I didn’t bother dwelling too much on the logistics of dying in the afterlife, and I advise you do the same) — is the ability to leave messages for other players to find. You know how the murderous ghost will always find somewhere to write “You’re Next?” to ensure that his prey reads it? Well, now you can do the same, only it will probably be something more constructive like “Don’t be next, there’s a trap door ahead” or some such. Only even that isn’t completely accurate as you are only able to choose from prefabricated phrases. That certainly weeds out juvenile mischief, but also bums me out with the potential for some good natured goofiness. What game could do without that?

And that’s essentially all I was able to get out of this game. It’s clearly a huge one, so it’s hard to make any assessment that I’d feel would be worthwhile. I’m certainly looking forward to playing it and getting as creative as I can with little messages for all to read. It’s kind of like some odd combination of posting anonymously on message boards while traversing dungeons and fighting for survival/revival. So really, it’s not in any way competing with Fable II, and just doing its own thing with an action-RPG base. That, as it turns out, though, may be the game’s strongest point. Keep an eye for this one later this year.