When FromSoftware released Dark Souls in 2011, it seemed unlikely the developer would be ever be able to top themselves. Turn back the clock, and put yourself in their position: How can you possibly put together a fulfilling sequel to one of the most important, respected, and well-crafted games of the last console generation?
Fans had good reason to worry, too. With Demon's and Dark Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki departing to work on a mystery project—the yet-to-be-revealed Bloodborne—we had good reason to believe this latest game couldn't possibly stack up to its predecessor. Boy were we wrong. Though it features a few contentious changes, Dark Souls 2 improves on nearly everything that made the first game so revolutionary, all while sanding down Dark Souls' rough edges for a more playable experience that nonetheless offers an incredible challenge.
Dark Souls 2's winning streak didn't stop shortly after its release; this past summer saw a DLC trilogy that learned from the core game's few mistakes and addressed them with some amazing new content. And next year's Scholar of the First Sin update promises to improve the game even further, with changes to online matchmaking, item descriptions, NPC dialogue, and more. To find out how all this magic came together, I sent a few questions to FromSoftware's Yui Tanimura, who, alongside Tomohiro Shibuya, turned Dark Souls 2 into more than just another sequel.
USgamer: What were the biggest challenges you faced in creating a sequel to Dark Souls? What concerns did you have going into this project?
Yui Tanimura: As for any sequel, one goal we had was to create something greater than the previous title in the series. There were many challenges waiting for us when we starting thinking about how to surpass the previous game with Dark Souls 2. To give one example of the challenges we faced which daunted us from start to finish, I would have to point to Online Play. Unlike the previous title, Dark Souls 2 uses a server-based online system. (Dark Souls was Peer-to-Peer.) We developed the game with an emphasis on finding which situations and rules would allow users to get the most out of online play. Online play improvement was one of the most requested additions from the fans. We knew that fans would not accept the status quo as per the original Dark Souls when it came to the online experience.
USg: What do you think are the most notable ways Dark Souls 2 stands out from other entries in the Souls series?
YT: As Dark Souls 2 is a series game, we knew that we had to maintain the main features and basic ideas of the series. At the same time, we were trying to also differentiate Dark Souls 2 from the other titles in the Dark Souls line of games. There are many facets of this differentiation; it's hard to explain all of them here. To highlight one differentiating point we wanted to stress though, I would point to our idea of "[placing] new importance on discovery." We put all kinds of new discoveries for the player to find in the game. Users are able to share information, as well as how they feel, when playing the game.
USg: Were any elements of Dark Souls 2 intended to address specific criticisms of Demon's Souls or the first Dark Souls?
YT: Of course, we were happy to get constructive criticism from fans following Dark Souls. We have implemented various features in Dark Souls 2 to address that feedback. At the same time, we know that it would be impossible to address each and every critique. To give an example of two opinions we could not address, some users wanted the game to be harder, while others wanted it to be easier. These two opinions could take the game in opposing directions. Our hope for Dark Souls 2 was to take all of these various user opinions, and choose the best course for the game to take.
Here is a list of the main areas we wanted to work on:
- Strengthening online play based on a server-based network system
- Simplifying the equipment level up system
- Make fast travel (warping) more convenient
The Covenant features were also largely influenced by the user feedback we received post Dark Souls.
USg: What were your goals with the Crown Trilogy of DLC? I noticed this content features many types of experiences that aren't found within the core game of Dark Souls 2.
YT: "Placing new importance on discovery" was the most important theme for the DLC. DLC players had to be experienced. That experience was first necessary for them to dive through and survive the base game maps to get to the DLC areas. As these are experienced players, we needed to provide fresh and new challenges that were different from the base Dark Souls 2 content. We also wanted to ensure that players received robust content in the three DLC chapters in order to make the content valuable so we kept the volume of content and depth of user experience consistent between each chapter. The goal for the DLC was to achieve all these goals and give the user new experiences not available in the base game.
USg: Can you talk about your philosophy in regard to storytelling? Where do you draw the line when it comes to giving the player information about the world around them?
YT: Regardless of the title, FromSoftware game development philosophy emphasizes the importance of letting the players explore, find answers, and make discoveries on their own. In the real world, human beings are only able to know about a tiny fraction of the world; mainly the city, state, or perhaps country they live in. Experience over many years allows people to amass knowledge and wisdom. Our idea is similar to this mortal dilemma. Each player is a traveler in an unknown world. They are just one person. Thus, they are limited to only knowing a small portion of their world. There is nothing they can do to change that fact except to live and build up knowledge. That knowledge can then lead players to wonderful new discoveries. The basic philosophy for storytelling in the Dark Souls series lies in the belief that players will value the process of trial and error to experience those discoveries.