It's a common complaint: Demon's Souls was just a little too easy. Its levels were too short. Its combat was insufficiently brutal. And those endless corpse runs? They were ludicrously forgiving.
Nice to hear, then, that From Software's going to fix all that. Good news! Dark Souls, the spiritual successor to the developer's unexpected hit, is going to be much harder.
Seriously, it is. It's going to be harder. That's the plan. That's the pitch. That's the flag that Hidetaka Miyazaki has planted in the sand for his loyal team of developers to aim for. (Apologies for that analogy, The Apprentice was just on.) Cripes.
It's a frightening, thrilling, wonderful idea. Demon's Souls was exceedingly tough but it was also, as its fans will often tell you, exceedingly fair. Its learning curve forced you to actually learn things, and each defeat gave you the tools you needed to last a little longer off the back of your next restart.
The game was creatively difficult, in other words, the fierce challenge giving it a personality it could otherwise have lacked. It was character forming. It was good for you. It was perversely lovable.
Dark Souls seems to be perversely loveable, too, although a tweak in the difficulty is not the only change. From Software's latest is a slightly prettier game than the original with a range of larger, brighter environments for you to keel over in.
Why die in a dungeon when you can die in a castle? And while the hulking medieval nightmares that stalk its worlds might bear a striking similarity to the hulking medieval nightmares that stalked Demon's Souls' worlds, they move through a landscape that will be uninterrupted, apparently, by loading screens.
The RPG elements have been expanded, with far more customisation options for your character and class, while a new Beacon system adds to the online stuff a bit, You can now create little caches of helpful trinkets to aid other players, just like when mountain climbers leave Mars bars at the top of K-2.
Beyond that, though, it's just good to be back in this brilliantly horrible world. Watching the team demo the latest build, something crucial about the design of the Souls games finally clicks into place: something you could easily miss if you've just had a friend describe it to you, or have poked through only a handful of the first instalment's levels.
Dark Souls' developers laugh as they play through the game they're busy making, and the semi-circle of games hacks gathered around them laughs, too. You might not equate this particular bloodbath with humour, but as you see these mechanics through the eyes of people who really understand them – watching as they struggle with unforgiving set-pieces and design choices they implemented – you start to see a rich seam of mischief lurking beneath the crust. It's a black comedy of grisly excess at times, and the big jokes all revolve around dying.
So even with a character artificially tricked out with an enviable health bar and plenty of magic options, the current demo is still a slog for a developer to get through. The plot of Dark Souls may cover rather earnest territory – demons are busy harvesting souls and somebody's got to stand up to them - but today we find ourselves in what the team admits is a kind of breezy carnival of traps: a side-show dungeon of horrors constructed to introduce the many things that can kill you.
Things like giant boulders that sweep suddenly down a narrow channel before pancaking you into the ground. Things like lizard-headed baddies who lurk just out of eye-line in almost every room. Things like pressure plates that will fire precise little rows of arrows into you as you pass through a door – even the first door you might walk through. Welcome home!
These kinds of dangers aren't that different from anything a Tomb Raider adventure might throw your way. But Dark Souls' commitment to conveying the weight of your armour and your weapons robs you of the agility that games normally give you in order to tip the scales back in your favour. You're so very human in this game's dungeons, and the designers don't sympathise with that state of affairs at all.
Instead, they start to combine things. They combine those pressure plate doorways with those hidden lizard baddies. They combine narrow bridges and giant chasms with swinging pendulums, before throwing in some more pendulums around the corner and making the narrow bridges narrower still. They force you to guard your front and then your back, and then they hit you from the side.
Treasure chests contain Rubber Johnny arms, tongues and teeth (Google it). Elevators - who doesn't trust elevators? - loft you into jaunty little rows of spikes if you don't notice the tell-tale blood splattered on them first. Whole buildings riddled with rolling boulders, pick-ups that only want to lure you over steep drops: it's the Mario game we might get if Miyamoto ever goes through a reaaally bad break-up.
But if the price of Dark Souls is eternal vigilance, the reward is a game that feels like no other: a circus of nasty precision and of gleeful cruelty. And, to tell the truth, you're hardly powerless in it.
Once again, you can lean on the ingenious and asynchronous network play to invite people into your game to help you, or read their tips and then leave your own. Or you can knuckle down and learn the game, not just by memorising levels as you inch your way from one death to the next, but by coming to understand the ways that Dark Souls like to play its tricks, so that you can predict the way it works a little better.
Finally, it's worth remembering that while you face many enemies and many traps, you can at least use some of the traps on some of the enemies.
Towards the end of the demo, we get to see a little of the game's improved sense of scale. Emerging onto the roof of the dungeon, we're suddenly lost under a huge sky, surrounded by mountains, rivers, forests, and the vast spiralling walls and parapets of a truly monstrous citadel. It's a world in which, as ever, we're told we'll be able to explore to our leisure.
For a minute, Dark Souls seems to be giving into an uncharacteristic moment of quiet grandeur. It doesn't last. Within seconds a giant man on a distant walkway has noticed us and starts chucking rocks our way.
Rocks that explode.
Forget the spiritual sequel stuff, then. Dark Souls is Demon Souls in every way that matters: in the intimidated stance of your character, in the wonderful triangulation of sword, shield and magic, and in that strange internal glow that travels with you, staining nearby walls gold.
It's Demon Souls Plus - bigger, more elaborate, and meaner. And it'll be here in time for Halloween.