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Dark Souls

A knight to dismember.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

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.