Last time VideoGamer.com saw Dark Souls we concluded that developer From Software is evil. Now that I've gone hands-on with the game, I can confirm that this is still the case.
Their latest addition - which goes alongside the ability to invade the games of other players for glory and spoils - has the potential to be one of the cruellest yet. After Demon's Souls broke players' resolve and left them blubbering in the fetal position, Dark Souls' masochistic Japanese developer wants to sap a little of your humanity in the process.
Humanity, then, becomes the secondary currency in Dark Souls, and it's gained by defeating bosses and invading the games of other players. You lose it by dying (if you hadn't already worked it out, you will die a lot) and strengthening bonfires around each level.
Sacrificing a bit of humanity at a bonfire, however, doubles your cache of items - if you carry 5 potions by default, for instance, resting at a strengthened bonfire will give you 10. This makes it for particularly agonising mental conundrums whenever you rest at the bonfire nearest a level's boss, contemplating whether to sacrifice a chunk of your humanity for greater odds of success.
Bonfires manage to soften Dark Souls' potential frustrations without making the game lose the harsh edge of Demon's Souls. They are purposely dropped slightly too far away from the most dangerous areas to be convenient crutches, and that's coupled with the fact all enemies, including the really fiddly sods, return after the player respawns.
You might not have to go all the way back to the start of a level when you perish in Dark Souls, then, but you'll actively be trying to avoid death because it's still a massive pain in the arse.
The E3 2011 demo dunks players in the Undead Parish, which sounds like a place I'd never want to visit by virtue of its name alone. The game's main aesthetic influence is still the medieval and the Gothic, with basic architecture occasionally leading into sprawling cathedrals and ornate basilica.
I'm playing as The Solaire of Astoria, a balanced class with what looks to be two patches of moss covering his shoulders. More importantly he's got the ability to batter enemies with nasty spells, heal himself, and dish out melee damage with one and two-handed weaponry. Also new is the Black Knight, who looks fantastic in his dark pointy armour but is a little harder to play as - he doesn't have much in the way of ranged ability.
As is to be expected, The Undead Parish is littered with multiple paths and an abundance of hiding spots for both valuable items and sneaky baddies. A towering walkway near the start of the level showcases a distant wyvern, and a sign on the floor (alongside a pile of skeletal remains) warns to stay away. I'm far too cowardly to attempt a confrontation with a monster of its size, and head back into some sideways corridors, later progressing into some furnished courtyards.
Also near the beginning of the stage is a charging bull, which requires you to make good use of the rolling technique to get behind him and (quite literally) stab him in the backside. The level is also peppered with nasty evil knights and, in one instance, a necromancer who pretends to be vulnerable and then unleashes a pack of zombies at you when you rush in to bump him off.
The level's objective is to ring the bell at the top of the parish's castle, so throughout the level you move onwards and upwards to the peak of the massive structure. Upon reaching the roof, however - which took me a good forty minutes of slow and cowardly progression - a cutscene introduced the level's bosses - two towering, fire-breathing Belfry Gargoyles.
In order to knock off the Belfry Gargoyles I found it easiest to hide behind a nearby jutting tower, too narrow for the monsters to get inside, and blast them over and over again with the lightning bolt. Hardly the most glamorous solution, but it worked - and with the stakes this high, blunt efficiency is preferable to piercing elegance.
From Software is still evil, then, but I'm ready and waiting to master their latest challenge.
Dark Souls will be released for Xbox 360 and PS3 on October 7 2011.