This is my translation of the review by the German magazine Mgames (something like a less industry focused Edge). I spoiler-tagged the big spoilers, but there is a lot in the review that many will consider a spoiler, so please know this going in.
The review is written by another reviewer than DS1, not sure about DeS. All screenshots are in German and from the (near?)final build, a lot of new screenshots which I can’t post, but I can tell you that the Gargoyles on the Rooftop are back as a boss, but according to the reviewer, something unexpected will happen during the fight.
He summarizes the Souls series as “if your hero dies, try sucking less”
he’s happy to say that this mantra applies to DS2, even tough From made it easier to get into/less obtuse.
Fan’s of long cut-scenes or a easy to follow story won’t be happy, other than the impressive intro that has become a staple of the series.
The Story is told by the NPCs, in most cases as a monologue
(surprisingly) not much has changed in the storytelling department
You play someone cursed by the “Curse of the Undead” who thirsts for souls
The central hub (think Firelink, Nexus) is called Majula, the land is called
In Majula, several shop-keeps sell you weapons, armor, items and you can learn magic and pyromancy from teachers
The female character called “Emerald Herald” let’s you level up your character
=> the reviewer states that all the vendors/teachers are located near Majula or at least another bonfire; this is one of those points where the word “convenient” applies, it won’t make any difference other than your own time
similar structure to DS1, Majula acts as the central hub. You can visit different areas. The reviewer praises the diversity of the areas:
gloomy ruins of a castle, foggy woods, underground tombs, a gloomy dockyard, a quarry that is filled with poisonous air*
*[there’s a picture where this area is shown, the view distance is very short, you can see huge enemies towering in the not-so-far distance. You can see the poison-level-indicator and the blurb beneath the pictures warns “to watch out for the poisonous wafts of mist”
=> this seems to be the new “Vally of Defilement, Blight Town” :-)
Since a lot of the areas are very dark, the torch becomes your best friend. With the torch in hand, the immediate surrounding area get’s lit (think Tomb of Giants)
you can kindle stationary fireplaces that stay lit (Zelda-style).
Fast-travel is available from the beginning of the game.
Like the areas themselves, the enemies that inhibit them are diverse, interesting to fight and as deadly as ever:
Zombie-knights, wild bloodhounds, poisonous giant spiders, jungle-warriors with a lion-mane!?, axe-wielding dwarfs, fire-demons that fill the whole screen,...
the reviewer describes it in detail, but it’s par-for-the-course.
It’s precise and let’s the player build his/her own combat-style, parrying or blocking is as important as ever
Magic and Archery use up stamina
You can assign up to 3 weapons/shield to each arm and you can use the D-Pad to change them at any time
Souls still act as the universal currency [items, weapons, leveling up,...] and you lose them all when you die, with one change to get them back.
The choice of character type you make at the beginning doesn’t really matter, you can build your own character like in DS1/DeS.
The only way to level up is at the “Emerald Herald”, but don’t forget, there’s fast-travel
Each new level gives you 1 skill point. You invest those skill points in the stats that you need.
you can re-spec your character via an item called “soul vessel”. It’s a rare item, but it will let you re-spec all your skill points
You can make your 60+ hour warrior into a full-fledged sorcerer if that’s what you want.
This will makes things more interesting in NG+(+++++...)
Bonfires can be leveled up from the beginning to give you more Estus flasks or you can throw in items that make the enemies in the area tougher. Great for grinding, bad for farming items because the enemies only re-spawn a certain number of times.
Upgrading Weapons, Shields and Armor is more user-friendly.
You have to find “attribute stones”, e.g. “fire, poison, magic”. You visit the blacksmith and than you use this ONE STONE to enchant as many weapons, shields and armor as you like (probably for a lot of souls). After that, you can level if up further with ONE KIND OF TITANITE.
nice tidbit: You can use all the souls you find as times (e.g. in DS1 “soul of a Nameless Soldier”) at once
the three types of magic return from DS1 and there’s a new, 4th type called “witchery”. You can use each spell/miracle a certain number of times before having to get back to a bonfire, but in DS2 there are herbs that let you refill your spell/miracle (probably like the Grasses from Des)
Everything gets repaired for free at the bonfire. If you want to repair something will away from the bonfire, you’ll need repair powder. Once an item breaks, you’ll have to visit the blacksmith.
ONLINE: [the the review code didn’t allow them to play online, all based on info from FROM]
it’s a game that even die-hard-single-player-only players like to play while online.
You can leave and read messages, offer and get help, and invade or be invades.
You can summon up to two other players when you see a summoning sign. The stay until they die or you defeat the area-boss.
There is optional voice-chat, but you’ll each need to have a certain item in your possession for it to work
If you play off-line, yellow phantoms can be summoned near certain bosses. The AI is serviceable, but you will most likely use them to divert the boss’s attention away from yourself.
Online is server based, you can select a region
There’s a “Server AI” that determines your likelihood of being invaded:
people who often invade other players > people being in a co-op session > players in human form > players in hollow form
The are supposed to be dedicated PVP areas like in the DS1 DLC, but the reviewer didn’t find them
You use a certain ring to play with your buddies. You engrave the name of 1 of 10 gods onto the ring. If your buddy has the same name engraved, it’s more likely that he will see your summoning sign.
Frequent Invaders are automatically place in the book of sinners, the invaded player no longer needs to make the decision
COVENANTS: [pretty much what is already know]
Some covenants want you to kill other players, some want you to help protect other players, some want you to protect a specific area.
You can change your covenant, but like in DS1, sticking with one covenant will give you access to exclusive items etc.
HOLLOW VS. HUMAN: [ pretty much what is already know]
You can only summon in human form, but you can be invaded in both forms.
Every time you die in hollow form, you lose some of your HP (up to 50%)
You can restore humanity with items called “human effigy” at any time, not just at a bonfire
Overall, it looks better than DS1, but there's a stark difference between beautiful, detailed areas and areas which muddy textures and a uninteresting design.*
He didn’t come a cross any area where the frame-rate get’s as bad as Blight Town.
*[he specifically called out an area called “light-stone-bay” and the picture in the magazine looks like the area is muddy, has a low poly-count and could use another texture pass. ]
I don’t think he mentioned a word about it, so it’s probably very similar to DS1
Multiplayer: was not available for the review
Summary: “Congrats From, you made the game more user-friendly WITHOUT MAKING IT EASIER”: The weapon upgrading is less obtuse but still offers the same variety, fast-travel between bonfires is availabe from the beginning of the game,... Not much has changed when it comes to the battle-system and leveling up. It's a shame that some areas look worse than other, but DS2 will offer the player an incredibly motivating, addictive experience none the less
my two cents:
Have fun with the review, but Dark Souls fans: PLEASE DON’T FREAK OUT OVER ONE WORD THAT YOU MAY NOT LIKE (“convenient, less obtuse,...”) It’s just my translation of a review by one German mag, there will be many more reviews which almost certainly will contain stuff you don’t like, please save some of that rage for the reviews yet to come ;-)