With the imminent release of Dark Souls, many of us are going through the various rituals of preparation: playing through the first game, reading strategy guides and wikis, and stocking up on plenty of snack foods, beer and lotion. All of this for the impending brutal experience that is destined to savage the unwary soul discarding the raw husks in a trail of pain and misery. To avoid this fate, you must be prepared.
For those who haven't played the spiritual successor, Demon's Souls, first off: what the fuck? Why haven't you played the first one? You better get your ass into it as Atlus is going to be shutting down the mutliplayer servers in 2012. And second: No, seriously, what the fuck? However, regardless of your inexperience, you will not be missing anything by jumping directly into Dark Souls as it really isn't connected story wise.
There are a lot of aspects that Dark Souls shares with it's predecessor. You will kill enemies in order to collect souls that you can spend on stat points, spells and items. In the case of Dark Souls, because there is no Nexus equivalent, you will be spending most of your souls on stats at various bonfires that are located around the open world. The fact that it is an open world is another difference between the two games: Dark Souls allows you to explore the entire world unhindered and without any sense of which areas are more difficult. Granted, the archways in Demon's Souls really didn't scale up in difficulty the higher you went, but instead were more of a way to organize the zones.
Remember munching on grass in Demon's Souls to regain health? In order to regain health in Dark Souls you will be carrying around flasks called Estus Flasks that can be used to heal you. These flasks are of a limited quantity and can be refilled at bonfires. Depending on the bonfire, you may only regain part of your total quantity of flasks, however, bonfires may be upgraded using humanity points so that you and others using the same bonfires over the network can reap the benefits. Another significant difference is that there is no MP in Dark Souls, instead each spell has a set of charges that when used up will have to be replenished by visiting a bonfire. You can, however, equip spells multiple times in order to give yourself more charges. There is a big emphasis on bonfires in this game and you are entirely safe while at one, however, the drawback of resting at one is that all previously killed enemies will respawn.
When you died in Demon's Souls you became a phantom that could be summoned by other living players to aid them in combat. In Dark Souls when you die, you become undead with the only option to revive being the use of humanity points at a bonfire. Unfortunately, when you die, you lose all of your humanity and have only one chance to get it back by touching the bloodstain you left behind. Humanity may also be used to kindle new bonfires which is key since you will respawn at the last bonfire you rested at. In an open world, you will be needing to reset your spawn location the deeper you explore. In order to gain humanity you must kill bosses, players or have it drop as a usable item from enemies or in the environment.
There will be NPCs that will sell you items at the cost of souls in addition to an NPC that will even buy items from you for a paltry amount of souls. There is a blacksmith that will repair your items as well as upgrade them. Both armor and weapons may be upgraded in Dark Souls using a much more simplified system. You may also repair your own items at bonfires if you have the proper repair kits. There is even a bottomless box you can acquire that will allow you to store items at bonfires much like Stockpile Thomas in Demon's Souls.
Dark Souls has introduced the concept of covenants which resemble guilds that give players a bit of flavor to the PvP aspects of the game. Players may make a covenant with a single faction in the game that will task them with killing players that have met a certain condition, be it trespassing in a specific area, carrying a certain item or breaking a covenant they had once belonged to. This certainly will make the multiplayer aspect of Dark Souls a whole lot more goal oriented as opposed to just griefing other players.
Some people have already gotten their copies of Dark Souls and are toiling away even as you read these words. For the rest of us, we'll need to wait until Tuesday to get our grubby little hands on the game and participate in the self flagellation. Though perhaps now, we'll be a little more prepared for the painful beatings that are bound to come.