TGS 2008: Demon's Souls Hands-On

We head straight for Sony's booth to check out this PS3-exclusive action RPG.

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TOKYO--Demon's Souls is a PlayStation 3-exclusive action role-playing game that seems to be somewhere between Devil May Cry and Diablo, and it had its first formal showing as the Tokyo Game Show opened today. The game is already in what Sony describes as pre-beta stage, and we wasted no time in getting hands-on with From Software's latest at Sony's booth.

In a mediaeval world, you play as a lone hero standing against the forces of darkness in the kingdom of Bokitaria. The region's ruler, King Alant, was clearly meddling in forces he didn't understand in an attempt to keep his northern kingdom prosperous before the inevitable happened: All hell broke loose.

Sword, meet demon.
Sword, meet demon.

This took the form of waking "the old one" from his eternal slumber, which in turn led to a plague of demons across the land and a colourless fog enveloping the country. The intro movie explains that many have tried to enter the land but all have failed, save one. The intro movie and trailer that explain the backstory show massive creatures that we imagine you will be facing at some point. An enormous, roaring dinosaur-type creature with two sets of jaws, one inside the other, stood out as among the most impressive.

You're told that the kingdom is being ravaged by demons, who wander around increasing their power by devouring the souls of men. Those without souls descend into madness, and the afflicted end up randomly striking at the unaffected. Anarchy, chaos, and general destruction ensue. The more souls a demon consumes, the more power it gets...and a fully mature demon soul contains power "beyond human imagination." And as a final clincher, in case you were having doubts about the importance of your quest, the demon race is starting to spread from the original kingdom, and so the entire human race now faces extinction.

The intro cinematic lists the names of those who have failed, implying that you will have the option of playing as one of several classes in Demon's Souls, but we were thrown straight in with a warrior-type chap launching himself at what seemed to be the gates of this vast kingdom. We caught a brief glimpse of the character-customisation options, which seem to be fairly broad, but we didn't get a chance to play with them on this occasion.

Armed with a large mace and shield, and bedecked in chain mail, we were thrust into the action with a number of paths to take. On our first run-through, we charged through the middle, smiting various man-sized skeletal demons along the way. Moving the right stick changes the camera angle manually, and clicking targets the nearest enemy. Once you're locked on, you then choose between quick light attacks with your mace, a quick shield bash, or a thunderous overhead smash. These can be chained together into powerful combos, resulting in speedy demolition of anything hostile in your path. As the demons fall to the floor, you absorb their life force. Although we didn't see any tangible benefits of this in our short time with the game, it looks set to play a major part as you progress on your quest.

There will be a variety of weapons for melee combat that can be found in the environment. Early on in our time in the game's world, we came across a sword sticking Excalibur-like out of the ground; we couldn't actually grab it, but this was due only to the limitations of the current build, according to Sony.

As we made our way up the bridge leading to the gate, there were demons hiding behind debris, most of which could be smashed through quite easily with the mace. There was little sign of environmental destructibility in our demo, but pretty much every item scattered around the world could be smashed up. After a few melee fights, we came across a crossbow-wielding creature on a raised level, but it didn't pose much of a threat because simply holding up the shield served as excellent protection from the crossbow bolts. Charging up the stairs behind it, we delivered a quick shield bash to throw it off balance and spin it around, and we followed with a sharp mace blow to the base of the spine that resulted in a one-hit kill and a very satisfying crunch. Context also seemed to play a part in some kills, with normal attacks resulting in enemies being thrown into nearby walls to the tune of suitably grizzly sound effects. Shortly after this, a swarm of smaller demons overwhelmed us, and it was back to square one.

A mace makes an excellent choice of weapon when attacking skeletons, no matter how many swords they may be waving at you.
A mace makes an excellent choice of weapon when attacking skeletons, no matter how many swords they may be waving at you.

This time through, we noticed a passage off to one side of the bridge blocked by some wooden wreckage, which splintered under the weight of our now-trusty mace. More fearsome enemies faced us on this path, and as we were cut down by flaming arrows fired by larger, fiery demons, we were whisked away from the Sony booth because our time was up.

Demon's Souls is expected to hit the PS3 at some point in 2009, and looks set to be a single-player-only experience, given that it does not have any PlayStation Network features at this point, according to the information on display at the Sony booth. We'll bring you more on the hack-and-slash fun to be had in Bokitaria as soon as we can.

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