Despite the fact that news was leaked prior to the game’s official announcement, Dark Souls III‘s reveal at E3 was among one of my favorite things at the show this year. Sure, we didn’t get to see much of the game during the presentation aside from the short 2 minute trailer, but the news that Hidetaka Miyazaki was back at the helm as director and in control of the level design once more was enough to whet any Souls fan’s appetite.
While details about the title were sparse since its original announcement, I was able to go hands-on with the game last week and am happy to confirm that Miyazaki-san’s touch was definitely felt throughout the hour of gameplay I was able to enjoy.
Loading up the game, I selected the axe-wielding character and began my careful trek through the area known as “The Wall of Lodaleth”. Ashes filled the air as an explorable array of stone rooms, towers and a massive castle rose in the background. There’s also a desiccated dragon nearby and tons of hollows littered throughout the area who were reaching their hands to the sky praying for something, or to some unseen force. We weren’t given much in the way of lore, but from Miyazaki’s statements during E3, the game appears to take place in a “withered” apocalyptic world. We also know that the Lords of Cinder (like Gwyn) are involved in some aspect, but are unsure to what extent or what it means.
Once I was able to start moving, it didn’t take long to get back in the rhythm. It felt like Dark Souls, and that was a good thing. While the second game in the series leaned on linear level design, the branching pathways from the first game are finally back. I’ll put it this way: an hour wasn’t nearly enough time to explore the one location. Nestled within the area was an elevator, the classic locked door leading to an area that was barely out of reach, tons of enemies and both an optional and required boss.
It may be surprising, but I was actually a huge fan of Dark Souls II. However, the re-introduction of the level design that was popular in the first game was a relief. It became apparent as my playtime continued that several of the best elements from both games and even From Software’s most recent title Bloodborne (which I loved) were thrown into the mix. Enemies are more aggressive this time around, which is in turn balanced by a speedier character who’s able to circle or roll around enemies and quickly execute a backstab with ease.
Though combat for the most part felt familiar, there are now different starting stances or “weapon arts” tied to each weapon you pick up. The best way to explain this feature is that it’s similar to Bloodborne’s weapon transformations. At the click of a button, the way your weapon performs changes. Instead of physically transforming however, weapons in Dark Souls III are held differently. From what I’ve seen so far, the axe’s weapon art powered up its attack, whereas the one for the Great Sword, which I found later on in the level, was able to both lunge forward and sweep enemies high into the sky with an uppercut motion.
I didn’t get a chance to play around with the Scimtar, but from what I’ve heard, hitting the button brings out an identical weapon and allows players to do a spin attack. It’s unclear whether or not this ability will be available for other weapons, but it does look cool. I’m still a bit foggy on how all of the new weapon arts work, but I’m hoping it doesn’t mean there will be less weapons in the game. One of the things I always liked about Dark Souls 1 and 2 was the variety of weapons available in the game. Though I loved Bloodborne and understand that choices were limited partly because there were additional ways to wield weapons, I missed the joy of trying to find them all. If they don’t cut down the amount of weapons available, I’m curious whether all melee weapons of a particular class (i.e. Long Swords etc) will act the same or if they’ll vary within their own group. I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out.
As for enemies, I saw my fair share of hollows, knights, dogs, and even a menacing, fire-breathing dragon perched atop the building. In a nostalgic throwback to the appearance of the Drake in the first game, a dragon touched down and landed nearby, scorching the path I was going to take along with the enemies that were lying in wait. Since that way was now blocked, I looked for another route, and ducked past the flames just in time to be surprise-attacked by a knight who was hiding in a doorway.
While there were several other mean surprises tucked into the chunk that I played, it was the transforming enemy that nearly gave me a heart attack. Because I’d been able to walk through certain areas of the map without drawing the attention of the non-aggressive hollows, it completely caught me off guard when one of them came towards me and morphed into this pulsing mass of black matter. It’s hard to explain exactly what I saw, only that it was beast-like in nature and was absolutely terrifying. I was instantly reminded of the enemy in Bloodborne who upon previous encounters was relatively easy to beat. Once I went back to the same spot later on in the game, he took the form of a gigantic electric beast as soon as I approached. I only saw it happen with that one enemy, but I’m hoping we see variations of that same idea throughout the game.
The last thing I encountered in my playthrough was the boss titled “The Dancer of the Frigid Valley.” The feminine figure, which you can check out at the top of the page as well as the newly released gameplay video, was slender and hunched over. She quickly glided through the area and attempted to strike at me with her curved sword, leaving flickering flames in the wake of the weapon. It was easy to roll around and hack away at her from behind until she whipped out another sword halfway though the battle. Her unique design in addition to the other bosses shown off in the trailer have already got me wondering what I’ll be encountering around every corner in the game.
From the little that I’ve seen, Dark Souls III is shaping up to be the ultimate Dark Souls experience. With Miyazaki back as director, level design is once again on par with the first game, and chock full of surprises that are both familiar and new to the franchise. The apocalyptic setting as well as the new weapon arts show a lot of promise for what will hopefully be the best in the series thus far. I for one can’t wait to see more once the game hits shelves next year.