Dark Souls III
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Amid all of the excitement surrounding our first look at Dark Souls III at E3, we didn’t spend a long time fretting over what might happen if FromSoftware’s series took a little bit too much influence from the magnificent Bloodborne. After all, these are two distinct entities, with their own rules and arrangements, and surely Hidetaka Miyazaki wouldn’t blur the lines to the point of obscuring the identities of either. And yet this new encounter with Dark Souls III feels, at first, a little too brisk. The series’ pace is so deeply embedded in our bones by now that any deviation feels harshly pronounced, but fortunately it’s a sensation that passes, and we’re soon admiring how well a touch of Bloodborne’s DNA is incorporated here.
Our first run takes place in an area called the Wall Of Lodeleth, a crumbling battlement overlooking a grey stone castle that’s topped with tall, red-brick spires and set against a pale yellow sky. It’s a location that simultaneously recalls Bloodborne’s Yharnam and Demon’s Souls’ Boletarian Palace, and the result is hauntingly beautiful. The environment is intricate and richly detailed, and as we hop down from a broken wooden platform to light the first bonfire, there’s an immediate sense of familiarity. That doesn’t prevent us from becoming embroiled in hubris-catalysed blood-letting after we barrel into a tall, sword-wielding Hollow too enthusiastically, though. A couple of backward rolls and a panicked swig from our Estus flask spares us a trip back to the bonfire and, lesson well and truly relearnt, we raise our shield and proceed.
Progress might be more halting than in Bloodborne (which is as it should be), but our
character feels noticeably more agile than those of past Souls games, even once we find a greatsword. It’s clear that Miyazaki is unafraid to up the pace a little in the wake of his recent project, and Dark Souls III benefits from a shift to the middle ground between Hunter and former Chosen Undead. This newfound litheness is countered by some astonishingly aggressive and fast-moving enemies, however, and you’ll need to make judicious use of your shield – and, of course, parrying. Don’t think you’ll be running rings around Dark Souls III’s horrors just because you can roll a little faster now.
One such encounter sees us caught off guard on a rooftop, drawn by the piercing glow of an item protected by a handful of Hollows. After dispatching a couple, one erupts into a large mass of flailing serpentine heads in a manner that resembles Bloodborne’s Snake Parasites. This new creature, along with others we encounter, appears to be made up of spectral matted black hair, drawing further comparisons to Bloodborne by way of the 2015 game’s Cleric and Wolf Beasts.
Dark Souls III also throws larger groups of enemies at you – at one point we’re swarmed by reinforcements called in by the screeching of a hooded, lantern-holding creature hiding in the corner of a dark room – and while shrewd kiting remains an option, the game also introduces crowd-managing area-of-effect attacks when dual-wielding certain weapons. Holding a Legion Scimitar in each hand grants you a spinning blade attack that damages several enemies at once, for example. A slight delay between triggering the attack and it beginning ensures that it isn’t overpowered, and that careful timing remains essential – especially given that you’re easily staggered within the window of the wind-up animation.
While the introduction of such moves may be controversial, Souls veterans can take solace in the fact that Miyazaki is personally overseeing world design, and that there will be no world hub. Dark Souls III’s world will be entirely interconnected (bar, we imagine, some offshoots along the lines of The Painted World Of Ariamis), and the labyrinthine design of the Wall Of Lodeleth proves an encouraging first taste of this return to
Dark Souls design principles. As does the arrival, early on, of a colossal dragon, which destructively perches on the top of a tower and proceeds to cut off our path with a torrent of fiery breath. It also nets us a few easy souls by incinerating the creatures guarding the bridge below the tower, and we try our luck at dashing down a dicey detour between exhalations. It’s a sequence that calls back to a memorable moment from the first game, and feels like an explicit offer of reassurance from Miyazaki.
Bloodborne is an astonishing respin on Souls’ components, but after its frantic and belligerent combat, it’s a pleasure to return to territory that must be eked out a few nervous steps at a time.
Miyazaki is personally overseeing world design, and there will be no world hub
Dark Souls III introduces a new Stances system that allows for special attacks. The Ready Stance seen here allows the player to rush forward and guard break
Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Origin Japan Release 2016
LEFT Dual-wielding weapons can help you out in a tight spot, and showcase the additional litres of claret that have been introduced.
This polearm knight moves with disarming speed, pummelling our raised shield and quickly emptying our stamina bar. He’s still vulnerable to a perfectly executed parry, however
BELOW While the game’s pace has generally been upped, there are still plenty of larger, lumbering beasts waiting to flatten you
ABOVE CENTRE The Dancer Of The Frigid Valley boss sets the area alight with a fizzing, flaming scimitar.
ABOVE Miyazaki claims that bows will be more effective this time around. The short option, in particular, has had its rate of fire cranked up