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


Bandai Namco

Devel­oper FromSoft­ware

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

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