Walking through the halls on the first day of E3, I was welcomed with a familiar sight on the banners around the convention center. The lone knight, down on one knee with the image of a dark castle in the distance. This could mean only one thing: there is another Dark Souls game coming to consoles. First shown at the Microsoft press conference, the hype and anticipation for the game was high. Luckily for me, I had already made an appointment to stop by Bandai-Namco so I would see first-hand what players could expect from the next installment of the series.
Sitting down in the booth, I did not know what to expect. There have now been four previous Souls titles, all with their own unique take on the series. All Souls games at their core feel similar, yet it is the small differences that not only add to the gameplay but also change the way the player jumps into the twisted world FROM builds. I wanted to know how this new game would compare. Would it be a game that draws the player in with a new challenge, or would this be the year FROM bends to people's frustration and lessen the difficulty?
The first thing that I noticed as the demo started was that nothing felt simplified for the player; there was clearly a layer of polish added to this installment, yet the challenge that players would feel was evident. Visually, Dark Souls has never looked better. Dynamic light and fire were seen throughout the short demo, and as the player walked through the desolate world shadows, light bounced off objects to reveal glimpses of dark creatures just out of view. It was dark fantasy at its finest.
According to game director Hidetaka Miyazaki, Dark Souls III will be using the theme of armageddon for this installment. Desolation and death are spattering the landscape. From the corpses on display as you walk the landscape to the creatures worshiping the dead that welcomes the player to the start of the demo, this is a place that has lost all hope. The dark sun in the sky shines over the world, casting but a pale glow over the landscape. Never before has Dark Souls looked so crisp while maintaining the haunting darkness that helps to define the series.
Even with all the desolation, the scenery is oddly beautiful. The updated visual flare that FROM brings to this title can not be overstated. This is how the world of Souls should be experienced. From the ash blowing through the air to the carcass of a dragon slowly decaying, it all combined to form of a sense of wonder and loneliness. An aesthetic that that the franchise has been perfecting since Demon's Souls and it’s finally coming into its own in this latest installment.
Despite FROM giving new ways to confront the evil of the world, the level of challenge is still very real. The choice of stances, weapons used, and the way the player goes into attacks all matters. The simplest mistake could cost them a hit and ultimately cause their death. This was no simple game, and even early enemies can easily be fatal. There is no hand-holding, and it is all up to the player to pick a path that will bring them victory.
Miyazaki went into detail on the key elements they plan to bring to this next Dark Souls game and the thing that stuck out to me was the speed and deliberate nature this latest installment seems to have. Things seem to be much faster, but in a more intuitive way. Rather than make a game easy, Miyazaki has chosen to clean up the more clumsy aspects of the gameplay so the challenge seems manageable without trading away the fear and constant sense of danger. Players may feel more powerful and have all the tools to take down anything that lay in their path, but the game shouldn’t leave things feeling easy or safe.
The thing that stuck out for me was the new short bow. Built for speed, the player can quickly strike at anything that lay before him. This play style, that seems much faster than in previous games, really shows how the gameplay has evolved. Despite the player always being in danger, this style of play allows them to feel like Legolas as Miyazaki jokes. A powerful, fast-striking character that can quickly take down multiple monsters.
The demo concluded with a very stylish boss battle. Much like in the previous Souls games, the bosses are where players really test their skills and reflexes. The simplest of mistakes spell death, and it is a long quest to make their way back to the boss. The boss FROM demonstrated for this demo was the Dancer of the Frigid Valley. This tall, lanky, sword-wielding creature was beautiful and terrifying in equal measure. Slinking down from the roof of the boss chamber, it’s a monster built to confuse the player. With fast, erratic movements and changing attack patterns, The Dancer is sure to be one of many challenges awaiting players upon the game’s release.
Dark Souls III is an evolution of the Souls formula rather than a revolution. FROM Software have managed to single out the strongest elements of previous installments and refine them. This is a much faster experience with a truly awe inspiring visual design. I may be starting to question a Souls game release every year or so, but production quality has so far remained high. Hopefully this installment is no exception. Dark Souls III is slated for an early 2016 release for PS4, XBox One and PC.