E3 2015 – Dark Souls 3 is a culmination of all things Souls

Between having Dark Souls 2, Bloodborne, and Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin all come out in the past year, it feels awfully soon for another Souls game. And yet, here we are. Dark Souls 3 exists, for better or worse, and it’ll be out early next year.

Going into our appointment, I was both excited and trepidatious. As much as I absolutely adore the Souls series, the near annualized release schedule the series has suddenly found itself in has me wary of future entries. Releasing one every year would take away from some of the fun of having a new world to explore, new secrets to uncover as everyone works together to solve all its mysteries. Not to the mention the general burnout and stagnation that would come with annualization. Even so, I’m not about to say no to more Dark Souls. And going by what we were shown in the demo, Dark Souls 3 is looking good.

President of From Software and director of the Souls series Hidetaka Miyazaki led the presentation. The demo began in an area called “The Wall of Lothric,” a sprawling castle. The first thing Miyazaki pointed out was that, in typical Dark Souls tradition, everything in the background was subject to exploration. Hardly revelatory info, but he stressed the point frequently throughout the presentation. Perhaps that means every part of the space will serve a purpose? That literally everything you see can be explored, not a single structure left to act as pure set dressing?

The character lit a bonfire (yes, they’re still around; no, we didn’t see them create a bonfire, unfortunately), and began to move forward. He came upon a group of people who looked to be praying. They weren’t hostile, so he just walked on by them. Soon enough, he encountered another foe who rang a bell to call their allies into action.

Combat is standard Dark Souls fare. Equipped with a Longsword, a shield, and suit of armor, the demonstrator carefully took on each foe by blocking attacks and rolling around as necessary. That said, it looked faster than previous Souls games. Even with the heavy armor, he was able to roll around light as a feather, his sword strikes swift. It’s not quite on the level of Bloodborne, but close. Miyazaki did note that the game will have more responsive controls, however, which could be an extension of the faster pace.

Afterward, they came across a small gravestone. A prompt appeared on-screen that read, “Offer Flame.” By doing so, you can gleam tidbits of lore from them about various fallen figures from the world. What offering flame means, however, remains unclear. Is it a replacement for humanity?

Next, they showed off one of the new elements of swordplay: “Ready stance.” Before, the most you could do with your weapons was swap between wielding them one- or two-handed, the latter changing the weapon’s moveset and increasing its attack power. Now, there’s ready stance, which is basically the Dark Souls equivalent to Bloodborne’s trick weapons in that they drastically change the weapon’s application. For the Longsword, for instance, it turns its primary attack into a guard-break move; for the Greatsword it launches enemies into the air, and for the Scimitars, it activates dual-wielding. In the case of the Scimitars, dual-wielding leads to a moveset focused around crowd control, each strike making the character unleash a whirlwind of strikes.

They demonstrated the Longsword’s ready stance moves on a knight in the next area. Things started to get a touch hairy, however, as a mob of foes stood in the distance, shooting fire-tipped arrows as they tangled with the knight. Instead of taking them head on, they decided to get a little more… creative.

Beside them was a staircase. Upon reaching the top, a dragon suddenly swooped in and rained down fire on the scene, scorching everything and everyone in sight. The flames came far too quick for them to run past, and taking on the dragon obviously wasn’t an option, so they run back downstairs. Now the dragon shifts its focus and begins shooting fire down there as well, clearing the way forward in the process.

The next couple areas were primarily exploration. It feels like every other room has diverging paths. I was always catching glimpses of doorways and staircases, wondering what lie beyond. It’s all traditional Dark Souls level design, but it seemed more dense than its predecessors. Granted, I’ve said the same for every other game, I’m sure, and it could very well end up being on the level as the previous games. But I hope that what with Miyazaki’s stress on everything being subject to exploration means the level design will indeed be more complex than before.

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Eventually they arrived on a rooftop and came across a small group. They were about to engage when one emanating a sort of purple mist comes into view. Before we have any time to ponder what that’s supposed to symbolize, it suddenly transforms into this massive, amorphous beast that starts thrashing around knocking the surrounding foes off the roof. It almost looks like something from the Abyss, but different somehow. They try to fight it, but ultimately prove to be no match for the beast.

One respawn at the bonfire later and it’s off to the boss using a shortcut prepared specifically for the demo. The boss battle took place inside what looked to be a cathedral, the boss itself a large armored foe wielding a sword covered in flame. She emerged from a portal that looks similar to the same substance that monster on the rooftop was made of. The boss was swift and destructive, every swipe of her sword setting some part of the room ablaze. After exchanging blows for a while, she eventually drew a second blade, this one enchanted with ash.

The battle didn’t last long, so I wasn’t able to gleam many insights from it. One thing that stuck out, however, was the camera. From the moment the battle began, it was far more pulled back from the player character, presenting a wide view of the boss and the arena. A welcome change, as the camera has long been a source of frustration, especially against bosses in tight spaces.

If there’s one takeaway from the demo, it’s that Dark Souls 3 is looking to take a little bit of everything from the Souls series as well as Bloodborne. I still have my fears about the series’ steady descent into annualization, but so far From Software seems to have proven themselves capable of still iterating on Dark Souls in some significant ways. There’s still plenty we don’t know about the game, but then, what is Dark Souls without a few mysteries?

Some stray observations:

-The animations were largely identical to those of the first Dark Souls. The Longsword’s strong attack is now a thrust again, for instance, the Greatsword’s riposte animation exactly the same as it was in that game. Hoping those stick because it would be nice for the Longsword to get its superior moveset back.

-The Shortbow has been reworked entirely. It’s a perfectly able weapon in close-quarters now, allowing you to switch between firing off arrows and swinging your sword, or shoot arrows after coming off a roll. Very cool.

-The “Lords of Cinder” are key figures. Given that Gwyn took on the title of “The Lord of Cinder” after kindling the First Flame, perhaps there’s a connection there. Also, some of the promo-art shows off a location in the background that seems very similar to Anor Londo. When asked about whether we’d be returning to any locations from previous Souls games, Miyazaki merely responded, “That’s a secret.” Hmm…

-In the trailer, there’s a brief shot of someone picking up what looks to be the crown of The Old Ivory King from Dark Souls 2 (Alsanna, maybe?). Will the crowns once again be of import?

-Dark Souls 3’s setting is post-apocalyptic. The world is covered in ash, and the sun is withering. Between that and the “only embers remain” line from the trailer, perhaps in Dark Souls 3 the First Flame has finally faded. If that’s the case, it would explain the new ending in Scholar of the First Sin.

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