What was it?
A 30-minute hands-off presentation followed by a 30-minute hands-on demo.
What did we learn?
— Miyazaki wants to go back to the first entry in the series in terms of philosophy and enemy design.
— Gameplay is much faster, making dodges for enemy attacks more efficient, but also combat much more intense, as in Bloodborne.
— Dynamic lighting makes interior environments much more atmospheric, and torches actually light more than the three inches ahead of your character.
— Each weapon type has a unique stance to introduce new attacks and strikes to counter enemies.
How was it?
Dark Souls 3 has the potential to be an incredible game. Of course it does, it’s Dark Souls and Miyazaki is directing. But it’s more than that: the step up to new gen means it can rival the bleak, soul-sucking yet encapsulating environments of Bloodborne while maintaining the chess match combat that makes Darks Souls spectacular.
The new dynamic lighting means that torches are actually useful, now. It’s not a simple case of whacking up the gamma to make sure you aren’t surprised by lurking knights. The game has a similar look to Bloodborne’s gothic environments, though a slightly brighter palette.
During the presentation, international producer Yoshimura Atsuo noted that Miyazaki’s philosophy is to return to the difficulty and enemy design of the original Dark Souls. This is immediately apparent in the game, with Alonne Knights back to prominence as a formidable force, proving almost impossible to defeat in any fight where you face more than one. Which makes it all the more sadistic that two guard the door to the boss in the section
As this was an early impressions demo, the AI difficulty was lowered to spare the blushes of games journalists who, often, are rubbish at games. That doesn’t mean it weren’t still hard as balls, though. On my travels I came across a narrow pathway preceding a staircase and an alley. The alley was occupied by a firm of axe-wielding foes, while atop the stairs a fire-breathing dragon. It’s this kind of ‘are you joking?’ scenario that makes Souls games immediately frustrating, but ultimately so rewarding.
Dark Souls 3 combat plays like Dark Souls on double speed. The player can move around much faster than in previous entries and backstabs seem much easier to pull off. The new character type, Northern Warrior, comes with a unique ‘War Cry’ – almost identical to Skyrim’s "Fus Ro Dah" – which can be used to stagger shielded enemies back and create the perfect opportunity to attack. it’s a neat trick that’s perfect in close quarters, as stepping in to kick is a prolonged animation that often leaves players too vulnerable to risk. The new attack stances for each weapon type can also take advantage of staggered or blocking enemies.
However, enemies are much smarter now, too. Alonne Knights are actively aware when you’re trying to circle and backstab them, and will swing their shield sideways to catch you. The first boss, Dancer of the Frigid Valley, is a giant, and the typical strategy of standing under its legs will only work for so long thanks to its devastating spin attack, which takes her away from you before quickly lunging back to smash away the vast majority of your health. So far for every new tool you have, enemies have something to counter your old tricks.
Although my time was brief with Dark Souls 3, already evident are a swathe of changes and improvements in another sprawling open world that offers more than a few ways to explore it. Dark Souls 2 may have been a misstep, but 3 is staying true to its crushing roots.