June 22, 2015 by Paul Curtin
After the success of Bloodborne, Hidetaka Miyazaki, game director at From Software, is returning to the even more challenging Souls series with Dark Souls III. We had a chance to get an exclusive preview with Miyazaki at E3 2015 and can confirm that fans of Dark Souls are going to be hyped when they see how much better the series looks on current-gen systems. Dark Souls III looks visually stunning like Bloodborne and will look even better for those who will be able to run it on PC.
Miyazaki pointed out many times during the demo that the art direction of Dark Souls III is focusing on “withered beauty,” and that became apparent as the player began traversing the game at the start of our hands-off demo. Everything you see in Dark Souls III has a sense of decay as if the objects and structures are all withering away in this rundown universe that’s begun to show its age.
As the player began to make his way through the level, bits of ash started falling from the sky like snow. Upon continuing forward, the chunks of debris started to grow in size, and soon the source of the ash was revealed: a fallen dragon whose scales were now turning to dust in the wind. Seeing this sight as the game’s fading sun dynamically lit the ash in the sky and bounced off the surrounding building’s textures set the perfect dark medieval tone that fans of the series are going to love.
The increased processing power of current-gen system has also allowed From Software to greatly increase the view distance over previous games in the series. Massive structures and buildings off in the distance that are fully explorable can be seen from a great distance away and allow the player to get a better sense of scale and an idea of how epic the journey ahead of them is going to be. Unlike Bloodborne‘s behind-closed-doors showing at last year’s E3 where we noticed huge drops in framerate, Dark Souls III had almost no drops in fps at all — even during chaotic battles, the fps held strong — which is a great sign that the game will run better than the PS4 exclusive.
But the new level designs aren’t just beautiful, and From Software has also now added events that can change up enemy encounters in different ways. During our demo the player came across a narrow corridor filled with enemies; rather than trying to fight them all at once or pull them one at a time, he turned and tried taking a different path up some stairs. Before reaching the top of said stairs, a giant fire-breathing dragon (What Souls games wouldn’t have a massive dragon in the first level?) dropped down from the sky and prevented the player from taking another step for fear of death. This same fire that was meant to kill the player was used to his benefit as it also hit the nearby enemies in the corridor below, killing them all and clearing the path for the player to continue on and avoid the dragon for the time being.
Later on, menacing knights with shields appeared and prevented the player’s regular attacks from landing. From Software took this time to show off the new “Ready Stance” that will be one of Dark Souls III’s new features. By taking a fighting stance before attacking, the player can quickly close the distance between foes and break their guard with more powerful lunging attacks. The player was even able to launch the knights high up into the air with a sweeping attack that looked incredible. That being said, it’s not just the player who can now use the Ready Stance, and enemies, too, can use stances themselves to land even more devastating blows than in previous games.
Right away, it also became apparent that the pace of the sequel is much faster than in Dark Souls II, but still slower than in Bloodborne, making Dark Souls III a nice medium that should keep fans of both IPs happy. From Software explained that this change was to help allow players have more control over their characters and make the dodging, rolling, and attacking mechanics more accurate to help prevent cheap deaths.
We also got a chance to check out the new dual-wielding in action, which allows players to perform devastating spins capable of taking out large groups of enemies all at once. The long and short bow are also returning; however, the short bow has been modified to allow players to quickly fire while moving. Miyazaki described the faster movement with the short bow as an influence of Legolas from The Lord of the Rings – but fans of previous Souls games shouldn’t fear because the character’s movement was nowhere near that fast or acrobatic.
While gameplay might look awfully similar to previous Souls games, From Software still has some big surprises for fans who think they’ve seen everything the series has to offer. At one point in the demo, one of the non-aggressive withered ghouls the player came across exploded into a giant oil monster that surrounded the player and quickly killed him. This was after the player had safely passed other ghouls without any indication that they would attack. This was not an obvious boss encounter with a large room setup as From typically likes to do, and having something like this happen is sure to keep players on their toes and dreading what horrors might catch them off guard around every corner.
With the staple of the Souls series being the epic boss fights, of course Miyazaki ended our hands-off demo with an epic boss showdown. We knew we were in for a treat as the player entered a large Gothic building and had the door to the entrance (or escape exit) slowly and eerily close by itself to prevent the light from entering or the player from leaving. Once the player was locked in, a massive creature From called the Dancer of the Frigid Valley slowly slithered down from the ceiling where it had been hiding.
Once the fight began, the lanky boss moved around the room with feminine qualities that were both beautiful and creepy. Wielding a single burning blade and wearing a silky translucent cape waving behind it, the horrific masked creature began to ignite the room in flames with every swipe it took. As the Dancer swung at the player and missed, its blade began to engulf the dark room in flames that became even more of a threat to the player than the blade itself. Once low on health, the Dancer switched to a second phase where it summoned a second blade of ash that completely changed its attack patterns, causing it to lose its grace and furiously spin around the room with both blades. The demo ended with the player being slayed by the Dancer and From explaining they didn’t want to spoil the ending of the fight for us. With no health bar on screen, there could be even more to this boss fight than what was teased.
Six-player multiplayer was also teased, but From made a point of saying things like Chalice Dungeons from Bloodborne were probably not going to be included because they don’t want to copy everything that Sony now has exclusively with their popular new Bloodborne series. Miyazaki also wouldn’t give up any details regarding the giant faceless knight they’re calling the Lord of Cinder, who appeared in the game’s announcement trailer. So, as with all of From’s games, expect for there to be a lot of lore hidden throughout the detailed environments for players who are willing to dig deep for it.
Dark Souls III is set for release in early 2016 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.