Hands-On Preview: Dark Souls 3

Dark Souls 3 may or may not be the game you’re looking for after playing the PlayStation exclusive and spiritual successor to the Souls series, Bloodborne. I was recently invited to the game’s network test beta, experiencing its combat system and visuals and the first revealed boss, the Dancer of the Frigid Valley.

The combat feels like an uneven mix between Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Movement feels faster than earlier games in the series but sluggish in comparison to Bloodborne’s fluid animation. Players can use their shield to block enemy attacks, throw items at enemies and parry an incoming attack; but can now dodge as well as roll. While dodging adds a sense of fluidity, the game still feels slow. Swinging an axe or halberd is fittingly drawn-out but enemy movements still look awkward and mechanic. From Software is no doubt aware of this, designing a part of the demo area to exploit the stillness of enemy movement. At one point, a dragon landed on a tower and breathed fire on a low floored area before repeating the action above. In this instance, the player must time their movement to avoid the flames and run to the next group of enemies; this scenario reminded me of the dragon guarding a bridge in the original Dark Souls.
DS1The game’s visuals felt inspired by Bloodborne, despite not being as colourful as the PlayStation exclusive. Despite some environments not feeling as dynamic as Bloodborne’s, the lighting effects were mesmerising. Giant dragon corpses and bones glistened in the sun; the garden area outside the boss room was decorated in tones of orange, green and navy blue; and blue lights from casting spells sparkled in the game’s bleak world. Although the town itself was painted in a very grey tone, the demo showed signs of a dynamic use of colour, so I wouldn’t worry about the game’s visuals.

There were four playable classes in the game demo (the wandering knight, northern warrior, herald of white and the academy assassin). I spent my time playing as the academy assassin, equipped with a spear, buckler and staff. I found myself using my spells more than anything, since there is a designated mana bar for casting magic, instead of a limit on how many times I could cast a specific spell before needing to rest at a bonfire. Dark Souls 3 also introduces esteem flasks that replenish your mana; and embers which act as humanities granting you the ability to summon other warriors while increasing your maximum health. I also found several tombstones that the player can pray to, including one of the Lord of Cinder; I wasn’t entirely sure what praying did but it will no doubt be explained near the game’s releaseDS3Dark Souls 3’s spells are so far not as weak as in earlier games. In Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2, sorcery was effective only in the first 20 or so hours of the game, until you discovered a rare weapon. The three spells in the demo dealt significant damage despite their limitations. Soul arrows are strong bolts of lightning that take time to cast; soul darts are the equivalent of magical throwing knives, dealing low damage but with near-instantaneous cast time and the ability to chain spells; whereas soul great sword is a wide long-cast timed area of effect attack whereby the player spins around swinging a magical great sword. Each spell has its use as I found myself chaining between the three to defeat enemies. There is an option to wield dual scimitars later in the demo but I preferred casting magic from afar.

The boss of the demo area, the Dancer of the Frigid Valley, was grotesque and fast. The introductory scene of the boss fight showed the long limbed creature drop down from the ceiling covered in ragged cloth. The entire fight felt like it could’ve been in the upcoming Bloodborne expansion with the boss room being a gothic cathedral that you enter by pushing a giant mechanical door. The boss fight itself was marvellous as the long-legged skeleton leaps, spins and jumps around the cathedral room; wielding a fire enchanted scimitar and another blade halfway through the fight. As expected of From Software, the boss’ theme is spectacularly operatic and coarse.
DS2I’m interested to see more of Dark Souls 3. Although it isn’t as breathtaking and feels sluggish in comparison to Bloodborne, it’s nice to see a return to the classic action role-playing game. Dark Souls 3 releases on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on the 24th of March next year, with Bloodborne’s first expansion, The Old Hunters, releasing on the 24th of November this year.