Disclaimer: This preview of Dark Souls 3 is based on a PlayStation 4 preview build of the game and is not representative final version of the game.
Dark Souls 3 combines the glisteningly polished visuals of Bloodborne with the sense of world-building and combat of the earlier Dark Souls games. I was recently invited by Namco Bandai to preview the game, experiencing the first area the player explores and a newly revealed boss, Iudex Gundyr.One of the most noticeable changes to the Souls series and the new build of the game is how breathtakingly beautiful the world is. Players begin their quest in the Cemetery of Ash, awaking from within a coffin to a snowy mountain landscape. The area is surrounded in ash and tree roots, creating unique paths and hidden areas. I spent several moments in my short hour with the game panning the camera to see the grand winter mountains and castles in the distance that you can no doubt explore in a later part of the game. The fact that blood stains equipment and cannot be removed until the player visits a bonfire was a nice visual touch as well, despite not causing any changes to the player’s stats.
It’s clear that From Software have drawn upon their time spent creating Bloodborne as the game’s lighting effects feel reminiscent of it. Rays of sunlight glistened against my character cladded in steel armour; while ripples in puddles of water became a mesmerising sight to see. The game no doubt looks more impressive than when I played it during the network test beta, rivalling some of the most visually astounding games on the PlayStation 4. The enemy designs are also quite impressive, including the boss of the Cemetery of Ash, Iudex Gundyr. The various undead assassins cloaked in cloth felt more a kin to Bloodborne than Dark Souls, but the undead soldiers and peasants in the following area found in the test beta, the High Wall of Lodric, were docile and slow like the early enemies in earlier Souls games; although some enemies coarsely transformed into grotesque parasitical creatures which felt more like Bloodborne than anything else.
The game’s first boss fight with Iudex Gundyr, is entertaining as well as promising of what Dark Souls 3 can offer in its sense of boss design and narrative. Situated in an abandoned colosseum surrounded by decaying roots, the encounter begins once the player removes a cursed great sword implanted in Iudex’s chest, causing parasitical roots on his back to enter his body. Index Gundyr is a colossal Venetian-styled masked knight cladded in heavy armour; and wields an extended halberd allowing for a wide hit radius and a long grab range. Rays of light shine against puddles on the colosseum floor and the giant’s armour, as the part of the building that has become debris reveals a rising sun hidden in the clouds. The boss begins to mutate once the player reaches 50% of its health as parasitical worms erupt from its back until the guardian becomes a giant mutated blob with legs, changing its fighting style to falling on top of the player with a very wide and large hit radius. The battle music played by a string ensemble is no doubt coarse and helps build tension when the creatures mutates; which with the standard soldier mutating in the High Wall of Lodric in this preview and the test beta, suggests enemy mutations will play a heavy theme in the game.
I later discovered the game’s hub world, the Unkindled Shrine. A decaying shrine to the late King Lodric, the area is an underground labyrinth with secret tunnels and entrances leading to newly discovered zones. Players can level up at the Unkindled Shrine by interacting with the Fire Keeper, who confesses that the player must defeat the several Lords of Cinder. The blacksmith is also housed at the Shrine, and can now increase the amount of estus flasks the player can carry with esteem shards, as well as customise the ratio of health potions and mana potions the player has – allowing for the player to specialise in health potions or mana potions exclusively depending on their play style, which is a nice customisable addition. Players can also talk to the blacksmith to repair, enchant and upgrade their equipment.
Dark Souls 3 is shaping up nicely. It’s a perfect mix of Bloodborne’s polished visuals and the intricate combat system and lore of the original Souls games. Dark Souls 3 releases on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on the 12th of April this year.