Dark Souls 3 - Hands-on first impressions
The hardest series in gaming is coming back swinging with original creator Hidetaka Miyazaki at the helm and Independent.ie got a hands-on play session.
There's always a slight fear before playing a Dark Souls game, or any Hidetaka Miyazaki creation as the recent Bloodborne will confirm. They're hard. They're really hard and unashamedly so. You have to be prepared to die repeatedly and always with the knowledge that it was your fault. These games don't cheat, you just fail.
Dark Souls 2 divides the opinions of fans. Changes were made to the original and Miyazaki wasn't in charge. It was a good game, but there were always the rumblings that it wasn't the true sequel. All of those grumblings should be put at ease with the third installment. All that was broken appears to have been mended, and then some.
This is the first Dark Souls game developed specifically for the current gen of consoles and as you'd expect it looks fantastic, with dynamic lighting and particle effects galore. The quality is in line with Bloodborne, though the setting has more of a Germanic feel to its dark medieval theme. Dark Souls 3 is all about the return of the knights and those big Teutonic castles.
As you stare at the impressive visuals, you're aware of just how much of the world you can see. The interconnected world design is back, having gone astray in Dark Souls 2. You can look down from the highest tower and know you'll eventually walk down that street off in the distance.
The game world exists without your interaction. During play-through we spotted a dragon kill a group of enemies, but we only happened to glance it out of a window, there was no feeling that the event was triggered by our actions. Combined with the huge draw distance, there's a real sense that you're in a solid world.
No story details were revealed, but there were a number of huge dragons in the world. One was busy shooting flames and flying about and could be tricked in to killing other enemies. The second dragon looked decidedly dead and seemed petrified and slowly turning to ash. While the Bandai Namco rep wasn't allowed leak the story, he did point out the strong presence of ash as a theme and a new item allows the player to collect ash, so... who knows.
On the point of story, it will remain the same unobtrusive entity it was in the fast. Get involved with the narrative as much as you want, or just go about killing things, it's really your choice. A new addition for the story hungry is the "epitaph" a stone that reveals a piece of history when you hold your torch up to it.
At the core of Dark Souls is combat. Here's what we noticed:
- Enemies are faster and more aggressive
- Enemies have more attacks styles, making attacks more unpredictable.
- Some enemies will avoid a fight and direct other enemies towards you. Kill them first.
- The importance of the shield and parry is back, so no more Bloodborne "attack is the new defense" style.
- The backstab move returns, where you can deal massive damage if you manage to get behind an enemy.
- Each weapon now has a unique attack, provisionally called "sword action." This attack should allow players to develop their own attack style. We played with a mace that gave an endurance boost and a great sword that delivered a massive upward swipe.
- The black knight style enemies have returned. Big aggro knights that demand parry skills to effectively kill them.
- Dual weapon wielding is back. We played with some scimitars that were nice.
- The magic meter is back but is now used for both magic and the "sword action" skill moves.
The new unpredictable enemy style was typified by a baddie I called "the thing." We had just ran away from a black knight - we beat him once and opened a door, never again - and came across the ghoulish locals apparently praying at an odd altar of ash. They didn't seem too aggressive or even armed. As we approached, this massive creature jumped down and killed most of them. Why "the thing"? Well, it looked like it was once a man, but underwent some John Carpenter-worthy transformation. Maybe a closer comparison is something out of Resident Evil, but yes, massive black pulsating tumorous growths like fat slugs. And oh boy those slugs attacked. It genuinely felt like five different attacks were in progress at once. We didn't bother trying to figure it out, the firebombs were closer at hand than patience.
The final note on combat is that the one boss we saw was very impressive and very creepy. It felt like some sort of hunched over horse skeleton with flaming blades for hands. Apparently only two people have beaten the boss so far and I was definitely not one of them.
The distinctive multiplayer is back and Bandai Namco have promised that updated tech means it's now seamless, so expect plenty of jerks invading your world to cause mayhem.
We only had about an hour a play time, but first impressions suggest that this is the game Dark Souls fans have been waiting for.
Dark Souls 3 is scheduled for an April 2016 release on PC, PS4 and Xbox One