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Dark Souls III

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: From Software
Release Date: April 12, 2016


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Dark Souls III'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 19, 2015 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

A dark and brooding fantasy adventure awaits players in a vast twisted world full of fearsome beasts, devious traps and hidden secrets.

Dark Souls began with the PS3-exclusive Demon's Souls but has since blossomed into one of the most respected franchises on the market. Dark Souls III has quite the legacy to live up to, but it has a stellar team behind it. Director Hidetaka Miyazaki, fresh off Bloodborne, is prepared to bring his mastery of the craft to the franchise.

We only know a little bit about the Dark Souls III decaying, apocalyptic world, but what we do is tantalizing. The plot focuses on a mysterious figure known as the Lord of Cinder. This is the character who appears at the end of the E3 trailer, constituting himself from his base components. He is the centerpiece of everything they're showing, and the lore hints that he was a major force in the world but died in some unknown way.

The area we were shown in the demo is called the Wall of Lodeleth, which is part of a gigantic, ruined castle inhabited by the undead. The inhabitants are skeletal corpses, the dogs are skeletal beings, and even the sun is slowly dying and fading. The world does not look healthy and safe.

Our first glimpses of the gameplay will feel very familiar since the classic Dark Souls gameplay has returned almost entirely intact. Bloodborne does not appear to have had significant impact on the Souls design. You can still dual-grip weapons; wield bows, shields or torches in your off hand; parry and counterattack; and all of the various things you've come to love in the series.

The most significant new feature in the demo is Arts, which replace the L2 button and let you change how you interact with your weapon. When you change your stance while wielding the default short sword, you gain access to other moves for a brief period, such as  powerful charges or thrusts that can break enemy guards. The greatsword has an extremely powerful lunge where your super armor can soak up an attack or two. Dual-handed Legion Scimitars have a spinning attack that's great for clearing close-quarter crowds of weaker enemies.

Dark Souls III is populated by plenty of enemies. The regular undead are weak but came in large numbers. We saw some neat tricks, like one who backed off and used a flask to heal. Near the end of the demo, a seemingly normal undead exploded into a horrifying black beast that obliterated the demo character. Even normal foes can be extremely dangerous in Dark Souls III, it seems.

We also got a glimpse of some higher-level foes. Knights have returned, and Miyazaki was very clear that they're based on the original game's deadly foes. Knights effectively have access to all the same tools you do, including Arts attacks with their weapons. One knight used a spear weapon, and he could access charge attacks and leaping dives. Bigger than the knights were the two bosses we saw. One's probably the Last Dragon, a tremendous monster that appears before the character and blocks his path with flame.

The other is the Dancer of the Frigid Valley, which resembles a harem girl from a dark nightmare. She wields a gigantic flaming sword that sets the environment on fire with each slash. She's slow and unwieldy if you back off, but she has tremendous reach and devastating attacks, so getting up close shows why she's a true Souls boss. Anyone who's worried that Dark Souls III might take it easy on the players shouldn't be concerned because it's as brutal as ever.

We also caught glimpses of other systems but without the details to back them up. We didn't get a chance to see the punishment for death. It wasn't clear if that's because the character was already "hollow" or because the game has a Bloodborne-style system. We can confirm that dropped souls are still a thing, and players can recover them by returning to where they died. Online multiplayer is also being kept hush-hush, except that signs will return in some shape or form. Long-term Souls fans will also be glad to hear that they've confirmed the game is built around the same design sense as Dark Souls, with large, interconnected areas.

Actually, "large, interconnected areas" seems to be the name of the game. Taking advantage of the fact that the game is coming to next-gen consoles, the developers have put a lot of effort into making a large three-dimensional world. Even in our short demo, we saw lots of side paths, alternate routes, and an absurd amount of verticality.  Just sitting atop the wall and looking at the castle below is breathtaking when you realize that almost everywhere you can see is likely be a place to explore.

In the early alpha build that we saw, Dark Souls III doesn't break the mold but clearly refines it. All of the core Dark Souls gameplay is returning, and it's bigger and better. There are sure to be surprises and twists as more information rolls in, but this is still the same great Dark Souls gameplay that we've come to know and love. During our demo, our presenter died no fewer than three times. Each time, I wanted to pick up the controller and take it on for myself. Assuming it can live up to the demo, Dark Souls III looks to be a worthy sequel when it releases in 2016.

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