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A bevy of gameplay footage and information about Dark Souls III, the Miyazaki-directed upcoming new chapter in the dark fantasy action-RPG series, comes our way today, thanks to a closed doors event for journalists and members of the fan community for which the embargo expires today. If you want to avoid spoilers for the title, this is as good a moment as any.
The Firelink Shrine is your central hub for exploring the world of Dark Souls III. Here sit the five thrones of the Lords of Cinder. Essentially, these Lords are not happy about giving their flame up to restore the fire, as it requires them to fulfill the conditions of a combined sacrifice in order to restore the flame to the fallen world of ash. It's your job to go round them up and make sure they get to their seats in time for the big sacrificial show. Three of these lords are prominently called out in the opening cinematic trailer, and the other two are the high lord of Lothric himself and another character we'll get to later; we got to interact with him over the course of the demo.
Inside the Shrine is a Fire Keeper, a woman who you can level up at in a familiar fashion. A down to-earth knight stands here muttering various clues about where to go and what to do, and a handmaiden sells various weapons and items, whose stock can be upgraded over the course of the game by delivering her various offerings. You can also visit the big blacksmith called Andre, who takes care of a variety of essential functions like upgrading weapons with titanite to plus status, raising your Estus flask count with shards, and the new ability to allocate Estus flasks however you see fit. Let's say you have six Estus Flasks. If you're a melee-centric character, you probably want most of those to be health Estus flasks, the traditional undead beverage of choice. If you're more of a caster build or a hybrid, you might want to go with half Ashen Estus Flasks that restore mana, or whatever allocation you want. It's up to you, and can be changed at any time at no cost by Andre, so feel free to experiment as you wish.
Over the course of the demo, we acquired some more lost souls for our hub world. First we added a thief, who can actually be instructed to go steal things for you from the world. When given an assignment he disappears for a while, and it's assumed he will return with some kind of item (he never came back for me during my time with the demo, sadly, but I know he's out there, looting me something cool). We also found a cleric-type woman who sells a variety of miracles and spells. One rather sinister character showed up a few times, but I could have easily missed him. This fellow handed me a cracked red orb and told me to go invade another player's game and kill the person. He showed up again later, and told me that if I liked the single-use cracked orb, he could hook me up with the real deal, an item with unlimited uses to invade other player's games. To acquire it I'd have to prove myself and kill a Darkwraith first. He handed me a key that opens the (lowest dungeon in Lothric) to take on this terror, but unfortunately I never found out where to use it during my play time.
Then there was the third boss, and in terms of scale, it dwarfed its two predecessors. The Curse-rotted Greatwood towered above me, rotting limbs, bulbous weak spots and all. And for most of the fight, the quadrupedal tree wasn't even standing--it rotated on its rear, appearing too encumbered by its rotting bark to do anything but heave itself on me.
By amplifying the scale of the combat with the giant tree, Dark Souls III made me change my approach yet again. I took a more calculated path toward victory as I circled the behemoth, waiting for it to attack before I responded with several devastating hacks to its few weak spots. As the monster's health dipped below 50 percent, the floor gave way and I plummeted, alongside my enemy, into a vast cavern with knee-high water. Much like the combat of its inhabitants, the world transformed as well.
Down in the slums, battling the crowds, Dark Souls 3 starts to feel even more familiar almost to a fault. Enemy archetypes return from the previous games, often with the same attack sequences and animations. The robed outcasts you fight in the very first areas have the same drunken flurry as the undead loitering near the river at the beginning of Dark Souls 2. Souls and Bloodborne players have already fought the Undead Settlement's townspeople a thousand times. Some excellent new enemies stand out, however. I loved the grotesque warbling old folk mages who can give you a fiery hug, or just hit you with their magic book. Robed hulks, who I think might be giant undead chefs, throw boulder-sized cauldrons, and then pull out a huge saw to charge.
I dismembered dozens of these chefs with Dark Souls 3's new 'weapon arts'. Every weapon has a new stance or move on the L2 button. The knife gives you a Bloodborne-style shadow step that gives you easy access to backstabs if timed correctly. The broadsword stance gives you an upward attack that goes through shields very useful against knights. The rapier gets a stance that lets you lunge backwards before striking to counter enemy slashes. You now have three weapon slots and three shield slots, which suggests you're encouraged to switch a lot to take on different enemies.
It's a good system that makes discovering new weapons exciting. However, it's, hampered by the fact that the shield parry command is on L2, and parry takes precedence. That means you have to put your shield away and double-hand an eight-inch knife to use shadow step, unless you've found a shield that explicitly lets you use your weapon art instead. It's an annoyance, especially when it would deepen the combat system to allow players to both parry and use weapon arts.
Eurogamer discussed the title with its director, From Software president Hidetaka Miyazaki:
I ask Miyazaki if - given the trend for sequels to go bigger or add layers of complexity, and Dark Souls' tenet that the player must be hopelessly outmatched - these games get more difficult to design as they go on? He thinks for a moment, then replies, "First of all, don't take this the wrong way, but we aren't necessarily trying to meet the demand from fans when creating a game. We're actually concentrating on what we ourselves want to implement in the next instalment. That's our approach when it comes to game development.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that myself or the team is ignoring the feedback from fans. It's a good opportunity to listen to voices from the community, because they're giving feedback for free; that's a great opportunity. However, the team and I have our own vision when it comes to the game's development; we have our own vision about how to create the next instalment for the Dark Souls franchise. In that sense, everything, the game development, needs to be driven by us, so the feedback from fans will be used, but that alone cannot be the driving force for the development."
At this point I notice that from our vantage point on the balcony of the church, Miyazaki can see the screens of the players down below, so I ask him if he's been watching them.
"I'm scared!" he laughs. "I'm still not prepared to watch someone else play my game. If a certain number of days have passed since the launch day, I would be ready to see someone play it, but I'm still not ready to see someone play even Bloodborne!"
Keen-eyed Souls fans may have noticed something important in that last section. Andre? The Andre? Yes, as far as we can tell, the Andre in Dark Souls 3 is the same Andre of Astora who served as a blacksmith for your hero in the first Dark Souls. Or at least someone who looks identical and has the same name.
He's not the only familiar character, either. Later in our play time, we ran into a large knight wearing a recognizable, onion-shaped helmet. He identified himself as Siegward of Catarina, a jovial character presumably tied in some way to the first Dark Souls' Sieglind and Siegmeyer, also of Catarina. If there were ever any doubt that these games take place in the same world, that should be cleared up now.
There's also an enormous amount of gameplay footage available now. GamesRadar, for example, has a 11-minute video preview:
Polygon has published four videos of the title, starting with a 30-minute gameplay video:
Eurogamer also has a 30-minute gameplay video that skips the Network Test area:
Xbox On's gameplay video is far shorter and to the point, for those that can't afford to spend too much time watching something on YouTube:
More videos and previews are being released as I'm typing this newspost, and we'll make sure to keep you informed on the title through the coming days, whether that is with additional roundups or newsposts about new announcements.