The recent presentation of Dark Souls III has proven that the series can still draw a lot of attention. For several years, developer From Software has been operating around a fixed pattern, yet each time it manages to transform adult men and women into drooling teenagers. It was no different this time. The presentation of the game in the rooms occupied by Namco Bandai was hosted by no other than Hidetaka Miyazaki himself, the founding father of the series. His presence was a nice touch, especially considering that the developer was recently promoted to CEO of the company, so he could have easily delegated one of his employees to participate in E3. Naturally, him being there is not automatically a guarantee of quality, but it goes to show that Miyazaki still enjoys doing his thing. To me, such an approach has always seemed crucial in the case of Dark Souls.
As for the game itself, which is probably what you're most curious about, it is... well, it’s the next installment in the series. No more, no less – From Software is not preparing any revolutionary changes, but it puts a focus on the evolution of the various elements of the universe it created. Is this method of small steps enough to meet the expectations of the fans and surprise them again? This I don't know yet, but I can say that I am intrigued...
Apocalypse on a completely new scale
Usually, a presentation of a new From Software’s game starts with an outline of the overall premise and plot, and a laconic description of the world. In this case, we only know that the story will revolve around a character known as the Lord of Cinder, who is most likely someone who was able to "link the fire" (like Gwyn from the first Dark Souls). The game world will combine its two essential characteristics: an apocalyptic atmosphere and a “withered beauty". This concept was best exemplified by an image of bizarre, decayed trees morphed together with human bodies, and lit by a faded sun. I could also see a corpse of a dragon. Miyazaki made a remark about most reptiles of this kind ending up dead. Soon, however, we stumbled upon a living one, whose fiery breath effectively prevented our hero from continuing his journey. The Japanese developer said it was his favorite scene – a dragon for a good start to scare the living heck out of the players and singe them a little bit.
As we already know, Dark Souls III is to be the first installment in the series released exclusively on the current-generation consoles as well as PC. For this reason, the developers will be able to expand the scale of locations, and implement new visual effects providing a deeper sense of immersion. The former is not about the game map becoming significantly larger, but rather about its architectural scale and vision. In the demo, we could see a castle with slender, crumbling towers looming in the distance; it’s the same structure that appears in the trailer (this location is called the Wall of Lodeleth). The game is going to restore the principle according to which sooner or later we will reach each point visible on the horizon. Individual areas will also be linked in a manner similar to the one featured in the first Dark Souls, which will surely please those who were disappointed with the "scattered" locations in the second installment.
Dark Souls III at E3
Dark Souls III was not featured in the exhibition halls. In turn, Bandai Namco prepared an installation at the entrance to the event. A scene taken from the game portrayed a character known from the trailer standing over a corpse with a massive sword plunged into its heart. Every now and then, a fountain of black goo would spurt from the wound. Miyazaki, the author of Dark Souls, explained at the presentation that the scene was relevant to the plot of the third part in the series.
Gusts of wind and Bloodborne's aftermath
The new special effects are associated, among other things, with the wind – we'll see wind-blown clothes, or sparks from a torch carried by air movement. It is difficult to say whether this innovation will have any effect other than a purely esthetic one. Personally, I like to imagine that closely watching such little details could, for instance, help us discover a secret passage (which is the source of draft). This would be nice, but we won't find out what the developers cooked up in this respect until the game launches. All in all, it must be said that visually the production is hardly a revelation – not that it bothered me, though. It looks prettier – that's for sure – but in terms of graphics Bloodborne made a greater impression . One should keep in mind, though, that Bloodborne’s strength lay in the design of locations, so Dark Souls III may have its moments as well.
The words of the producer seem to suggest that Dark Souls III will run on consoles at 1080p and 30 fps. PCs are supposedly "a different story" – unfortunately, we don't know any details about this platform yet.
What we know for sure is that the work on said exclusive title for PlayStation 4 was not in vain – as evidenced by our opponents who are now much more visually polished. One of them was thrashing about wildly and transforming before our eyes, which immediately reminded me of the hard time endured in Yharnam. This aspect of Bloodborne turned out to be more important to me than I thought, as it restored my respect for bosses – I hope that it will be similar in Dark Souls III. Another thing inherited from Bloodborne is the system in which blood remains an item of equipment.
New combat techniques
The most interesting innovations implemented by From Software will concern the combat system. It seems that many types of weapons will receive special unique attacks or techniques. Miyazaki presented a few examples. For instance, when wielding a straight sword, you can enter into ready stance in which the hero raises the weapon at shoulder height. From this position we can launch several powerful blows. While double-wielding a pair of scimitars, we will be able to use spin attacks. Greatsword will allow us to toss enemies in a powerful strike delivered from below. Naturally, these techniques will be subject to certain downsides; e.g. in the case of greatsword, launching the special attack will be quite lengthy. All in all, tactical options will be extended, with combat mechanics gaining depth. Oh, and the enemies will implement these innovations as well.
Little is known about the online mode. The information circulating in the Internet suggests that it will be linked to sacrifices made of defeated players. During the presentation we could also see mysterious gravestones – once you located one of them, it was possible to read a certain inscription.
While the abovementioned techniques are quite common – one might conclude that they are simply additional attacks – the changes made with regard to short bow seem quite exciting. The fans of Dark Souls know well that the use of bows in the series was never too appealing, even if the second installment tried to speed up the process a little bit. In Dark Souls III the short bow will gain a special feature – fast-shooting. As a result, it will be possible to use it in direct clashes. Dodge roll, quick shot, dodge roll, shot, dodge roll, backstab – this sequence of movements was out of our reach until now. "It's an exaggerated comparison, but we want the player to feel like Legolas", quipped Miyazaki. It's not merely an "additional attack," but a brand new fighting technique. I hope that there will be more of such innovations, including in the field of magic. Miyazaki only assured us that the latter aspect will also see some new ideas.
Surrounded by danger
What else is there? Some elements of gameplay are difficult to assess following a brief presentation, but Miyazaki said that the character will move and react a little faster to help us deal with new, difficult situations. It might actually come in handy, because apparently "everything in this game is designed to kill the player". I saw attacks from behind, throwing an opponent off balance with a shield, enemies using potions, as well as knights who – as pointed out by the host of the presentation – will always be intimidating and challenging. Similarly to Bloodborne, the opponents were also significantly more aggressive and quicker. Looks like we should get used to dying quite often.
Further into the presentation, we were taken to a rooftop environment, where several undead prayed to the abovementioned disturbing tree-like creatures. Suddenly, one of them turned into a bizarre, twisted entity, shape-shifting and furiously trashing around. We also had an opportunity to see a boss in action. It was the Dancer of the Frigid Valley, shown on the picture below. This lanky creature clad in armor was wielding a burning sword – its strikes set fire to different spots of the arena. The most impressive, however, was the way it moved – in an incredibly slow, yet dignified way resembling that of a dancer. Further into the fight, the boss drew a second sword, and then moved to launching spin attacks in the finale. In short, the confrontation was impressive thanks to its uniqueness, even if the movements of the boss were somewhat reminiscent of enemy behavior from the previous games. Such fights spiced up with interesting elements – in this case, it was the slowness, but also the elegance of the enemy – are something we want to see as often as possible.
Worth it to come back, worth it to begin
The future of the Dark Souls series
At the presentation of the game, Hidetaka Miyazaki hinted that, in a sense, Dark Souls III is going to be the last installment of the series as we know it. What’s next for the franchise? That we do not know, although ideas are aplenty. When asked about further projects, Miyazaki mentioned other series developed by From Software such as Armored Core or Ninja Blade. Though he didn’t want to reveal any details, the developer didn't rule out the possibility of taking up work on either of these productions.
Dark Souls III is hardly innovative, and in many ways resembles part one, part two, Demon's Souls, and even Bloodborne. From Software, however, still has new ideas on how to develop its current flagship series and probably still enjoys making it. I have to admit that after this first presentation of the new game I got hooked again, thanks to the climate, additions to the combat system, and finally the premise of the game itself. It seems that once again it will be an adventure for those who seek real challenge – veterans and beginners alike. When responding to a question, Miyazaki said an interesting thing, namely that being a beginner is the best time to play Dark Souls. After all, the first contact with the cycle for a person who is completely new to the franchise is the most intense. Why not start with part number three then?