You have to appreciate that, seeing Dark Souls III, and having it presented by Hidetaka Miyazaki, as my first ever E3 appointment was one of the coolest things I have ever done. After walking through a thick smoke screen and sitting on a very uncomfortable bench, we were greeted by the master of FROM Software himself, who went on to walk us through a hands-off demo.
Perhaps the most instantly noticeable thing when the demo first started up was just how good it looked. I must confess to not having playing the Scholar of the First Sin version of Dark Souls II, but even compared to other current gen games this looked great. The draw distance of objects far away and just how detailed they were was impressive, while the quality of the models of enemies and the player were better than ever. At one point we saw the body of a dead dragon, as ashes blew off into the wind in what was the money shot of the demo.
But if there is one game where how it looks isn’t that important, it’s Dark Souls. Here, gameplay is king, it’s the incredibly satisfying sword play and the unforgiving difficulty that makes Dark Souls what it is, and despite not being able to play myself, it looks fantastic. On the difficulty front, the developer who was playing died to a Knight unintentionally, which elicited a nice laugh from Miyazaki, and us watching. While a couple of fights were going on, Miyazaki explained that the difficulty level is still about the same, but the improvements they have made to the controls, with smoother animations especially, will result in less frustrating deaths – although it is Dark Souls, so there are bound to be hundreds (if not more) along the way.
After looking at a few nice views in the castle area the demo took place in, we moved on to fighting a few enemies. Here we were introduced to the long sword weapon that allows the player to use a ready stance, when in this stance a special move that will break through enemy’s shields and leave them venerable can be used. Then, further down the line, the great sword was added, that allows players to use a lunge move that is a long-range powerful attack; but puts the player at risk. This was used to defeat the first Knight (in gruesome fashion with his body being flung into the air) who we were told would once again become the formidable foes they were in the first game. Other weapons we got to see included a short bow, which Miyazaki likened to Legolas from Lord of the Rings, and dual wielding swords that allow for a spin move to clear a wave of enemies.
The combat itself looked similar to how you’d expect it, and there did seem to be occasional moments where the animations didn’t quite execute correctly, although seeing it is a lot different to playing it and this is still far from complete. Other smaller details from the showing included the likes of graves that can be lit to light a passage, and they will explain more of the lore behind Dark Souls. Oh and there was also the revelation that torches themselves no longer have a time limit.
But this wouldn’t be a Dark Souls game without some formidable enemies. The first one, which “we” didn’t end up fighting, was the last remaining dragon, which landed on part of the castle and burnt everything in its path (including the enemies we were trying to avoid) but the actual boss fight we did see was The Dancer of the Frigid Valley. This boss was a huge, yet very thin creature with armor and a very menacing, featuring a flaming sword that would burn any part of the environment it hit. Interestingly, Miyazaki explained that this was a female boss that was designed to look like it was almost dancing, allowing for a gliding movement that becomes very hard to read.
Suddenly, the dev playing was dead again before we even got a chance to see the second set of moves the boss had, as they change based on the amount of remaining HP – and the demo was over. A quick Q&A session revealed that this has been in development for over two years; with Miyazaki being involved almost from the get go despite his work on Bloodborne.
While I will hold full judgment until closer to launch (and when I actually get to play it), Dark Souls III has left me excited to get deep into its lore and mechanics. Although I will say that it certainly looks like more of the same; just a hell of a lot prettier.