NEW YORK — Dark Souls has developed a certain reputation in the gaming world: tough but fair, with a strong emphasis on the “tough.” Dark Souls III seems to continue the franchise’s proud trend of taking delight in killing players for the slightest mistake, and making said players love every minute of it. The series feels more fluid than ever before, with weird creatures and gorgeous graphics to make the adventure a memorable one.
I played Dark Souls III at New York Comic Con, and it’s fair to say that I have been looking forward to this ever since I saw the hands-off demo at E3 2015. I played through the same level that Hidetaka Miyazaki, the game’s director, showed off a few months back. I started my adventure on the ramparts of a crumbling castle at sunset, and set off into its darkened bowels to do battle with ghoulish undead, powerful knights and a grotesque boss waiting at the end.
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For purposes of the demo, I could choose from four classes: a strong warrior, a defensive knight, a dextrous assassin or a magical herald. Having played a sword-and-shield melee warrior for the whole series so far, I went with the warrior and felt right at home. As in previous Dark Souls entries, you’ll want to advance slowly and carefully, shield raised the whole time, as enemies can (and will) pop out of anywhere and eviscerate you in only a few hits.
The biggest difference between Dark Souls III and its predecessors appears to be in its speed. Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls II were all slow, methodical games with (at least) a few moments of fast, frenzied panic. In Dark Souls III, players move, attack and dodge much faster than before. For those who played Bloodborne (a spiritual successor to the first three games), the general rhythm of gameplay will feel very familiar, and the increased speed generally makes for more exciting encounters.
Another new addition is “skills,” which allows every weapon and magic spell to do something special. Hitting the L2 button used to work as an all-purpose parry, if you could time it just right. Now, each weapon will do something different. With my longsword, I could enter a defensive stance and parry enemy strikes. A spear, though, might launch multiple attacks, or a magical catalyst might increase the strength of your spells.
As a Dark Souls veteran, the terrifying and perilous journey across the castle was almost comforting in its familiarity. As I scaled the ramparts, wandered through darkened jails and narrowly avoided getting burnt to a crisp by an irate dragon, I couldn’t help but take in the beautiful, eerie scenery and take in the enemy designs. I fought my share of standard-issue ghouls and warriors, but also a tentacled black beast and an enormous knight armed with a halberd. I died, of course, but I was able to pick up my hard-earned enemy souls (used as currency and experience points) if I made it back to the point where I was slain.
The demo ended with a battle against the Dancer of the Frigid Valley: a tall, lithe female warrior wielding a flaming sword. At first, the battle was pretty standard Dark Souls procedure: watch for her attacks, roll away and get in just a few slashes before repeating the process. Also in standard Dark Souls procedure, she then pulled out an ice sword, lit the floor on fire and proceeded to transform into a whirling vortex of death.
I’ll have to wait until the full game comes out on March 24 to try again. (There’s no price announced yet, but $60 seems like a solid bet.) Hopefully, that’ll be enough time to brush up on my not-dying skills.