Friday, 10 July 2015

Dark Souls III

Dark Souls III

Stunning beauty in a withered world

Aspidery, snakelike humanoid entity slowly descends from the ceiling in a darkened room, locking gaze with you as it reveals a sword engulfed in flames. Atmospheric music wafts into the room as the Dancer of the Frigid Valley moves gracefully toward you, an unnatural ballet that’s enchanting yet somehow horribly wrong. A flowing, transparent cape and eerie mask hide the true nature of the terror before you as the fight continues. Tension threatens to throw you off your game as you attempt to clear your mind to deal with transforming attacks and a shifting environment during the course of the battle. This Dark Souls III boss encounter echoes the nature of the popular franchise – deadly, dark, mysterious, and beautiful.

Hidetaka Miyazaki (Dark Souls, Bloodborne) returns as director to lead the charge on the third entry in From Software’s iconic dark fantasy franchise, and the influences are noticeable immediately as we watched a behind-closed-doors E3 demo. The area we were shown pays homage to Undead Burg (one of the first areas in the original Dark Souls) with vast castle ruins, towers, shortcut-driven level design, and interior locations, brought together by a dragon encounter that players familiar with the first game will instantly recognize.

The technical capabilities of current-gen hardware give common settings like castles and parapets new and awe-inspiring clarity, in some ways similar to how the King’s Field series became Demon’s Souls and beyond. You can tell that some things that had to be tabled in past iterations of From’s dark dreams are only now becoming translatable with new technology.

Speaking of tabled items from the past, let’s get a big one out of the way first; Dynamic light sources and wind-blown cloth and ash are all part of the new visual kit. Having to use your torch in dark environments, something that was often heralded in preview footage for Dark Souls II, makes its triumphant return. Let’s hope it stays that way. We were treated to several dark interior locations that make the torch an essential item for sight, forcing players to put their shields away to gain insight on prowling terrors and potential ambushes.

Dark Souls III is also bringing something new to the table – special moves by weapon type, with combat that’s slightly faster than Dark Souls. Despite the quicker attacks, expect the difficulty to be on par with the series or harder. During the demo we saw a massive greatsword lunge that dishes out massive damage and sends enemies flying in the air (Miyazaki actually referenced greatsword-wielding protagonist Guts from popular manga/anime Berserk here, a series often referred to as inspiration for various aspects of the Souls series). We also saw a dual-wielding scimitar whirlwind that mopped up a mob of lesser foes, and a speedy short-range bow that gives a bit more reach than standard melee options – perfect for a dexterous combatant, rolling and shooting without careful time to aim. As always with the Souls games, using a well-placed firebomb or other consumable item at the right time can save you a ton of healing, running, and death.

Dark Souls III

The enemies ranged from Souls staples to the exotic. We saw standard lightning fast skeleton dogs and undead shamblers with all sorts of equipment, some adhering to the traditional “one-twothree” wild-swings of the ever-popular “oh god, a level one enemy killed me by flailing” thralls. We also saw a variety of deadlier opponents that were clear nods to the Black Knight enemies from the original Dark Souls and a black, squirming mass of jellylike goo that seemed like it would be right at home in Bloodborne.

The centerpiece of the demo was the boss encounter with the Dancer of the Frigid Valley. The player wanders into a large, dark room with a singular glowing
object resting on the floor. After it’s picked up, the doors close and the battle begins. Boss battles are the gem of the Souls series, and as a veteran of the franchise’s challenging roster of monstrosities, this one in particular seemed immaculate – a combination of what I’ve come to expect from the denizens of the Souls series infused with the nightmarish elements of something from Bloodborne. While I often feel tension, terror, and eventually accomplishment during traditional Souls boss battles, this one conjured up notions of sadness – a hint of the bittersweet victory against Maiden Astraea in Demon’s Souls, mixed with an unsettling, unhinged madness. There’s something alluring but disturbing about the way the Dancer moves, a razor-edged waltz that, as usual, has considerable consequences for the player that misses a beat.

I have every expectation that this could be the best game in the franchise based on what we’ve seen so far. As technology advances, frustrating framerate drops disappear and drab green pixels become lush realities that allow masterful creators to take us deeper within their brilliantly crafted worlds. Daniel Tack