Dark Souls is a series that has become a sort of odd beast in the gaming community. On one hand, you have an RPG with beautifully decrepit imagery, impeccable ambiance, and a deep lore begging to be uncovered. On the other hand, you have one of the most difficult, violently unforgiving video games in recent years. It is a polarizing series that pulls no punches as it thrusts its fans into a vicious cycle of death and learning.
Dark Souls III is now looming on the horizon and just like its predecessors, it looks to dash the hopes, dreams, and pride of all who enter across the sharp, beautiful architecture of its world. But, after a bit of hands-on time with the next in line for this notoriously difficult gameplay experience, it is clear to see that Dark Souls III is much more than just another sequel.
At a glance it’s clear to see that the next entry into the series is still very much a Dark Souls game. The world is large and foreboding, and there is a sense of dread looming around every corner and within each shadow that permeates the gorgeously rendered setting. Enemies are quick yet far from mindless, baiting you into providing an opening for evisceration. Items glow, and souls are collected as the player hacks their way through the many different monsters that inhabit the world. Basically, all the things that a Dark Souls fan will be very familiar with.
It’s when a player actually gets into combat and pays attention that the changes within Dark Souls III come to the surface. This is a much more refined experience. One that is clearly benefiting from the multiple iterations that have served as learning sessions for the development team.
As much as the series is loved, there is no denying that the previous Souls games were pretty stiff, and this made combat unforgiving for the wrong reasons. They lacked that sense of flow and made combat feel anything but natural. Dark Souls III completely removes that by borrowing a bit from the games that came before. Two of the new elements that stick out the most are speed and Sword Arts in particular.
Dark Souls III moves quickly, not in a ‘speed through every fight’ kind of way, but there is more rhythm to the dance of battle. Rolling provides quick getaways in order for the player to get out of danger, as well as allowing players to get right back into the heat of things for a few quick thrusts with a weapon. Enemies are quicker to swarm the player character as they block off escape passages, and capitalize on any deficiencies in the player’s methods. There is still the dread of not knowing what to expect, along with having to learn the patterns of the many different enemy types, but players must adapt to going through the process at a faster pace if they are to have any hopes of surviving in Dark Souls III.
Speed itself is also a threat in its own way. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t work well, rather that it provides a false sense of security. Players that are used to having to trod through each game may feel a bit too comfortable once they realize how much better they can navigate battles. But rushing is still a quick way to a “YOU DIED” screen in Dark Souls III, and learning to control the new-found freedom offered by the injection of speed will prove to be integral to success.
The Sword Arts in Dark Souls III allow players to alter how they use their weapons, adding new maneuvers and trajectory to their swings all with the press of a button that places them into a “ready stance.” In a way, it’s similar to how weapon transformations changed a hunter’s approach in Bloodborne, but it adds even more depth to combat due to how certain Sword Arts completely change the way the character moves.
Sword Arts in Dark Souls III are definitely risk/reward with how they open up a wealth of new options in exchange for different sacrifices such as speed or the use of a shield. They expand the already extravagant dance of battle and will indeed become part of some of the best strategies. The way that they add more intricacy to the different weapon types certainly changes Dark Souls for the better.
Of course, the Dark Souls III demo wasn’t without its issues. A major one, which most certainly could lead to a gruesome death, was the framerate that began to chug multiple times for no discernible reason. There weren’t many enemies on screen and at times I wasn’t even in combat, making the drop in framerate a bit strange. I’m sure that is something that will be addressed in the coming months leading to release, but it is a noteworthy concern since this entry requires speed and precision much more than any the Souls games before it.
Assuming the technical issues get ironed out, Dark Souls III is proving to be less of a sequel and more of an evolution for the Dark Souls franchise. It still retains that dark deadliness that fans have come to love for better or for worse, but it also ushers them into something new and downright better.