Dark Souls III is now under a month from release and the hype train is definitely on full steam ahead. We’ve had a thin trickle of details on Dark Souls III in the form of the odd screenshot, the Network Stress Test and even some gameplay videos, each serving only to whet my appetite further for the latest iteration in this legendary series. Recently I was invited to come into the offices of Bandai Namco Entertainment Australia to sit down and play a preview build of Dark Souls III, and given my love for the Souls series, I’d have been a fool to decline. After being warmly greeted at the offices of Bandai Namco Entertainment Australia I was quickly moved into a studio room where a PS4 was set up with Dark Souls III ready to play.
Boy was I happy to be greeted by a familiar start-up screen with the words ‘Dark Souls III’ in thin, glowing letters. After delving into some character customisation, my character awoke in a hazy, craggy area. I decided to use a sorcery build as the base for my character because unlike my colleague and DYEGB editor Kieran Stockton, I like to experiment with my builds to fully harness the incredible power of spells in Souls games. The class system remains virtually unchanged from previous FromSoftware titles so Kieran shouldn’t have too much trouble establishing his beloved (yet painfully slow) turtle build.
Now let’s get into the nitty gritty of what I experienced. Firstly, the game definitely feels more like the original Dark Souls game in the movements. Backstabs don’t require that stupid start-up animation like in the second game and the shield break has reverted from that god-awful slap, back to the beast falcon kick that was so good in the original. There’s now also a new mechanic in the form of weapon skills which compliments your move set nicely. What are weapon skills? Each weapon has a skill which is generally used in two-handed mode. It’s essentially a powerful weapon-specific attack (which is distinct from a normal power attack) that deals a substantial amount of damage. I ran with a shortsword/rapier combo, so I technically had four weapon skills to choose from as both weapons had two weapon skills each.
In terms of overall pace the combat in general has a much faster tempo than previous Souls titles. Dodging manoeuvres were fluid and the backstepping mechanic which was in Bloodborne appears to have been transplanted to Dark Souls 3. It’s clear that Bloodborne’s critical success has made a major impact on the way FromSoftware have approached the development and production of Dark Souls 3, but they have also brought back some elements from Demon’s Souls. One particular aspect is the Firelink Shrine (a name that should be familiar to those who played the first Dark Souls game), which is designed similarly to The Nexus from Demon’s Souls and serves as a hub world. It is not an exact replica but there’s certainly a sense of familiarity all the same.
You may have noticed a couple of things in the image above. For starters, there is a blue bar in-between the health and stamina bar. This is your FP bar, or Focus Points bar. This bar effectively acts like your traditional mana bar. Spells and miracles consume FP in order to be casted. I only got to dabble in a few sorceries in the form of one healing miracle, one soul arrow and one heavy soul arrow. Due to the addition of the FP bar, miracles and spells no longer have specified amounts of casting, instead each spell consumes a set amount of FP per cast. Spell casting times have reverted to the way they were in the original Dark Souls: slow but powerful. One thing that I should also note is that the healing miracle I managed to get my hands on was relatively ineffective for the amount of FP it cost to cast. Something that should also be noted is that the previously mentioned weapon skills also consume FP as well as stamina. Amongst all this casting talk you may also see a blue Estus Flask in my equipped item slots. This item is called the Ashen Estus Flask and instead of recovering your health like the regular flask, it recovers your FP. For those who don’t want to focus on FP usage or don’t care for its recovery, don’t feel that you have to have this; you can transfer the uses between Estus Flasks over at the Blacksmith in Firelink Shrine. So if you want you can have no uses in your Ashen Estus Flask and 12 in your main Estus Flask.
The final few things to notice in the above image all come down to one pivotal feature. If you look closely at my character you may see embers on my garments and there is also an ember-like insignia next to my stat bars. These embers are what signify the game’s equivalent of humanity: Lord of Cinder mode. In this mode you have a 1.4 multiplier on your health and are able to summon helpers for cooperative play. On a side note, your White Sign Soapstone (the item you use to be summoned as a white phantom in another player’s world) must be purchased from a merchant. Back to Lord of Cinder status, there are three means of attaining this state: Killing a boss, successfully aiding another player as a white phantom, or crushing a consumable item called an Ember.
In my time at Bandai Namco Entertainment I played about five hours of Dark Souls III and during that time I faced off against around three bosses which all did a very good job of kicking my butt. They were all well-designed both mechanically and visually but I’m not going to spoil them here. All-in-all, my time at Bandai Namco Entertainment Australia has only increased my level of hype for the upcoming release of Dark Souls III. Though I will have to start from scratch again, no doubt I will enjoy every minute of it. Look out for our full review closer to the game’s worldwide commercial release on April 12th. Preorders are available from EB Games and JB Hi-Fi for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
Check out these exclusive screenshots below