Fire in the Soul: Hands On With Dark Souls III

Dark Souls 3 header

I have never been good at FromSoftware’s Souls games. Ever since Demon’s Souls was released in 2009 (or 2010, for those that had the patience to wait for the Australian release), I’ve always had the sort of relationship with the franchise you don’t want to admit. You see, I’m genuinely quite terrible at it.

I am horrendous even compared to other people who aren’t any good at these games. I don’t really understand a lot of the back end systems; I only ever played the Warrior class and I don’t really mess around with magic. Hell, I’m still prone to using the occasional Estus Flask at an inopportune moment in a mad panic. When some skeleton dude or whatever comes and tries to mess me up, my plan of attack is to start rolling around the floor and flailing my sword wildly. Basically, I have no idea what I’m doing. And yet, I have still played all the games in this series, and I’ve still had fun being absolute garbage at them. So when I got the opportunity to head to Bandai Namco’s Sydney office to check out Dark Souls III, I prepared myself to be subject to a serious amount of punishment.

Following a quick cinematic introducing you to the game’s main foes, the Lords of Cinder, you get to create your character. There isn’t a whole lot new here regarding stats and classes are far as I could see, but I was told that the creation tools have been given an overhaul and provide a lot more depth. I don’t really get too involved in this as I like my character to be dressed in as much armour as possible, so after giving the preset a mullet and naming him ‘Aussie Battler’, I was in the game.

There’s an opportunity to get a quick rundown of the controls, but the only real significant change here is the introduction of a ready stance, which gives you a bit more flexibility and agility regarding attacking. If you’ve played a Souls game before, you’ll be straight into it…or dead, if you’re anything like me. Within the first 10 minutes of the game you’ll come across a sword-wielding statue kneeling in a wide open area, and in my naiveté (or just plain stupidity), I ran up to it and without hesitation hit the button prompt to remove the weapon. My excitement upon receiving a new weapon was quickly dissipated when I remembered this is a Dark Souls game; by removing the sword I triggered a boss fight. I’m not sure if you can actually avoid this and just head straight to the Firelink Temple (more on this later), but damn did I feel dumb.

Dark Souls 3 combat

Upon his inevitable death, I was greeted by what is one of the more significant changes to the way Dark Souls plays. In the previous games, death was punished by becoming Hollow: your maximum HP would decrease, you’d lose your ability to summon White Phantoms to aid you, you’d lose your collected souls etc. However, in Dark Souls III it seems the only penalty for death is the loss of collected souls, which are recovered in the usual way by retrieving them from the location of your last death.

I managed to eventually beat this early boss (it only took about four or five attempts). Just beyond this boss is the Firelink Temple, which is a name that anyone who played the first Dark Souls game will be familiar with. The Firelink Temple serves as the same purpose in Dark Souls III, being a safe haven where you can get weapons repaired and interact with characters integral to the story. However, the similarities end there. This is a very different looking Firelink Shrine, and Dark Souls III eschews the openness of the first game and has the shrine act as a central hub similar to Dark Souls II, which will probably come as a disappointment to some fans.

Going from the Firelink Temple into the next major  area, you immediately noticed how much larger the environments are compared to the previous games, how gorgeous the bleak an ashen scenery is. It seems as if the game is not only designed to utilise the current-generation processing power, but also to take advantage of the increased agility that your character now enjoys.

I started to actually get into the swing of things. I didn’t die too often and when I did, I was quick to learn my mistakes and began to amass a healthy amount of souls. Stupidly, I started to forget that Dark Souls is a complete bastard disguised as a video game. At one point, I came face to face with about 5 enemies blocking my path, with a staircase to my left. Not wanting to let Aussie Battler die again, I decided the best course of action was to give the enemies a miss and see what awaited me at the top of the stairs. Oh what a terrible choice that was. No sooner had I reached the very top step was I engulfed in flames by a fucking dragon. But the great thing about Dark Souls was that upon my resurrection at the bonfire, I was able to return to that same area and use my knowledge to lure the enemies that had previously blocked my path towards the waiting dragon and have it obliterate them for me.

Dark Souls 3 dragon

This elation that followed was, of course, swiftly terminated by my sword breaking mid-combat with an 8 foot tall knight. You can’t win ‘em all.

Dark Souls III is as tough as the series has ever been and it doesn’t do a whole lot to mix up the formula, which is exactly what fans will want to hear. However, I worry that after Bloodborne and the Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin DLC last year,there might be a bit of franchise fatigue at this point. I was also a little concerned that despite the jump in processing power provided by the Xbox One and PS4, there were still the occasional frame rate dips similar to those seen Dark Souls and Dark Souls II in the previous generation of consoles. I was assured that these weren’t present in the previous build, so hopefully it gets ironed out before release.

Whether you’re jumping into the franchise for the first time, the type to take pleasure in doing a Dark Souls run without taking a single hit or , like me, you skipped over Bloodborne, then there’s definitely a lot worth being excited for Dark Souls III when it hits Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC on April 12th.