I previewed Dark Souls 3 about two months ago back at E3, where I was fortunate enough to watch a hands-off presentation of the game with Game Director and From Software President Hidetaka Miyazaki guiding a group of journalists through an area of the game called The Wall of Lodoleth.
It was an impressive demo, but it left me hungry to get my hands on it. I wanted to experience the thrill of facing off against the Dancer of the Frigid Valley, I wanted to get a feel for how much the combat has changed or stayed the same, and to experiment with the new weapon arts system that gives each weapon type unique abilities that further differentiate them from the others.
At a recent press event in Napa, California, held inside an actual castle by the way, I was afforded a chance to do all of that and more with nearly two hours of hands-on time with Dark Souls 3.
Let's get the disappointing news out of the way first: The demo was almost entirely what I had already seen at E3, so any sense of surprise or fear of the unexpected was gone. There was also no magic, no bow and arrow (that I could find, at least), no equipment management, and outside of the new weapon arts, there were no new game mechanics that Souls veterans haven't seen before.
So the truth is, the Dark Souls 3 that I played didn't really feel like it had its own unique identity yet. This is in stark contrast to the first public Dark Souls 2 demo which introduced life gems, showcased several new magic spells, was full of new enemies types that we hadn't seen in prior Souls games, included pitch black areas that required you to use a torch in your off-hand, in addition to featuring a revamped dual wielding system designed to make dual wielding a viable combat option.
Weapon arts were really the only thing that felt truly new in the Dark Souls 3 demo. Fortunately, the idea behind them is very cool.
Every weapon type has a unique ability tied to the left trigger called a "Weapon Art." With a longsword, the weapon art puts the player into a ready stance, and from there you could use one of two powerful moves that not only deal heavy damage, but also blow away an enemy's guard. I know what you're probably thinking: "But if weapon arts are an ability that's tied to the left trigger, how do you parry?"
Good question! The answer is that unless you're utilizing a shield that is specifically designed to parry attacks, you won't be able to parry. The premade character that I used came with two shields: One was a standard metal kite shield that could block 100% physical damage, allowed me to use weapon arts while wielding a sword with one hand, but couldn't parry; the other was a small round wooden shield that did not block 100% physical damage, but allowed me to parry an enemy attack with a well timed press of the left trigger.
Personally, I love this change. I found myself frequently changing between my two different shields depending on the situation, which was a lot of fun. My hope is that in addition to making the many different weapons in the game more distinct, the weapon arts mechanic also succeeds in making more substantial differences between shields.
While I didn't get to use it myself, the most unique weapon art that I saw was the one for the battle axe, which was the default weapon for the second premade character. Pressing the left trigger with the battle axe equipped would initiate a temporary power buff similar to the one given by the Channeler's Trident in previous games.
Interestingly enough, you are not the only one able to use weapon arts. There were several times when fighting a knight where he would get in the very same ready stance that I could get in, and then all of a sudden explode out with a powerful attack that would blow away my guard and stamina.