Even if you hadn’t already known that Hidetaka Miyazaki was once again in the director’s chair for Dark Souls 3, any fan of the Souls series would be able to see his influence within the first couple of minutes of the hands-off E3 demo.
It’s especially apparent when the player encounters a narrow walkway filled with a large pack of enemies waiting for you at the end, almost daring you to try and fight them. So, you take the logical path and try to avoid the fight by going up the stairs to a bridge. Only you are almost immediately greeted by a dragon that swoops in and perches himself on the platform across the bridge, then proceeds to try and roast you with fire breath.
“Having a dragon at the first castle stage is very typical to the series, and it’s actually one of [my] favorites,” said Miyazaki.
Welcome back Miyazaki-san. The Souls series missed you.
Dark Souls 3 marks the series first foray into the new generation of consoles, and with the added power comes the goal of making the scale of the world in Dark Souls 3 more impressive than it has ever been before. Sure enough, the demo showcased a gigantic castle fortress called the Wall of Lodoleth that seemed overwhelmingly massive in scope. Paths seemed to branch in a multitude of directions, and once we were 25 or so minutes into the demo, Miyazaki was able to look back and point out way off in the distance the bonfire that we started from, emphasizing that the world of Dark Souls 3 would be very interconnected, much like how Dark Souls 1 was.
Speaking of Dark Souls 1, Miyazaki said something interesting during the presentation when he was describing the story of Dark Souls 3.
“The story is about the ‘Lord of Cinder,’ which is very unique to the series, and the “Dark Hero” who tries to kill those lords,” said Miyazaki. “We revealed the announcement trailer during the Microsoft press conference, and at the very end of the trailer, there was a scene where the Lord of Cinder was resurrected.”
The Lord of Cinder, of course, was Gwyn’s title from Dark Souls. Could the Dark Hero refer to the player character in Dark Souls as well? Miyazaki didn’t give very many details, but it seems clear that there’s a direct connection to the original Dark Souls
Miyazaki also mentioned that the world in Dark Souls 3 is facing a doomsday, leading to a kind of post apocalyptic aesthetic in the world. He wouldn’t explain what exactly happened, but its clear that death and destruction have ravaged this fortress.
When the demo begins, we see a group of hollows that don’t even notice the player as he walks forward. They simply sit with their arms outstretched towards the sun. Next to them is a tree with seven or eight dead hollows skewered on its branches, but even still, their heads and arms are facing towards the sun in prayer. It was a very eerie sight to behold, and one that was further punctuated by a dead dragon wrapped around a tower up ahead, with ashes blowing in the wind from the dragon’s carcass.
The player heads inside a dark room that the dead dragon is overlooking, and in typical Dark Souls fashion, is immediately struck by a leaping enemy that was lying in wait to the left of the entrance.
“All of the level designs, enemy placements — everything has been designed to kill you guys,” Miyazaki says, eliciting a series of chuckles from the journalists in the audience.
As the player makes it through the dark room, he eventually finds a small grave that can be lit as a permanent light source, but it can also be interacted with to read a short epitaph that tells what happened to the person that the gravestone belongs to. This one in particular says “Raised his sword for the Lord of Cinder.” Miyazaki promises that there are more of these epitaphs hidden away in the world, and that they will inform the player of the lore of the world.
Now its time to go over some of the new features of Dark Souls 3‘s combat. Over the course of the demo, we got a look at three melee weapons, each of which had their own unique abilities that served different purposes. The first weapon was a long sword, which had a new stance that could be activated while holding the sword with two hands.
When in the “Ready stance,” a player can use one of two powerful attacks. The first was a massive uppercut slash that was able to break an enemy’s guard and leave them vulnerable to quick attacks. The other was a long range stab that moved the player forward several steps.
The next weapon that was demonstrated was a greatsword, which also had its own new stance which would allow a player to use a powerful, but exceptionally slow lunge attack, offering great damage, but at the risk of being interrupted by a faster attack.
“If you were a Japanese comic fan, [the greatsword] is actually like a reproduction of Guts from Berserk,” said Miyazaki.
In the upcoming encounter, the player puts the greatsword to the test against an enemy knight, which seems much more formidable than any of its counterparts from prior Dark Souls games. He moves exceptionally quick, makes good use of his shield, and can even use the same ready stance that you can in order to hit you with an extremely powerful attack that will break your guard. As I’m watching it, it makes me think of the battles against the red eyed knights in Demon’s Souls, and sure enough, Miyazaki even states that this type of battle would likely be familiar to Demon’s Souls fans.
The player continues forward through the demo and eventually reaches a normal looking enemy that suddenly gets possessed by what appears to be a grotesque black demon that almost looks like a stand from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, if you’d forgive another manga reference. The possessed enemy is ferocious and eventually takes out the player, sending him all the way back to the bonfire.
Fortunately, this was supposed to happen for the sake of the demo, as it allowed a new path from the bonfire to be shown off. One that led the player down a walkway that was guarded by skeletal dogs, because it just wouldn’t be a Souls game without fast and hard to hit dogs that lunge towards you from every direction.
The new path also gave Miyazaki an opportunity to show off the third and final weapon in his arsenal, a scimitar. When wielded in both hands, the scimitar actually split into two, allowing for a series of spinning attacks that are meant for dealing fast damage to a group of enemies. The player tried to demonstrate this by letting himself get surrounded, and then tried to use the scimitars to take them all out at once — a technique that had a 50-50 success rate, according to Miyazaki. It didn’t work out quite as planned in our demo session, as the player got swarmed, and had to take out the enemies in small groups rather than all at once.
Finally, Miyazaki also showed off some changes made to the short bow, which can now fire an extremely quick shot out of a roll with its own unique animation that has the player firing while on one knee. “It might be an exaggeration, but it’s like Legolas from Lord of the Rings.” It’s also important to note that only a short bow will be able to do this, making it feel very differently from a long bow.
To conclude the demo, Miyazaki showed off a boss called the Dancer of Frigid valley. A large woman, clad in armor, and wielding a flaming scimitar. The name “Dancer” is an appropriate one as the boss moves with much grace, swiping at the player with both her sword and outstretched arm. As with most Dark Souls bosses, she was also capable of utilizing a powerful explosion attack that would blast the player away if they remained too aggressive for too long. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the conclusion of the boss fight, but we did get to see the boss transition into phase 2, which involved it pulling out a another sword, which added an extremely dangerous spinning attack to its repertoire of moves.
Ultimately, there’s still a lot more information to learn about Dark Souls 3. In a Q and A session after the presentation, I was able to confirm that there would be warping between different discovered bonfires from the get go, ala Dark Souls 2, and that the extinction mechanic from Dark Souls 2 would not be returning, but other than that, Miyazaki was mostly tight lipped about other features that would make Dark Souls 3 feel distinct from its predecessors.
Personally, I’m just happy that Miyazaki is once again behind the wheel. As much as I loved Dark Souls 2, Miyazaki has a personal touch on the games that he works on that speak to me as a player, and even just by watching a 30 minute presentation of Dark Souls 3, you could see that touch permeate throughout the design.
Dark Souls 3 will release sometime early next year on the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. In the meantime, praise the sun and prepare to die.