While at E3 2015 we got a chance to sit in on a full gameplay demo of the upcoming Dark Souls 3. On hand to walk us through the experience was series creator, and From Software president, Hidetaka Miyazaki. Unfortunately we couldn’t take any video or images, but I was sure to take some extensive notes of the entire thing, so I’ll try to walk you through it here. You can also see what Anthony and I thought of the presentation here.
Before the gameplay demo even began Miyazaki, via a translator, walked us through a few things about this world. While past games have been dark and gritty, Dark Souls 3 will be taking place in a totally apocalyptic world. They didn’t go too in-depth about the storyline, but it will be focusing on the resurrection of the “Lord of Cinder”, whom your “dark hero” will be trying to kill.
This apocalyptic scenario has created a much more ruined world than any Dark Souls game before. However, Miyazaki didn’t want that to result in a dull, grey landscape. Instead the team focused on creating “withered beauty”, such as the faded sun that hung over the entire proceedings and the ruined castle that we explored.
Another major point, which was brought up multiple times throughout the presentation, was that this was the first current-gen only Dark Souls game. This means From Software can develop exclusively for the more powerful consoles, without holding anything back. Two things that they specifically mention being a result of this are the dynamic lighting and wind-blown ash and cloth mechanics.
Finally, Miyazaki touched on some things that fans were sure to be wondering about, the difficulty and the multiplayer. Speaking about the “evolution and the deepening of the series concepts” Miyazaki mentioned the series’ “unique gameplay elements, such as a sense of accomplishment through overcoming difficulties, or unique online elements. Those are still available in the game, even in Dark Souls 3.”
“Not only that, but we’ll be evolving and improving those elements, and we’ll be adding additional features, and making adjustments. Among those new elements, we’ll be highlighting the sword action elements.” Those sword action elements are the combat changes, which you’ll read more about below.
The stark differences between Dark Souls 3 and its predecessors was immediately apparent upon first loading the demo. A vast, open environment stretched before the player, with a massive castle standing in the background. Miyazaki was quick to point out that “all of the buildings that you see on screen are all subjects for exploration. Even that huge building in the back it will be a subject for exploration later.”
Of course, developers have been saying for years “you see those mountains, you can go and climb those mountains. Once the game releases, those mountains are usually blocked by a nice invisible wall though. However, this is Dark Souls 3, so it is entirely believable, and from what I saw in the demo, it will certainly be the case that whatever you see, you’ll be able to explore.
With that the demo was off and running, with the player immediately lighting a bonfire to setup a new basecamp. Miyazaki then issued a warning that was entirely unnecessary, “the difficulty in this demo is a bit lenient, but the player might be killed, so if that happens please forgive us.”
The first thing that we noticed was the definite theme of Armageddon, or Doomsday, with that faded sun in the background, ash blowing in the wind, and corpses hanging from trees. Dark Souls has never been a cheery series, but Dark Souls 3 will certainly be taking the grimness to a new level.
The player quickly came upon a dead and withering dragon, Miyazaki pointed out that this dragon “probably used to be the guardian of this castle, and is the source of all of the ash you see blowing in the wind.” Heading inside the player lit up a torch, which sent sparks into the air, and had some nice lighting effects that sent shadows around the room, and showing the power of the new consoles.
Just in case we doubted the assertion that Dark Souls 3 would follow in its predecessor’s footsteps and feature a high difficulty level, the player was immediately hit in the back by a formerly hiding enemy. “A typical Dark Souls 3 surprise attack” as Miyazaki put it.
As the player explored deeper into the castle they came upon a grave site. Miyazaki explained that players can torch the grave, using it as a landmark and revealing a bit of optional story pieces through the epitaph. Graves will be hidden throughout the game, offering nice story bits, without getting in the way of the fun.
The new combat mechanics were up next, which they called “sword action elements”. These are meant to widen the range of tactical options for players in battle. The player started off with a straight sword, which features a “ready stance”. From the ready stance players are able to launch two special attacks. One of these allowed the player to break through enemy shields, making combat much smoother and less cumbersome.
After showing some of this we came upon a small walkway that was covered with enemies. As Miyazaki pointed out, experienced players will know that that is a bad scenario. Instead we headed upstairs to see if there were any alternate routes. Instead we found a live dragon, who quickly spewed fire across the area, the effects of which looked very nice.
Someone was quick to point out that according to Dark Souls lore the dragons shouldn’t really be around. However, Miyazaki likes dragons, so the dragons stayed in the game. This is just another sign that Dark Souls 3 is fully under Myazaki’s control after taking a more hands-off approach for Dark Souls 2.
There was no way we were at a level to take on a fully grown dragon, so we went back downstairs only to see that the dragon had taken out most of the enemies we’d worried about earlier. “There are a lot of various dangers in the game, but the player may use that danger against other enemies,” explained Miyazaki.
Here our player acquired a new weapon, the Great Sword. This weapon has a new strong attack feature, which we tested out on a nearby Knight. This move was said to be an homage to Guts, a character from a Japanese Manga called Berserk. Taking on the Knight was said to be a big challenge for the player, as fans know Knights have been pretty formidable throughout the series.
“The difficulty adjustment for Dark Souls 3 is basically to make the Knights really strong, even when they are alone. So, generally speaking, as new installments have been released for the series, the older enemies tend to get weaker. But that is not the case for Dark Souls 3.”
Moving beyond the Knight our player headed back into the tower where another surprise attack came from behind a door. This resulted in probably the best quote of the demo, straight from Miyazaki himself. “Enemy placement design is everything to basically kill the player.” But that can be worked to the player’s advantage, with our player throwing a fireball to a lower level, igniting a barrel and taking them all out at once. “There may be a lot of various dangerous situations or enemies, but at the same time we have been preparing feasible solutions or methods to overcome those dangers.”
At this point we were running low on time so we jumped closer to the end, passing through areas that used to be small dots in the distance from where we began. While on our little shortcut we ran into a group of undead humans, surrounding an altar-like structure. Suddenly a black, oozing monster broke through the ground and began swallowing them up. This was apparently a very important figure, one which will play into the story, but Miyazaki wouldn’t go any further into it.
Here we also saw a better example of the new player movement system, which sits somewhere between Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne. Players will move faster than they ever have in the series, but they still won’t be as fast as Miyazaki’s last game. “There are so many difficult situations and tough enemies, but players should be able to overcome them with this improved character control system.”
We then saw even more evidence of these improvements with the Short Bow, which allows quick shots, even when performing other actions, such as a roll. The player was able to roll and move around, firing off shots at nearby enemies. “It’s just like Legolas from the Lord of the Rings,” explained Miyazaki. The demo then showcased dual wielding weapons, holding a scimitar in one hand, and a short bow in the other.
Skipping ahead a little bit we came upon the boss of this area. Following the usual Dark Souls trend, the boss character was extremely well designed, and seemed particularly difficult. Crawling down from the ceiling, it revealed itself to be some sort of warped knight, stretched at weird angles, yet showing distinct signs of being a female character.
Called the Dancer of the Flaming Valley, she wielded a flaming sword, which became two near the end of the demo. Her movements were the most disturbing part, as she flittered around the arena with smoke trailing behind her at every step.
This concluded the demo, but a short Q&A session revealed a few more details. They are planning to support up to six players for online, following in the footsteps of Dark Souls 2 on current-gen. Magic will be adjusted in a similar manner to the sword combat, but they aren’t revealing how just yet. Items and weapon variety, as well as character customization will be more similar to Dark Souls 1, with more options available to the player. Ash will be an enchantable item, with the boss featuring an ash sword later in the battle.
Overall the demo was quite impressive, with it looking thoroughly improved in the graphics department, while retaining the hardcore gameplay from previous entries. For even more details on the game you can check out our interview with Bandai Namco Entertainment’s Global Brand Manager right here. Dark Souls 3 will hit PS4, Xbox One, and PC in early 2016.