So the excitement of Christmas has long since passed, and the normal person has well and truly settled into the new year. In my disorganised world that means I’ve just finished disassembling my Christmas tree and that I’m still having trouble writing 2016 as the date. Despite my inabilities to cope with change and progression, I have managed to rouse an excitement for certain 2016 releases: specifically for Dark Souls 3.
If you’ve yet to play any of From Software’s Souls series then, in the words of Ron Weasley, “you need to sort out your priorities” because you’re missing out on one of the better experiences that modern gaming has to offer. The Dark Souls worlds are deep beyond belief and require hundreds of hours of play time to properly explore. Even more impressive is the gameplay; each spell has unique casting animation, and every weapon a distinct play-style. Of course, to the ‘casul’ player these will feel more like hindrances than clever nuances. But if you persevere for long enough to get gud, you’ll find that Dark Souls brings an entirely new dimension to the role playing game. And suddenly nothing else will seem the same.
Before I barrage you with the facts of Dark Souls III, you should know that you’re getting yourself in for about 1200 words and 10 minutes of reading. But if you’re as excited as I am, then that’s 10 minutes less you’ll have to wait for April 12th.
The first big change is that the player won’t begin the game as ‘hollowed’, but rather as ‘unkindled’. Past the semantics, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference between the two. Of course, the idea of fire has always permeated the Souls titles, but this time it takes a much more central position, as the Lord(s) of Cinder constitute a major plot point. So perhaps the idea of being ‘unkindled’ may extend beyond what we currently realise.
I’ve bracketed the ‘s’ after Lords of Cinder because it’s unclear as of yet whether we’re dealing with one or many of these characters. As is typical for Dark Souls titles, an aura of mystery surrounds the game, so the finer details are hazy right now. We do know that Gwyn – the final boss from the first game – is not one of these Lords, instead we are dealing with another soul (or souls) that chose to “link the fire”. As such, we can assume that Dark Souls III occurs after the events of the first game. A Destructoid article suggests that one such Lord of Cinder could very well be your character from Souls I (if the player chose the ‘light ending’), which is an intriguing prospect to say the least. Given that the Dark Souls games focus on cyclical time and repeated mistakes, it doesn’t seem too farfetched. We’ve certainly seen stranger things in the series, and with Miyazaki back in the Director’s chair anything is possible.
This leads me perfectly into my next point: Hidetaka Miyazaki is directing Dark Souls III. While I was a huge fan of Dark Souls II, there’s no denying that it was the franchise’s more linear title. And when compared to the sprawling and borderline-metaphysical experience of the first game, Souls II almost felt straight-forward. So hopefully Miyazaki’s return means that we’ll see the same sort of boundless world as we did in the first game.
As far as combat goes, we’re in for the standard Dark Souls experience – dying and dying again, that is – but now with a faster pace. Bows and arrows are receiving more attention; from what I understand the drawing and firing mechanics of the short-bow have been quickened. And stance switching will be more important than before. This time it’s more than the one-handed or two-handed approach, as the game will feature ‘weapon arts’. These weapon arts incorporate both stances and special attacks. For instance, the short sword has a ‘ready stance’ – where the sword is held in two hands above the head, and from which the player can execute more powerful attacks – while Greatswords now have a lunge ability. These weapon arts, when used, will deplete a portion of the blue-coloured magic gauge bar. To the dismay of magic users, spells will also diminish this bar – so the limited cast system is now a thing of the past. On a happier note, we know that the player can refill the magic gauge bar by using the new ‘Ash Estus Flask’, and we also know that weapon arts are applicable to magic-based characters too. Dark Soul III Localisation Producer, Bandon Williams, said that he hopes ‘the battle arts system will actually make the game more accessible’. And from the sounds of the powerful attacks, the system should do just that.
On the topic of powerful attacks, backstabbing is once again a feasible option, so everyone rejoice. And keep rejoicing because the soul-memory system (for online matchmaking) has been abandoned and replaced with an improved version of the original game’s soul-level matching system. Miyazaki has also revealed that the multiplayer will run off dedicated servers, rather than the generally sub-par peer-to-peer systems of the previous games. While I wouldn’t advise betting your hard-earned cash on a perfect multiplayer experience, these additions should certainly help Dark Souls III to remedy some of the series’ major issues.
Now die-hard fans fear not, I know this sounds like an awful lot of change, but Souls III will be as difficult as always. We know that dogs are back. We also know that, in keeping with Dark Souls tradition, the tutorial level (if you can call it that) will conclude with a boss fight. Players will initially square off against Gundar the Ashen, who will, in turn, transform into some sort of monster that the player will, of course, have to battle. For those of you worried about weapon arts, the attacks have invisible cool-down periods that prevent players from chaining the powerful attacks together. Plus, enemies also have the option of using them. Bosses will have a ‘heat-up mechanic’ where their attacks and movements will change once their health reaches a certain point. True, we’ve seen this before in Dark Souls games, but this time it’s happening with every boss. And I’m sure I speak for us all when I say I’m both excited and daunted at that notion.
We’re still a little confused with regard to certain aspects of the game. Firstly, we’ve been given next to no information on the bonfire building mechanics. What does it entail? How does it work? And will it change the ideas of bonfires completely? Secondly, we’re still a little hazy about the starting classes. Until recently we were fairly sure that Dark Souls III offered only: The Northern Warrior, The Wandering Knight, The Academy Assassin, and The Herald of White (you can find the details here). But recent gameplay, emerging from the game’s latest build, showcases a new ‘thief’ class, which appears to handle in a Bloodborne-esque style.
Now, I’ve already touched briefly on the story. And forgive me when I say that is all we really know. The animus for playing Dark Souls games has never been the storyline, but the lack thereof. Rather than following a quest-line, you’d explore the world and discover its history, and eventually you were able to scrounge together enough clues that you could sort-of ascertain what was going on. Honestly, that was half the fun. Sure, in the second game we knew where we were (Drangleic) and what we were doing (finding the souls and seeking the king), but Dark Souls II was still minimalistic in its plot. And we expect the third game to keep this tradition.
However, given that Dark Souls III has been confirmed as the last game in the series, we may actually get some definitive answers about the world and its lore. Perhaps this game will properly tie together the events in Dark Souls I and II. Or perhaps we’ll experience the aftermath of their events? The idea of spreading darkness does tie in perfectly with the dark age and the endings of the first game. Of course, right now, this is just speculation.
Despite the mystery surrounding the game, one thing does seem certain: the bosses aren’t the only big things we’ll see from Dark Souls III. With the growing popularity of the series and the tremendous amount of hype surrounding this release, the pressure is on for From Studios to deliver. And the series hasn’t failed us yet.
Dark Souls III is here on April 12th. Until then, we’ll keep you up to date with the all the latest information and rumours. In the meantime, stockpile your patience, and, more importantly, prepare to die.