Even FromSoftware’s Developers Find Dark Souls III Punishing

Out of everyone at E3 2015 this year, I wouldn't want to be the poor developer playing the demo for Dark Souls III. Any Dark Souls title, let alone E3 itself, is stressful enough without having an audience (myself included), who has waited an hour in line and is sitting in rows of stiff wooden benches, watch your every move in silent judgment. On top of that, the developer had to follow the instructions of the producer (Hidetaka Miyazaki) presenting the game with precision, he only had thirty minutes to finish the demo, and he did not have the benefit of having infinite health or stamina. I think you can tell where this is going…

Luckily, my first impression of Dark Souls III was based foremost on its visual splendor. The demo opened on The Wall of Lodoleth, a dilapidated fortress lined in gravestones with two gothic, cascading towers looming in the distance and held together by two precariously thin bridges. The fading sun blared through the golden linings of the clouds, its rays hitting the cobblestones beneath the player's feet with the same intensity as Majula’s seaside sunset. By the gated edges of the wall, misshapen figures surrounded withered trees in circles of prayer with its branches tangled in corpses both human and draconic. The haunting allure befitting the Dark Souls name is in full display.

What also became immediately apparent in the demo is the increased movement speed and swiftness of the Dark Souls hero, a change made in light of FromSoftware’s work on the PlayStation 4-exclusive Bloodborne. Though there were no HUD elements on the screen for health or stamina, I could tell that the demonstrator had the ability to lock on enemies for well-placed circle strafing and to drink Estus flasks to recover health in between battles.

The main character has been given plenty of additional maneuvers and weapons beyond the traditional sword-and-shield build. Equipping scimitars in each hand grants the ability to perform a powerful spin that can stun and deal high damage to enemies in a small circle for crowd control. When wielding a longsword or broadsword with two hands, which the presenter related to Guts from the Berserk manga (Miyazaki is after my own heart), the character has access to several charge moves that can easily counter knights.

In the first section, the presentation showed off a branching pathway where the player could attempt to kill far too many enemies along the bottom pathway or head up the stairs to what seems to be an open world. Then an elder dragon descended upon the castle walls and blasted fire on the entire battlefield, killing off all the enemies on the bottom pathway. (I suppose this would be a prime grinding spot.) With the way cleared, the demo player soon encountered a well-armored knight that unfortunately made quick work of him. An "accident,” we were told.

Luckily, it seemed as though the demonstrator learned his lesson quickly and used one of the broadsword’s arcing power moves from the Ready Stance against the knight. Finding a counter opportunity in between the knight’s greatshield and spear, this knocked the foe high into the air, in spite of its heavy armor, and back to the ground in a thunderous crash, leaving the knight vulnerable to a follow-up ground attack. Using the power moves, along with proper spacing of course, was also pivotal in another fight against two knights. (Yes, they’re not messing around.) This unveiled a path toward a shingled roof with a seemingly quiet hollow… which suddenly burst into a blackened bird-like mass, which reminded me of the formless demonic glob from Princess Mononoke. It was a tough fight, but the player died. Another "accident"?

Unfortunately, due to the number of accidents and restarts (including one more I didn't mention here), we didn’t get to see a particular side section in the demo, but the presenter skipped right ahead to the boss named the Dancer of the Frigid Valley. Starting with a fire sword in hand, she would leave ember trails on the square arena with each swing. She might seem simple to dodge at first, but she soon takes out another sword and begins spinning around unpredictably, which can whittle down stamina quickly by blocking. Suffice it to say, the player died. For better or worse, though, I don’t think it was an "accident."

Though not much of the lore of Dark Souls III has been revealed so far, new gravestones can be lit about the game’s world which will reveal bits and pieces of the story. My best guess is that it will revolve around the black, corruptive masses that have consumed the kingdom. Considering how punishing Dark Souls III is, discovering the plot behind the world will be rewarding in and of itself.

Dark Souls III forebodingly launches early 2016 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.