I played an hour of Dark Souls III last week, and I'll be honest: My first instinct is to fall back on that old stalwart, "It's definitely more Dark Souls." It would be easy to do so, because it's the truth. This is no Bloodborne-esque shakeup. No assumptions are being challenged here. The demo we played, set on a small section of the Wall of Lodeleth, was all pale yellow skies and crumbling castle walls.
It was, in other words, Dark Souls.
I can't even say I feel bad about that cop-out. So much of this series is steeped in esoteric nonsense--from the lore to the game's various systems--that to some extent it feels almost futile to delve into what's changed between Dark Souls II and III. Much of what I could tell you is so seemingly inconsequential, it would read like any other game's boring post-release patch notes. "Movement speed is 10 percent faster," "Attacks chain together 28.7 percent quicker," "Made it so not all shields parry," (to use some made-up stats to describe real in-game improvements).
The one new feature we've been shown is called "Weapon Art." Ignoring the clumsy name, it's a system that gives players a certain number of weapon-specific special moves that can only be used a certain number of times per bonfire. For instance, characters wielding an axe will "charge up" before combat, granting extra damage on each swing.
Of course, one could also imagine the system being used to enhance one-of-a-kind named weapons with unique powers...
Even Weapon Art is a small shift, though. It's one new move per weapon, and a limited-use move at that. In an era of video game one-upmanship, where every new iteration of every old game needs its "big stand-out feature," Dark Souls III is mostly obsessed with changing the micro.
And what's crazy is that matters. Any Dark Souls diehard can tell you that changing the way shields behave or increasing player speed or adding a new move for each weapon is--as silly as it sounds--a huge deal. You see the same thing in MOBAs and fighting games. A change of ten or fifteen frames of animation is a seismic shift, the addition of a new character a global meltdown.
Dark Souls has backed itself into a corner, though.
It was interesting to see Dark Souls III played in a group setting, because you get a feel for the game you could never get playing alone. I am not great at Dark Souls, nor will I ever be--it's not a game I have the patience to get good at. But I could watch people who have played a ton of Dark Souls run the demo. One friend of mine beat the boss on his first try. Another made it from the first bonfire to the boss in probably ten minutes. They've achieved a certain fluency with the game and its systems, even slightly tweaked as they are in Dark Souls III.
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