Dark Souls III Network Test Impressions

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A few weeks ago, I got to try my hand at Namco Bandai and From Software’s upoming action RPG Dark Souls III. As a massive fan of the ‘Souls’ franchise of games I was ecstatic, but while my time with Dark Souls III was fun, it was very, very brief and left me feeling… hollow inside. Thankfully, due to the recent Dark Souls III Network Test, I was able to sit down in the comfort of my own home, and go to town on the game for around six hours.

Immediately upon booting up the network test and looked around the opening area, I couldn’t help but think where the franchise has come from in such a short amount of time. From 2007’s Demon’s Souls to now, the guys at From Software have managed to keep the same tone and feel of the game, while slightly refining it with each installment.

I have spent a lot of time playing Bloodborne this year (in fact, it has hardly left my PS4) so going from its aggressive, “always pushing forward” style of combat back to the more defensive and “wait for your moment” style that Dark Souls III offers took some getting used to. Thankfully, the game controls almost identically to not only Bloodborne but to the previous Souls games too. There is definitely something to be said about a franchise as deep as this where you can pick up the controller and have an almost immediate understanding of how the controls work simply by playing previous games.

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Now while the controls are almost the same this time around, that doesn’t mean that the game is. Firstly I noticed that movement speed is a touch faster than previous games, putting it more towards the Bloodborne side of the spectrum. The faster movement is not too much of a game changer, but I was surprised at how much my play style changed to reflect it. Not only that but the slightly faster pace helped everything feel more fluid and responsive to the touch – something you always want when playing one of these games.

The second, and most glaring difference to me was how much the game resembled Demon’s Souls moreso than either of the two previous Dark Souls games. Demon’s Souls was a unique game that managed to take elements of gothic horror and meld them into this dark medieval, high-fantasy setting, and this is something that Dark Souls III manages to do too. twisted creatures that look like they were ripped from a 19th century storybook (and not the fun kind) as well as landscapes reminiscent of that of Bloodborne really help Dark Souls III stand out from its brethren.

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Aestetically, the game was beautiful. Being such an early build there were a few bumps and hiccups but overall the entire thing just looked so damn sexy. The dark, twisted buildings that served as the game’s map look desolate and run-down. The breakable objects like barrels, tables etc all have this nice explosive particle effect to them when destroyed and most impressively – Instead of reusing old enemy models, everything looks completely redone from the ground up. Old enemy types like the undead knights or the praying undead from Dark Souls I make a reappearance here, but they have been reworked from the ground-up to fit this new aesthetic and new hardware.

While there are a few more changes to the way the game plays (some I don’t want to get into until I have a more thorough understanding of them), like the magic bar that seems lifted from Demon’s Souls or the new Lord of Cinder mode which replaces hollowing and humanity,  longtime fans of the series can rest easy because at its core this is still very much a Dark Souls game. Sure, it feels fresh and exciting and new but it manages to combine this with things like the Demon’s Souls magic bar and almost Bloodborne level movement speed to create a game that is a refreshing combination of the old and the new.

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The Souls games are some of my favourites in all of gaming and Dark Souls III is already shaping up to be the best of the bunch. While Dark Souls II felt like more of the same kind of stuff we had come to expect, Dark Souls III feels like that next leap forward and I can’t wait to see just how much else has changed when the full game launches April 2016.

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