Miyazaki returns to the legendary cult series and says everything fans want to hear.
“The level design, as well as the enemy placements, everything has been arranged to kill you. But you can actually use those to your advantage as well” – Miyazaki
A lot gets lost in translation when a Japanese games designer speaks through a translator whose native tongue isn’t English. There’s no subtlety to Hidetaka Miyazaki’s description of his third game in the Souls series, but it’s exactly what fans want to hear.
“The basic gameplay elements, the sense of accomplishment experienced by overcoming difficulty, or the unique online features that allow players to loosely connect with other players, are still in the game. But we’ve now evolved and deepened those basic gameplay elements,” says Miyazaki.
After the hype of Dark Souls 2 calmed down, those fans who had been foaming at the mouth had to admit it: Dark Souls 2 was the weakest of the series, not just in terms of lore, but difficulty. It wasn’t, they said, as hard as Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls.
This is why I suspect in our E3 presentation Miyazaki is keen to talk up the challenge of Dark Souls 3.
“Everything is designed to kill you,” he says. We chuckle, as does Miyazaki’s translator and producer, Atsuo Yoshimura. This is what you want to hear from the man who most recently released Bloodborne, a PS4 exclusive take on the Dark Souls gameplay, one of the console’s finest releases so far, and a title that could define his legacy more than an official Dark Souls game.
There are three points that Miyazaki wants to get across about Dark Souls 3; The sense of scale, the beauty of the apocalyptic world and the evolution of combat.
That first idea – the sense of scale – is easy to comprehend despite the rough translation and early visuals. We see our hero stand amongst ruins looking down on a town below, a castle, bridges and other dilapidated buildings, with Miyazaki promising that whatever we can see, we can visit. It’s a common statement from developers of open-world games, but it’s not until later where a fight shifts from the streets to the rooftops that this is clearly a kept promise. This world has scale and labyrinthine complexity that we’re going to want to explore.
We’re shown pre-alpha footage and as such there are animations missing, but this is still a stunning game to behold. The dynamic light source of the player’s torch and the ashes blowing through the wind give structures life, illuminating the corpses stuck in trees, and flowing around the carcass of a long-dormant dragon. Cloth ripples in the wind. There’s still beauty in this world even after doomsday.
Miyazaki apologizes in advance that the designer playing through the game in front of us will probably die “by accident”. But there’s no accident about it when he faces multiple Knights and is butchered for his mistakes, whether slow decision making, poor defense or wrong weapon choice.
“We will be deepening the features attached to each weapon,” says Miyazaki through the translator. “That will widen the range of the tactical options that the player has during a battle and the role-playing elements of the game.”
Each weapon boasts special attacks, and we cycle through a distinctive armoury; the longsword with its upwards swing able to break shield defenses. The short bow and its rapid fire attack, which can also be used in combination with melee blows. The dual-wielded scimitars and the spin attack that dispatches multiple lightweight enemies quickly. Strategy and consideration for the right weapons is still crucial in Dark Souls 3, but it doesn’t look as ponderous as previous games.
Observing enemy patterns is key, and there’s still that need to back away from fights to separate enemies. Going up against two Knights is suicide, as is attempting to take down an ancient Stone Dragon. But provoke the giant lizard into attacking and luring other enemies in to its flaming breath will save a lot of frustration. Just be careful to time your own movement around the beast so you don’t suffer the same fate.
“The level design, as well as the enemy placements, everything has been arranged to kill you,” says Miyazaki. “But you can actually use those to your advantage as well.”
And if enemies are too intimidating, there are shortcuts to take advantage of. We watch the player leave two Knights in the lower rooms and climb a rooftop instead, although that’s not without its perils, as in this case a black beast attacks. “This enemy is tougher than any you have seen in the previous two installments,” says an understated Miyazaki, as our hero is eviscerated in front of us. There’s no escape.
“There are a lot of tough situations waiting for players but at the same time we’re offering reasonable solutions, [such as] this faster moving character control system” – Miyazaki
It’s during a fight with a boss called Helena where we see the changes to movement. This looks to be the fastest Dark Souls game we’ve seen yet. “The player character moves faster than the previous two installments and can be controlled more intuitively,” says Miyazaki. “There are a lot of tough situations waiting for players but at the same time we’re offering reasonable solutions, [such as] this faster moving character control system.”
Helena moves slowly and swings a flaming sword, setting fire to the environment as she attacks. But with a combination of the rapid fire bow, scimitar spin attacks and generally quicker movement this looks a far less intimidating Dark Souls boss fight. Dare we say that with more responsive movement the game is easier?
Regardless, everything we’ve seen so far looks exactly like Dark Souls and the sequel we crave. Maybe Dark Souls 2 wasn’t easier, it just felt more familiar to those that had mastered the previous games. Maybe Dark Souls 3 takes the series back to its notoriously tough roots. But the difficulty of Dark Souls is only the beginning and it’s by no means the most interesting elements of the series.
The fact is Miyazaki’s back for Dark Souls 3 and we’re expecting great things to come. Praise the sun? Praise Miyazaki.
Dark Souls 3 is due for release on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in early 2016.