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Dark Souls 3: everything we learned from this weekend's stress test

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Over the weekend, From Software hosted what it called a "stress test" for Dark Souls 3. This build of the game is the same one shown at TGS, with the addition of online functionality.

But playing the game revealed many new details that could make it into the final release. These could change as this isn't final code, but they’re very interesting as they are right now, with some making significant changes to the Dark Souls formula.

There won't be any mention of the game's technical aspects, here. For that, we're going to have to wait until we have final code. But read on to discover how Dark Souls 3's systems have changed, and how they compare to Bloodborne and previous Souls releases.

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Weapon Arts have cool-downs, but a replenish-able pool

The way the Weapon Arts mechanic works is very different from the first build the press were shown. In that build, Weapon Arts could only be used a few times before running out. Here, they deplete their own blue pool, similar to how spells and miracles deplete it for magic users.

Each ability has a different cool-down, too. These cool-downs are not visible to the player, but it makes it so chaining them together doesn't work, even if there's enough mana.

As a result, you'll probably be using them as openers or finishers. They put you in great danger, but offer more damage than any attack.

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Torches don’t run out and weapon durability is very high

Torches play a much larger role in Dark Souls 3 than any of the older games. The stress test had a couple of indoor locations that were almost too dark. The old trick of letting the aura around your character light the way instead of sacrificing your off-hand slot doesn't seem to work here.

There’s just not enough light, but more pressingly, enemies are lurking in these spots now more than ever. Some even blend in very well with the environment.

We didn't see any counter/timer on torches, or anything indicating they’re about to run out. They were infinite. Similarly, weapon durability was a none issue, even after smashing walls several times and clearing off entire sections, the durability bar didn't move.

These two points could be lumped into the "just a beta thing" category, however, and we could very well end up with something different in the final version.


Combat is a lot snappier, and backstabbing is back

The combat feel is not quite Bloodborne (there’s no side-step), but it’s the fastest Dark Souls game, without question. Backstabbing is also a viable option again. You don’t need a charge attack to trigger it, and it’s much easier than in Dark Souls 2.

There isn't a lot of room for error when it comes to your angle of attack, but once you get in the zone, it's almost guaranteed. Most enemies in the test came back up pretty quick though, so your window for hitting them when they’re down is a lot smaller.

On the same note, rolling into a backstab didn't work all that well. But again, that could be just the type of enemies that were in the demo.


There’s a Humanity-type system

When you die in Dark Souls 3, your health bar loses about 40 percent of its size. In the stress test, there didn't seem to be several stages to it like in Dark Souls 2.

This mechanic is called Ember, and you either have it, or you don't. Retaining Ember (not dying) leaves your heath bar in its original form. Losing Ember brings it down.

Since we didn't have access to the stat pages, we can't say for sure if it affects other attributes. It does however add an ashy, orange glow around your character when you have it.

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Ambushes are always expected

Maybe it was just the few locations playable in the stress test, but it seemed like every other enemy is hiding behind something or over something, waiting for the right moment to jump you.

A lot of them give the appearance of those meager enemies you one-shot in the older games. Only these guys have shivs that will seriously mess you up if you aggro them. Others can be hard to spot due to their attire matching their environment, some even do the poses you'd expect to see from non-active characters like statues.

This, coupled with the necessity to use a torch in indoor locations, result in jump scares 24/7. Even as I went through the same area six or seven times, I would still miss the ones that come over fences or are well camoed.


There's loads of enemies in most places, but it's no gank-fest

If you played the re-release of Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin, you know what I am talking about. Areas that inexplicably had their enemy counter increase dramatically, so the moment you make one step, a few come rushing out. The same trick is used here too, but From Software has gotten smarter with it.

For example, you'll find a few of them standing about, praying and chanting. From a distance, you don't know which of them is going to aggro and which is going to attack only if you do. In one area in particular, one enemy - who looks just like his buddies - will turn into a monster four times his size, kill his buddies and come after you.

These instances are always frightening, because they rob you of that sense of comfort you get when you see weak-looking enemies. It subverts your expectations and gives you a choice: run in and kill the dude before he transforms and risk getting slashed by all of them, or thin the herd from a distance and hope you get enough time to go in for the kill.

Either way, it all depends on your tools, your preference, and what you want (I wanted to loot the corpse they were covering). Plus, for that particular encounter, you have the option to completely avoid it.

From Software also added a type of enemy borrowed straight from Bloodborne. These guys would alert everyone in the room as soon as they spot you. Which makes going into a room slowly with a shield up not the best tactic.

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Dogs are still f**kers

This has to be series staple at this point. It wouldn't be a From Software Souls game if it didn't have canine-type enemies that maniacally jump everywhere and change direction on a dime, just to make sure you miss every hit.

Nothing more to add here. Just know that Dark Souls 3 won't even let that one enemy type go.

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Locations are massive, great sense of scale

You've probably seen a bit of this in the trailers, the game's playable area is very large. It's not quite on the same level as The Witcher 3 or other open-world RPGs, but it's the series' biggest yet.

The first door you open in the game is on a rooftop. From there, you can see three distinct locations that you're going to come across. You can also see the enemies patrolling them and in some cases, choose which of them to visit first. The area we were allowed to access was very reminiscent of Demon's Souls 1-1.

Furthermore, it looks like even the smallest of nooks are going to tell stories, just by having a few decorations and certain things that we won't spoil. Think of Nightmare of Mensis from Bloodborne to give you an idea of of the type of thoughts that'll go into your head just by entering the place and looking around for five seconds.

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