Ashes to embers – the first hours of Dark Souls 3

Nameless accursed undead, unfit even to be cinder, and so it is that ash seeketh embers.”

At this point in time Dark Souls is no longer the niche, cult classic that it started as. It’s almost become a genre in its own right, with ‘souls-like’ synonymous with difficulty and death. From the first few hours Dark Souls 3 feels like a comfortable return to the formula, but one that’s learnt from Bloodborne and other recent titles, picking up speed and scale to keep things fresh.

You enter the world as unkindled, the undead ash that seeks the cinders. The game opens with a tutorial section to resituate players in the Souls systems. Swamps and ruins dot the path to the starter boss, waiting in the middle of a huge amphitheatre. It’s all very spectacular for the early moments of the game, setting up your expectations for your forthcoming journey into Lothric.005_1456754001To state the obvious, this boss was tough. I managed to slay the lumbering armoured knight after a few attempts, only discouraged a little by how much further my colleague beside me had progressed while I died over and over. This is but the beginning of your adventure, sending you to the halls of the Lords of Cinder. Here you can level up, enhance your weapons and view your progress towards the end goal of restoring the Lords of Cinder to their thrones. This hub also works as a base for any citizens of Lothric you encounter to your journey, allowing them to aid in you your quest with items and shops.

Venturing out of the hub, the game takes your first experience in this new world as a chance to blow you away. While I remember the early castle stages from the original Dark Souls, the view from the battlements of Lothric castle are something else entirely. The scale has been ramped all the way up, with far off structures and low courtyards unfolding before you.012_1456754045At the very first fork in the battlements you’re given the option of embarking right, towards undead wolves and some less than inviting halberd wielding skeletons, or left towards less imposing husk-like zombies. Even from a distance the enemies before me looked better than before, with rotting fur and tattered armor covering your grizzly foes.

Exploring the two paths before you is rewarding, offering vital experience, loot and souls to keep leveling. This method of hunting and returning to the halls of Cinder to level up is really important to progress, allowing you to live longer and hit harder the deeper into the castle you get. One nice touch for longevity is the ability to change how many estus flasks you can carry – I reached a maximum of five during my few hours with the game – giving you that edge you might need in the final moments of a boss battle.001_1456753972In terms of combat, Dark Souls 3 plays a fair bit faster than before. It gives you options to hack, slash and quickly demolish foes aside from the more traditional blocking and parrying tactics. Using parries and combat arts offers some advanced techniques to mix into your playstyle, but even so the slower, more cautious style often works the best.

Though I never defeated him, the first section of the game culminated in a boss battle at the bottom of the castle against an armoured, boar like creature. Huge in stature, the spectacle in this moment cannot be understated. The music roars as you dodge, block and slash at your foe – heart rate rising as the health bars dwindle. This is peak Dark Souls, moments of desperation and hope, only to have “YOU DIED” flash across the screen as you wait to try it all over again.009_1456754023While I didn’t get all the way to the next lot of bosses, some other members of the preview got to venture into later areas of the game. An ancient living tree and a huge fire demon were amongst some of the newer creatures to face off against in the decrepit land. Unlike the constant swathe of heavily armoured knights the last games have culminated in, this newest entry seems to upping the variety, and probably, the challenge as well.

In its near final form the game looks stunning. Environments are prettier than ever, the scale of the world is incredible and the bosses are bigger and more varied. Through death and hard-earned victory powerful tales are created, badges of honour among the unkindled. With a lot of polish and plenty of new content, Dark Souls 3 is shaping up to be one hell of an experience.

Dark Souls 3 is set for release on March 24th for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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