My heart is beating fast, I can feel it thumping in my chest. It had quickly skyrocketed after a dragon appeared on what seemed to be a clear castle bridge. A roar pierced the sky as I turn to leave the way I came; no good could come from rushing in. Before I knew it fire engulfed the battlements of the ruined castle, roasting the advancing skeletal warriors I could have to fight on my retreat, but also lighting me ablaze. Somehow, after a few dodge rolls back, I managed to make it out with only a sliver of health, quickly replenished by a sip of my Estus Flask.

I re-emerged from my haven, heartbeat slowing, shield held high and sword drawn.

There were many moments like this in my first few hours with Dark Souls 3. From Software’s latest outing retains the challenge and feel the series has become infamous for, returning with some new tweaks, dangers, and much better graphics.ReadyStanceArt_sample_1438786865I got to play around three hours of the game, and in true Dark Souls fashion I didn’t discover much. After lighting my first bonfire I was able to wander forward through the long corridors and battlements of a long dead castle. The world is as stunning as ever, with views stretching out across a valley to the furthest reaches of the labyrinthian structure I was about to explore. In those first few moments the world felt grander and more open than previous Dark Souls titles, but somehow left me feeling just as isolated and vulnerable as ever.

At the very first fork in the battlements I was presented with the option of embarking right, towards large werewolves with patrolling skeletons, or left towards less imposing husk-like zombies. The latter option seemed like a much better choice to get back in the rhythm of how a Dark Souls game plays, and after fighting the monsters in this area (and a few deaths, of course) I’d mastered clearing that group of foes. Even from a distance, the enemies felt more detailed than before – the fur and bones of these horrific creatures looking better than ever.LungeArt_sample_1438786859Veterans of the series will feel at home right away – the same principles of death, learning, and progression underpinned the entirety of my few hours. As always, exploring every nook and cranny of the castle on my way through paid off once I found the dual scimitars – a definite favourite pair of weapons for clearing advancing skeletons quickly. Switching between a shield and scimitar and dual scimitars was a pretty great tactic to prepare for the different enemy types I encountered on the way to the first boss.

Combat felt a little faster and smoother than in previous Dark Souls titles, but it’s definitely a lot slower and true to form than the combat in Bloodborne. Using parries and ‘arts’ allows some advanced techniques to creep in to your play, but generally the careful and considered approach allowed me much more success in combat than jumping in, swords flailing at even some of the early game foes. It’s definitely all about getting in the right mindset when it comes to combat in Dark Souls 3, but it’s a mindset that wasn’t hard to slip back into.

After variations of the first few foes like armoured and shield wielding skeletons or crossbowmen, the early game only throws one or two knights and giant enemies at you. These are merely some early practice for the Dancer of the Frigid Valley, the first boss I faced in Dark Souls 3.
Pursuer2_sample_1438786863In one of the most macabre yet beautiful boss battles I’ve come across, the Dancer descends from the ceiling to tower over the lone adventurer, with an eerie light spilling over the large hall. Chilling operatic music surges loudly as the battle commences, with your foe gracefully dancing and gliding around, attempting to put an end to you nice and fast. Fighting the Dancer reminded me a lot of taking on enemies like Vicar Amelia in Bloodborne – staying close and moving fast to avoid the attacks can deal a lot of damage fast, but sometimes giving the boss plenty of space is a very wise idea, especially while regaining health via an Estus Flask.

While I never ended up defeating the Dancer, I came painfully close quite a lot. There’s something special about the defeats, the almosts and the momentary victories found in the Dark Souls games. They make great stories that other fans will instantly connect with, badges of honour for those who manage to surpass the games challenges. It seems Dark Souls 3 continues this tradition with a lot of polish and upgrades to keep players coming back over and over again after every death.

Dark Souls 3 is set for release in 2016 on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC.