So everyone’s aware that Dark Souls III, the next installment of From Software’s highly lauded action-RPG series, is coming out early 2016 right? Though it may seem like an unbearable wait until then, March 24th for Japan (and some time in April for Europe and North America) is not as far as it seems. Even better, there have been numerous opportunities for players to get their hands on an early build of the game, including the recent Network Stress Test (NST), letting us see new and returning gameplay features.
As a returning Souls vet, here are some of my observations on Dark Souls III’s gameplay from the network test, and how it could pan out for the final game if things remain unchanged.
Without mentioning the obvious things that make the Souls series so renowned – like stellar enemies, engrossing level design and satisfying slash-n-dodge gameplay – there are specific gameplay aspects of Dark Souls III that are returning from older From Software games. For instance, Dark Souls III’s backstab mechanics and animations are almost identical to those of the original Dark Souls. Take a look:
Dark Souls II:
Dark Souls III NST:
You probably noticed that with swords, the animations for Dark Souls and the Dark Souls III NST are pretty much identical, which is the returning part. What’s slightly different is that while Dark Souls’ backstabs were “instant” – that is, if you got caught in a backstab, you were instantly immobilized, and the backstab animation began. In Dark Souls II, not only did the animations change for almost every weapon class but backstabs were no longer instant. They were initiated with a punch-like move that could whiff if you weren’t within range, or if the network was particularly troublesome. However, as YouTuber rbFrosty explains in this video, the backstabs in the Dark Souls III NST are a hybrid of the two games, where backstabs have an almost instant startup but leaves a split-second for the opponent to move out of range (the whiffed attack can still do damage, however).
PVP is something that Souls series die-hards take very seriously, and fine-tuning the backstab mechanics are a good indication that From Software is doing their best to ensure Dark Souls III’s PVP is enjoyed long after release. I think Dark Souls III’s new backstab mechanics are an excellent compromise between the two previous games. Personally, I like the old Dark Souls’ riposte animations, but I hope there’s a greater variety of awesome riposte animations that span the whole series. Dark Souls II had particularly brutal animations with ultra-greatswords:
Invasions are part of what makes the Souls series so unique. Hostile players can enter your world as you progress through the game and attempt to kill you for souls and the satisfaction of ruining your day. The tweaks made to invasions are numerous, so I’ll summarize them here with some bullet points before moving on (thanks to an excellent breakdown by YouTuber VaatiVidya):
- Players can invade infinitely, without looking for consumable invasion items.
- Invaders and white phantoms can use Estus Flasks in the host’s world.
- Invaders and white phantoms enter the host’s world with half of their available Estus Flasks.
- Invaders and white phantoms enter the host’s world with 30% reduced health.
- Players are rewarded with Estus Flasks for defeating opponents.
- Killing an Invader as a host gives you 3 Estus Flasks.
- Killing an Invader as a white phantom gives you 1 Estus Flask.
- Killing a white phantom as an Invader gives you 2 Estus Flasks.
- Health gain is almost instant compared to previous Souls games but leaves one vulnerable for longer.
- Player pairing relies on Soul Level, not Soul Memory.
One of the more radical departures from previous Souls games is allowing players to invade as much as they want, without having to hoard consumable invasion items. In Souls terms, players are granted a Red Eye Orb, which can be used repeatedly, rather than having to scrounge around for Cracked Red Eye Orbs. I think this is a really good move on From Software’s part since it maximizes player interaction, which is where some of the most magical moments in Souls games come from.
Also in previous Souls games, invaders were unable to use their Estus Flasks, the game’s main source of healing, and were only capable of healing with consumable items or miracles. In the Dark Souls III NST, we see invaders liberally sipping their Sunny D bottles as they engage with world hosts. But this dramatic shift in how PVP is played comes with some other caveats. A maximum of five phantoms – three whites and two reds – can enter one host’s world (as per Dark Souls II’s Scholar of the First Sin upgrade), but interestingly, in the NST, invaders could only invade worlds that have summoned help. Invaders automatically get their overall health bar reduced by 30%, and everyone, from hosts, to friendly summons and invaders, get rewarded with varying amounts of Estus for killing their enemies. While some might decry this adjustment, I think this helps keep the battle alive as long as possible, especially since invading red phantoms in Dark Souls III should expect to be heavily outnumbered.
One last thing that will please many critics of Dark Souls II’s multiplayer is the third game’s return to matchmaking via soul level rather than soul memory. The difference is this: when players are matched by soul level, the amount of times your character has leveled up determines who you can get matched with online. In Dark Souls, the range was plus or minus ten levels from your current rank. In Dark Souls II, players were matched according to how many souls their character had consumed in leveling up. As a result, high soul-count players who had collected more souls than the majority of players were isolated into an empty stratum, where connecting with anyone at their soul memory was extremely unlikely. Even though Bloodborne was quick to return to soul level pairing, the news is welcome for Dark Souls III as well.
Based on the features we’ve seen in the NST, it’s safe to say Dark Souls III‘s online gameplay is going to be a fresh take on the familiar Souls formula. What’s really exciting is the NST seems to blend features from almost every From Software game since Demon’s Souls. From Demon Souls’ mana bar, to Dark Souls’ animations, to Dark Souls II‘s jump in the number of phantoms capable of meeting in the host’s world and Bloodborne‘s increased speed and bloody action, Dark Souls III seems to be an eclectic gathering of the series’ strengths as a whole. Of course, everything from the NST is subject to change, but I still think Dark Souls fans are in for a real treat next spring. Stay tuned.