Each year since 2013, I've trudged through Sydney's sweltering February heat to Bandai Namco HQ to indulge in a Souls game. In having my ass handed to me in that first Dark Souls II preview session, I was introduced to an Action-RPG that holds no hands, gives you no real tutorial, and beats the absolute crap out of you until you get it. In other words: it was glorious. Over those three years, I've developed a love for FromSoftware's games, and hell – I really looked forward to playing Dark Souls III. And after playing the game's first three hours, I'm already craving more.
Now, I'm no Souls expert. I've only logged 10 to 15 hours on any given Souls game. However, the improvements and changes in Dark Souls III are still clear to me.
So, prepared to die as always, I created my character – Lord Repugnant, a Knight equipped with the trusty Life Ring – and buckled up for a bumpy ride. The character creation in Dark Souls III doesn't really bring anything new, yet what you've come to expect from these games is here – you're able to create whatever kind of character you see fit, and if you're so inclined, cover their face with tattoos. It's how I like to operate with my Souls characters.
After polishing off Repugnant's tattoo-covered face, it was time to dive in. The game's opening cinematic quickly establishes feelings of dread, tension, and anxiety, effectively foreshadowing what's to come. It introduced the game's tone and locale, too, which substitutes the fantastical and arguably more colourful palette of Dark Souls II for something more closely resembling the macabre, blood-soaked gothic streets of Bloodborne.
Veterans of Bloodborne will feel at home in the wretched land of Lothric. But as far as Souls goes, it's refreshing to be placed in a location like this. The new environment houses a plethora of horrific enemies that complement their environment. Beasts resembling the fiends of Yharnam are joined by dragons and gargantuan freaks of nature – and of course, the game's first boss, a fairly easy endeavour, by Souls standards.
Like other FromSoft games, you're dropped into the world without a tutorial or guide to help you on your journey. I've come to embrace this element of the Souls experience, using the opening area to test the controls and get back into the "dodge, attack, repeat" mindset.
Gameplay has always been the core of the Souls series, and Dark Souls III takes a significant leap forward when it comes to movement and speed. Dodging and rolling is an even more important strategy this time around. After Bloodborne, it was nice to have a shield again, but I quickly realised I had become accustomed to the "no guts, no glory" approach to combat, barely using my shield. I only really required it when backed into a corner by a fierce fight. Sure, it's helpful to have, but dodging and flanking seems the most effective way of fighting this time around. That feels like a natural progression for the series, with the enemies also notably quicker and more agile than before.
Exploring the early areas of Lothric, slashing away at enemies with Repugnant's sword, every now and again I would stop to take in the sights and sounds. For me, Lothric is the most engaging Souls world yet. Perhaps this is thanks to my love for darker, gothic worlds and beasts; but it feels like this locale, more than its predecessors, absolutely suits the Souls philosophy – creepy, full of personality, with the threat of danger lurking around every corner.
The game's soundtrack, comparable to the teeth-clenching score of Bloodborne, complements Lothric and its inhabitants extremely well. From Repugnant's two boss encounters to his more subtle moments in between enemy-laden areas, the score was a constant and harrowing reminder of the trademark FromSoftware tone.
If you think you're noticing a theme of Bloodborne comparisons here, you're dead right. FromSoftware has learned a lot from its PlayStation 4 exclusive and brought a bit of Yharnam over to Dark Souls III. It's still Dark Souls, but with a macabre, atmospheric twist. Dodging and rolling is a necessity; the enemies are terrifying; and the score breathes life into a world akin to that of Yharnam's cobblestone streets.
Having spent three hours with the game, I feel more confident and excited than I've ever been about a Dark Souls game. I want to jump back in and work my way through that damned second boss – Vordt of the Boreal Valley – who I unwittingly wandered in on with only a single Estus Flask at my disposal. I learned from that rather quickly.
It's moments like those – those times of anxious uncertainty – that make Dark Souls special. I just want to have at it, to level up, to keep getting better. It takes time, especially for a new player, to become decent at a FromSoftware game, but the satisfaction of success in Souls is rarely felt in other gaming experiences. Dark Souls III continues this trend, and its tweaks, improvements, and tone really make it feel like a next-gen Souls game. Those who have had the pleasure of playing Bloodborne can rest assured that its offensive style of play is a major factor in Dark Souls III. It's gripping stuff. Consider this mediocre Souls player excited for the game's April launch. Now, time to get some Dark Souls II practice in.