According to Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki, From Software has three goals with the latest Dark Souls game: to give the game a great sense of scale via a complicated 3D map, to add various visual effects now that last-gen isn't a consideration, and to deepen the series’ tentpole concepts.

The last point means that the series’ formidable difficulty and unique online systems will return, while combat is deepened, role-play expanded, and the range of viable builds widened. Meanwhile, the story of Dark Souls III will involve "Lords of Cinder" and a dark hero, and will touch upon themes of death and sacrifice in an apocalyptic world.

The hands-off demo a From Software representative played through for us began on the Wall of Lodeleth, which overlooked a vast explorable citadel. Souls and Bloodborne trademarks were everywhere, from medieval spires and statues of robed figures holding candles to the game’s grey palette and faded sun look. Its visual style will be “not just dark but withered beauty”, says Miyazaki.

Dark Souls III presents a familiar vision of the apocalypse
Dark Souls III presents a familiar vision of the apocalypse

The player character wields a longsword and small triangular shield, and is decked out in patchwork chainmail and plate armour, with a tattered cloth cape that’s faintly glowing at one edge draped over top. His face is obscured by a metallic helmet shaped like a skull wearing a crown.

Because the game isn’t coming to last-gen consoles, it now features dynamic lighting and some impressive particle effects as the wind blows ash and cloth around. Even the player’s torch is affected by wind. A dragon corpse is slumped over castle ramparts, ash silently rising from its body.

Enemies aren’t copies of those from prior games, but they are familiar: undead skeleton warriors, undead dogs, and huge knights. We torch a grave and see some lore – an epitaph which reads, “Grave of nameless retainer. Raised his sword for the Cinder Lord.” The player moves faster too – faster than in both previous Dark Souls games.

A new fighting stance is introduced, called readystance. From this two-handed position, two special moves are possible, one of which breaks an enemy’s block. We climb some stairs but a dragon blocks our way. Fortunately, in a bid to set us aflame, it torches a group of enemies back downstairs, and we rush past their ashes before its next fiery sweep.

Dark Souls III presents a familiar vision of the apocalypse

We are then shown a greatsword, which is much bigger than even the longsword. It allows us to do a new move called lunge that’s a short charge following by an uppercut motion that sends any enemy flying. It proves very useful against a knight who also uses readystance.

Later, we climb out onto the steep triangular peak of gothic rooftop and battle a deformed creature that could once have been a dragon, but is now a mess of claws and scales that look like black tar. It kills us, but upon resurrection we take a shortcut to a different area.

Here there’s a giant axe-wielding skeleton that we take down using a short bow. The bow allows for rapid firing, so we can get a shot off in between our adversary’s attacks and then roll out of the way. “Like Legolas from Lord of the Rings,” says Miyazaki.

The final weapon we see is a scimitar that we can dual-wield to perform a move called whirlwind. This is best against groups of enemies and finishes with a mighty jumping slash. We defeat two large knights – one with a sword and one with a spear – by separating them as spear guy moves faster, and then go through a pair of huge, heavy doors.

In what looks like a dilapidated cathedral, “The Dancer of The Frigid Valley” emerges from a dripping portal. She’s a tall and long-limbed ethereal creature with a huge curved flaming sword that sets anything it touches alight.

Surrounded by a strange veil as if not quite in our dimension, she moves slowly but incredibly fluidly as if dancing, stopping only to unleash fiery area-of-effect attacks. Her second mode sees her pull out an ash sword, and the two cruel weapons serve as a great demonstration of the game’s visual effects. She’s spectacular. We die horribly. "Everything us arranged to kill you guys," says Miyazaki. "If I make the game easier, Bandai Namco will be upset about it!" Yep, this is a Dark Souls game all right.