Dark Souls III recently ran a multiplayer network stress test. That’s a fancy way of saying its developers were testing that the game’s multiplayer won’t implode on launch day. I was lucky enough to be selected to participate, and so I spent a few hours with From Software’s latest repeated-death simulator.

Quick note: none of the images and screenshots in this article are my own. From clearly don’t want random yobbos to post pictures and gifs of glitches from their in-development game, so the screenshot function was disabled on my PS4.

DS3 battle

The build gave players a choice of four classes: knight, warrior, cleric and a mage/assassin combo wearing a sweet hat. After selecting one, players were left to explore The High Wall of Lothric at their leisure peril. Even at this early stage the game looks gorgeous. The environments hold great detail, the enemies are extremely well modeled, and the far-off backgrounds look like beautiful paintings.

There’s a constant stream of ash billowing around the outside areas, as an ever-present reminder that this world is burning out. There wasn’t much plot presented, but the undead littering the walls and the petrified husks of soldiers frozen in the act of reaching for their weapons told their own story. From Software has always been skilled at creating engaging worlds, and it looks like Dark Souls III will be no different.

DS3 messages

The game itself feels just like the other Dark Souls games. However, the characters all move much faster than in previous games, which is clearly an influence from BloodborneThere are a few other changes that DSIII brings to the table. Most notable are the new Weapon Arts, item-specific techniques that add new depth to fights. The Arts are triggered using the L2 button, and vary from weapon to weapon.

Some Arts enter you into a “ready stance” to launch a counter, others parry with your buckler, and some unleash a spinning double-attack. Performing an Art or magic spell consumes mana, which makes a return to the franchise in the form of the iconic blue bar. Unfortunately, not every Art is easy to understand, and some will leave you questioning exactly why your hero is doing a funny dance with their greatsword. Obviously these things will be made clearer as the game approaches release.

At this stage, the biggest issue with the Arts is that they are not that useful. They add a few new possibilities to combat, but the time and effort spent nailing a riposte is much better spent performing a backstab. Once the game is in the wild, with new weapons and bows added, then we’ll see how much of a difference the Arts make. Currently, there isn’t much else separating DSIII from the rest of the series. Veterans of the series might not even find it that difficult, because of how long we’ve spent honing our Souls skills.

With that said, all my concerns with this early build flew out the proverbial window when the Dancer of the Frigid Valley boss battle began. The battle isn’t too difficult, as the Dancer follows some typical patterns and is easy to read, but it’s been so amazingly designed that the sheer creativity of the game shines through. The way it moves, the way its cape is made of wispy, ethereal smoke, the way its footsteps boom without being loud; all these things come together to make for a memorable encounter. If it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am. Dark Souls III felt familiar until that boss battle began, and then it felt unique again.

Following on an act like Bloodborne is no easy feat, and Dark Souls III will likely very clearly split opinions between those who prefer its familiar gameplay and those who like Bloodborne’s changes. Regardless, I came away from the stress test quite pleased and excited for the final game. It’s got plenty of well-known elements, some new features and one kick-ass boss battle. I can’t wait to see more.

Dark Souls III is launching in April 2016 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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