Dark Souls III hands-on: Man that tree’s got big balls

Running on Xbox One for the first time

This isn’t the first time I’ve played Dark Souls III. I kicked its ass half a year ago and even usurped Chris as site Souls expert by beating the demo boss without dying. This latest Dark Souls III preview a month and a half ahead of its April 12 release (my birthday, just saying) covered similar ground, though things didn’t go quite the same way.

This was the first time I’ve seen Dark Souls III demoed on Xbox One, even though it was announced at a Microsoft conference (after leaking the week prior). Somehow, despite the bad frame rate and kind of lengthy load times, it was running better than I had anticipated.

This Dark Souls III demo started from the beginning. Though if you wanted to go back further, it started with me showing up to a venue on Valencia Street in San Francisco that used to be a chapel but is now used for live music and, apparently, Dark Souls. There was a giant Dark Souls III ice block slowly melting on a bar, sliders and avocado on toast, and that Slashy Souls abomination (brought to you by GameStop).

The third Souls opens in the Cemetery of Ash following a pretty bog standard female mercenary build (defensive sword and board capability, plus dual-wielding for when you’ve gotten gud!). There’s a pretty reasonable boss fight against a large knight (Iudex Gundyr), whom you pull a sword out of, bringing him to life. He’s got gross, pulsating, Akira-like bird growths coming out of him. After dispatching him, I got killed by a naked man with a long-ass Sephiroth sword and went the other way.

I ended up in the Firelink Shrine, which is Dark Souls III‘s nice safe hub. It’s where the creepy ‘lil king sits on one of five thrones vacated by the lords that, as an Unkindled, you must re-seat. The central bonfire here is ignited when you stick the sword you pulled out of Iudex Gundyr in there. The Firekeeper is there to take your souls in exchange for leveling up; white-haired, buff blacksmith Andre will do smith things; and a few other NPCs are kicking about. This all led to the High Wall of Lothric, the same section Chris and I played before, but expanded.

For instance, the Dancer of the Frigid Valley I so handedly bested before in a church is no longer there at all. Once I got to that bit, an old woman gave me a banner I had to wave to be taken to the Undead Settlement — after fighting a new boss, Vordt. This also-icy bastard is basically an over-sized Komodo dragon with medieval knight armor and predator dreads. A lot of people at the venue described the beast with a range of animalistic reference (dog and gorilla were the ones I saw most common), but I think it had the shoulder joints you find on reptiles that keep their bellies close to the ground. Clearly I watch the most David Attenborough nature docs out of anyone in attendance.

Anyways, Vordt’s a bit of a fuck. The first half of its health bar is a cakewalk to take out. You can basically position yourself under its taint and hack attack without paying much attention, but its second-half form is way more riled up and runs about. This one, I admit, took a few tries — and a lot of the Frostbitten status affect. Beating Vordt and opening the door behind him leads to a dead-end, but raising the banner calls some weird, brain-headed harpies that grab you and fly you to the next area.

So we arrive at the Undead Settlement, some meaty new content. It reminded me a lot of the village from Resident Evil 4, but less under-saturated, while the lanky, villager-like enemies reminded me quite a bit of Bloodborne. There were some welcomed surprises, though, like the very-Japanese giants holding large stone mortars (filled with undisclosed, goopy red viscera). Sometimes they’ll chuck them straight at you, sometimes just smash you violently. Alternate versions of these enemies do the same, but with giant saws. I never managed to kill one of these guys because 1.) they’re strong and 2.) our three hours or so were running short and I wanted to get as far as I could, rather than learn this one enemy’s pattern.

That’s what led me to the giant-testicled tree, the Curse-rotted Greatwood. After doing pitiful damage to its trunk, I realized that the outstretched limbs were weak points. The big nut sack on the base, too, I think. Unfortunately, the Greatwood has a lot of regular enemy helpers (also, a stage covered in pretty pink flowers) and I only got the one try in, which was a failure. But wandering around again, I did stumble across an “Alluring skull” item, to which I ask: aren’t all skulls alluring? (#darksiders2)

I played a bunch more Dark Souls III, and it was as expected. I definitely found the general style and enemy design more interesting than the first few hours of the last, Miyazaki-free Dark Souls, so that’s a plus (I liked those mortar chuckers a lot). It was cool to have a go at the game on Xbox One, though there are performance issues that need to be worked out in the next month. Oh, and you can run into the Onion Knight in the Undead Settlement. He’ll help you in taking down a particularly imposing-looking mini boss.

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Steven Hansen
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