Facing Down the Horrors of Dark Souls III

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According to game director Hidetaka Miyazaki, the From Software-developed action-role-playing game Dark Souls III represents a turning point for the series, one that will bring a measure of resolution to the themes it’s explored since its inception. Significantly, it’s also the first mainline Souls that Miyazaki has headed up since the original Dark Souls. Naturally, expectations are high among the Souls-devoted.

Though the series has maintained its distinct identity throughout its life, every game and expansion has introduced wrinkles and peculiarities. Dark Souls III is no different – and we played the game at the Xbox Spring Showcase and picked up on some of these. As you know, anything beyond an earnest deep-dive with a Souls game amounts to merely scratching the surface, but we’re confident that these tidbits will be intriguing indeed.

Coming Home Again

Though there are no shortage of hints that suggest it, it’s never quite explicitly stated that the Dark Souls games take place in the same world. Dark Souls III, however, makes the case quite forcefully – Firelink Shrine is the hub where you’ll spend hard-earned souls, confer with non-player characters, and track your overall progress. Though it’s by no means identical to the sparse ruin that you encountered early in the original Dark Souls, it’s related in spirit, right down to the crestfallen adventurer slouching near the entrance, bemoaning the hopelessness of your endeavor.

This time around, it seems that your goal is to hunt down beings known as Lords of Cinder – a title abundant with meaning in Souls lore – in order to (of course) forestall the end of days. Each of these Lords of Cinder has evidently ignited the flame that keeps the world going in their own bygone age, and by defeating them, you’ll recreate the circumstances that initially delivered the world from darkness in the times of myth. If you’re a devout Souls aficionado, much of this surely sounds familiar. If you’re not, suffice it to say that your job is to hunt down some powerful bosses, force them to occupy the vacant thrones that line Firelink Shrine, and most likely trigger another phase of trials. Just like their lore, the structure of Souls games tends to be cyclical.

One of these thrones is already occupied when you first arrive in Firelink Shrine by a self-styled Lord of Cinder who calls himself Ludleth of Courland. He’s the one who informs you of your quest, and – according to representatives at publisher Bandai Namco – it’s with his help that you’ll eventually convert boss souls into weapons. The first boss you encounter en route to Firelink Shrine is also among this lordly company, named Iudex Gundyr.

When you defeat him, you’re informed that you vanquished an “Heir of Fire” and earn a Coiled Sword for your troubles, which you plunge into the center of Firelink Shrine in order to activate its bonfire. It’s from this bonfire that you teleport to the High Wall of Lothric, an area that you’re likely familiar with if you’ve followed Dark Souls III’s recent coverage. According to Bandai Namco, there’s another zone between the High Wall and the point where the game opens up in earnest.

Friends of the Flame

Ludleth of Courland and the forlorn adventurer aren’t the only NPCs you’ll meet at Firelink Shrine – there a few others inhabiting the place that hew quite close to Souls archetypes. Most notably is the Fire Keeper, an NPC that you’ll surely confer with most frequently. You’ll level up by talking to her, and if you’re a Souls player from the early days, you’ll likely find her personality and style somewhat familiar, from the way you kneel down to level up, to the blindfold shrouding her eyes.

A bit further into Firelink Shrine’s bowels is Andre the blacksmith, who looks more or less identical to the blacksmith of the same name from the original Dark Souls, and gives you the skinny on weapon upgrades. This time around, you spend shards to upgrade weapons, and use gems to alter their elemental properties. Finally, there’s an old merchant who peddles basic goods, and whose inventory contains a key to a locked tower in Firelink Shrine’s upper reaches (on sale for a princely 20,000 souls). Nearby the tower lies a deadly, katana-wielding foe that we’re guessing serves as a signpost for just how tough whatever it is you’ll find in the tower will be.

Dark Souls III is out worldwide on April 12. We merely scratched the surface during our session at the Xbox Spring Showcase, but it left a strong impression indeed. For a limited time, if you pre-order Dark Souls III or the Dark Souls III Deluxe Edition on the Xbox Store, you’ll get a free code for the original Dark Souls – playable on Xbox 360 now and on Xbox One when the title becomes available via backward compatibility in the future – which is quite a bonus.