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Hands On With Dark Souls III's New Magic System

by Tim Turi on Sep 16, 2015 at 03:00 PM

The Tokyo Game Show is upon us, and with it comes a new playable preview of Dark Souls III's magic system. We previously talked with series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki during our Dark Souls III cover story, but Dan Tack and I were able to put that knowledge to the test firsthand. Join us as we discuss the ins and outs of Dark Souls III's magic system, from Soul Darts to a MP-recovering Ash Estus Flask.

Tim: So Dan, in addition to talking with Souls series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki during our cover story trip, we also got early access to the new TGS build of Dark Souls III. We talked with Miyazaki about changes to the magic system before, like how we'll see a return to an classic MP bar and also new options for each spell. The TGS build is set in the same area (renamed from Wall of Lodeleth to the High Wall of Lothric), but we got a chance to experiment with two new class builds and their magic abilities. Who did you end up preferring between the Academy Assassin and Herald of White?

Dan: Okay, so first I want to stress that your "class" isn't anything but a set of starting gear and stats so the Souls purists don't eat me. That said, I really liked both the "new" playstyles for Dark Souls III – probably leaning toward the Academy Assassin. This build had the Academy Assassin decked out in gear that looked straight out of Bloodborne, and spells that made the zone a blast. I had a ton of fun taking on the Dancer of the Frigid Valley in a whole new way using Soul Greatsword, with its massive range and damage. We should also note that the Ash Estus Flask is a new item to facilitate these magic users, functioning exactly like an Estus Flask but for MP. They recharge at bonfires just like Estus.

Tim: The Soul Greatsword spell is awesome! I loved having the ability to summon a gigantic magic sword to slash horizontally through big hordes of enemies. I can absolutely see how that would be useful against a big boss like Dancer, though, allowing you to deal damage from a safer mid-range distance. The Academy Assassin also came equipped with a Soul Dart and Soul Arrow. My Dark Souls playstyle never really incorporated magic, so I don't have the best perspective on how new these spells are. Any big changes there?

Dan: I tend to stay away from magic completely in my builds as well, but I'm pretty sure the Soul Dart spell is new – we've seen the rest in previous games. The Soul Dart actually seems incredibly powerful, because there's almost no cast time or windup, you can just spam the little jarring bolts over and over and still have time to roll away. One interesting thing about the Soul Greatsword – While it does in many ways just emulate a huge melee weapon, it's significant that using it costs mana instead – leaving you with a full bar of stamina to run out of harm's way after slamming it into an enemy. There's another huge change we see in this build as well, and that's tying the battle arts to magic as well, no more charges for abilities. So everyone will be using magic points in some fashion.

Tim: Can you explain Battle Arts for me again, and also how to they exactly tie into the magic system?

Dan: Battle arts are basically special abilities for non-magic users that add a little more depth to combat. Sword lunges, scimitar whirlwinds, rapid fire for bows... That sort of thing. In prior builds their usage was limited by charges like flasks that were recharged at bonfires, but now they're tied to mana. So again, even if you don't go a magic build, you're probably going to want some mana to use these special abilities.

Up next: A mace-wielding cleric and the possibilities of juggling two Estus Flasks...

Tim: I noticed that the primary magic attack is still L1, but tapping L2 did something else. I saw a little magic burst fly into my target for a small amount of damage. Do you know what this alternate magic spell function is all about?

Dan: I saw this as well, and I tested playing around with it a bit to see if it changed the spell functionality at all, but I didn't see any drastic changes in visuals or execution on both the miracles and sorceries. I'm sure this is some kind of weird power-up or alternate functionality system to sort of give spells their own version of battle arts, but I wasn't seeing any profound differences. It's certainly possible I was doing it wrong. The little magic charge ran up my character's arm and would remain there for a few seconds, so it makes sense that this is how it works or will work.

Tim: I also preferred the Academy Assassin and his Soul Magic, but the Herald of White was also pretty cool. This cleric build was armed with a traditional mace and bevy of holy magic. I know the lightning spear and heal abilities have been present in past Dark Souls games, but what was the Sacred Oath buff doing?

Dan: Sacred Oath? It's an attack and defense buff. It's been in the series before. It's a great way to prep yourself for a tough fight. Healing miracles have also traditionally been very strong in the Souls games, sort of giving you free extra Estus that's best used out of combat. You can add miracles to many builds at a fairly low stat point cost, so it's something often worth looking into. We haven't actually been able to see stats on any character or level up screen thus far, but i'm fairly comfortable working with the assumption that the stats will work like they have in previous games.

Tim: Speaking of stats and character building, that's probably the only barrier I could see getting between me and pumping some experience points into magic in Dark Souls III. I love how straightforward this new system is, but we've yet to see how complicated or cryptic actually building out your character is, which could still get in the way of curious would-be magic users. Anything else noteworthy you took away from the TGS demo relating to the new example classes?

Dan: Cool gear, cool spells, but nothing really earth-shattering outside of tying everyone to the mana system in some way. Melee or caster, you're gonna need it, and having a dedicated mana recharge flask is interesting. The demo has a balance by giving the traditional melee fighters a bunch more Estus and only a few Ash Estus, with more mana flasks and less health flasks for the casters. I'm wondering if developer From will try to keep that balance somehow in the game, but it seems like an unrealistic goal – or a really interesting way to approach design. With no static "classes" though, it would probably come down to player choice picking flasks, which would be interesting.

Tim: That choice would be a natural extension of the "wizardly glass cannon" approach or "healing-obsessed tank" builds in my opinion. Either way, I was happy to have some alternate healing at my fingertips and a Soul Dart to pick away at distant enemies. After playing the TGS demo my pure-melee plan for Dark Souls III has some revision depending on how the whole system looks when the game presumably arrives next year after hitting in Japan.

Keep visiting the site throughout the month, as we’ll be rolling out several interesting Dark Souls features, including more insight into the mind of Miyazaki, a tour of From Software's studio, and more. Click on the banner below to visit our Dark Souls III hub and follow our coverage.