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How magic works in Dark Souls 3

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

From Software is adding a new layer of strategy to magic spells in Dark Souls 3, similar to how it's evolving and expanding the series' weapon-based combat with the Souls franchise's latest entry. Those new additions will offer all-new tactical options for players who prefer to fight and supplement their play style with magic in Dark Souls games.

Like weapon-based attacks, the game's spells and miracles will have new "skills" — previously referred to as weapon arts and battle arts — that change how players use magic-based attacks in Dark Souls 3. In a newly playable build of the game we went hands-on with at Bandai Namco's corporate headquarters, we got a chance to see the new magic skills in action.

A pre-built character class in that playable demo, one that focused on spells, was equipped with three magic attacks: Soul Arrow, a spell that fires a bolt of magic energy; Soul Dart, a spell that shoots a quicker, lower-damage magic projectile; and Soul Greatsword, a spell that unleashes a massive magic slashing attack. Unleashing those magic attacks was performed by pressing the L1 button on a PlayStation 4 controller; but if we pressed the L2 button, we could charge up the next instance of a magic attack, consuming an extra bit of mana from the magic gauge bar. Charged-up magic spells appeared to get a roughly 20 percent boost in power when using the new magic skills.

Another pre-built character class focused on miracles, which in the Souls series often focus on defensive boosts, compared to the offensive attacks of spells. Three miracles were available to the pre-built character we played: Lightning Spear, an electricity-based projectile; Heal, which restored hit points to the player; and a Sacred Oath, which offered the player a temporary buff to his defensive and offensive abilities.

Interestingly, using miracle skills by pressing the L2 button on the DualShock 4 controller provided the player with some slightly different buffs; the more powerful L2 version of the Lighting Spear, for example, appeared to give the player an extended power-up that seemed to boost his other attacks for a very brief period after using the miracle.

Using magic skills, like weapon-based skills, consumes a portion of the player's blue-colored magic gauge bar in Dark Souls 3. Players can now refill that magic gauge bar with a new item in Dark Souls 3: the Ash Estus Flask. Yes, players will now wield two different Estus Flasks in the game, one that refills their hit points and one that refills their magic points.

However, all this could change by the time Dark Souls 3 is released in early 2016. Just a few weeks ago, when we played the game at Gamescom, From Software had implemented a different system for limiting the number of times a player could use skills in Dark Souls 3. Now it appears somewhat governed by the use of the Ash Estus Flask, and Bandai Namco reps confirmed that these gameplay elements could change before the game ships next year.

Dark Souls 3 will come to PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One in April 2016 in North America and Europe. In Japan, the game has a firm release date of March 24, 2016.

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