It’s been quite a few years since I was a formidable player of Soulcalibur games. For a while there, back in the early days of the series, I was a nightmare with Nightmare and a killer with Kilik.

After spotting Soulcalibur VI at the Xbox Showcase ahead of E3 2018, the question was whether too many years had passed for me to even recognize Soulcalibur anymore. The series has come a long way. Yoda was a thing for a while there. Like many players, I feel out of my depth in fighting games most of the time — it’s a game genre built on esoteric complexity that rewards you for knowing everything about it, which means casually grabbing a controller is usually asking for an ass-kicking. I expected it would be the same with Soulcalibur VI.

I needn’t have worried too much. It’s true that with an Xbox One controller in-hand, it took a few rounds to acclimate to the controls, but Soulcalibur VI largely feels like the series did back in the day. The latest version is a great deal prettier and more cinematic, though, in a way that upgrades the feel to make battles even more tense.

The feature publisher Bandai Namco is touting with SoulCalibur VI is the “Reversal Edge,” a move that can quickly change the pace of a fight in a way that’s always cool to watch. The Reversal Edge is tied to one button, and using it is all about reading your opponent’s actions. Timed right, it executes a counter that doesn’t just knock the enemy back or leave them exposed to an attack — it actually kicks off a killer slow-motion sequence, which allows for a beatdown situation that feels like a quick step into a blockbuster action movie. It’s just enough to put some style into pummeling your off-balance opponent.

Once Digital Trends Gaming Editor Mike Epstein and I got a feel for the Reversal Edge, as well as the returning Critical Edge system that lets you power up giant but easy to execute special moves, we were able to do a fair job wailing on each other. It helps that no matter what you’re doing in Soulcalibur VI, whether it’s a perfectly timed series of attacks, blocks and counterattacks, or just mashing the gamepad with your palm, the game looks great. 

Soulcalibur VI is making strong use of the Unreal Engine, especially in those moments when you activate awesome slow-motion thrashings. The game is also good at coming in tight on its coolest-looking moves, like when you manage to grab an opponent or pull off a powerful Critical Edge move, to ratchet up the excitement. We may not have had the tightest handle on what we were doing, but Soulcalibur VI at least made us look like well-trained fighting game warriors.

Geralt of The Witcher series feels less like a gimmick addition to the roster and more like a natural one.

Our quick couple of bouts included a chance to check out a new character throwing down in Soulcalibur VI: Geralt of Rivia of The Witcher fame. Geralt’s midrange sword couples well with his natural speed, making him a formidable fighter who can quickly chain together a lot of damage. His melee capabilities are accompanied by a few monster-hunting tricks, like moves that let you blast an opponent with magical flame, or briefly stun them to leave them open to slicing and dicing.

Most notable, though, is that Geralt is a strong addition to the Soulcalibur VI lineup. Thanks to his swordfighting chops, Geralt feels less like a gimmick addition to the roster and more like a natural one. His Witcher 3 moves are right at home among the combatants of Soulcalibur.

It’s tough to get much of an overall sense of Soulcalibur VI from just a couple of matches, but grabbing a controller for a few minutes in a crowded convention space led us to some fun, tense matches. Soulcalibur VI was fun even for a couple of players who are out of step with the series. Even with its additions, it’s still intuitive enough that getting the feel for the game isn’t a colossal undertaking.

The new additions clearly add a lot of strategic depth to the package, but it’s a mark of strong design that most of it made sense even within a couple of rounds. At the very least, Soulcalibur VI is even making getting thrashed fun to watch.

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