Dark Souls III Review0 Comments
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also available on: Xbox One, PC
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
The Souls series is one that has come a very long way in not a very long amount of time. From its cult classic beginnings with Demon's Souls on the PlayStation 3 just seven years ago, it has now grown into a hugely successful and respected franchise. Everyone who plays these titles has their own favorite of the bunch, but all were no doubt looking forward to this important entry — one that would supposedly serve as a finale to Dark Souls. After playing through Dark Souls III, it's clear that this isn't just another great entry in the series; this game is the culmination of everything Souls.
Each entry in the Souls series has tried to do things a bit differently than its predecessors in an effort to constantly improve the overall quality of the game without simply resting on “good enough.” Sometimes those changes are for the better, sometimes they're for the worse, and the deciding factor on which is which often comes down to personal preference. With Dark Souls III, however, the team at From Software has clearly taken a look at some of the best parts of the series' history and what each tried to do and genuinely tried to improve on that, while also carving out its own identity.
The story this time around is set far into the future from the previous two games, with many different heroes having come along over time to link the flame. Those heroes are now known as Lords of Cinder, in honor of Gwyn, the original Lord of Cinder, first linker of the flame. When the link of fire is threatened, a bell tolls, awakening the Lords from their slumber to once again give themselves to the flame. Unfortunately, the Lords have other ideas, and each was quick to abandon his throne and return home instead. You are one of the unkindled, an undead risen from your grave to seek out the Lords and return them to their thrones, by force if necessary.
The true plot of Dark Souls III is told in classic Souls manner — through dialogue, item descriptions, and the world itself. It is as intricate and fascinating as it has ever been, not only providing new stories and characters for you to become enamored with, but also elaborating on old ones and filling in holes from the past. At least one substantial mystery from the original Dark Souls has some light shed on it in this title, which was quite cool to discover. If you're one of the many who find this deeper aspect of the game intriguing, then DSIII certainly does not disappoint.
Many more people play these titles purely for the gameplay, though, and these people will likely be pleased with what they find as well. The beautiful thing about Dark Souls III's gameplay is that it takes the ways that Dark Souls II attempted to improve on series mechanics and manages to polish them to a much more satisfying and well-implemented sheen. For instance, the much-maligned Soul Memory system is gone, but, to keep the balance it sought to achieve, a restriction has been placed on multiplayer based on your weapon strength. This means that if you have a basic, unleveled weapon, you won't be getting invaded by someone with a +10 Blade of Ass-Whooping just because they happen to be the same level.
Likewise, dual-wielding has been reworked again. In Dark Souls, having a weapon in each hand was useless. In Dark Souls II, Power Stance was implemented so that any weapon could be dual-wielded with the right stats, but that fact was never stated in-game and required you to stop and do the math in your head whenever you wanted to focus on that sort of playstyle. For Dark Souls III, weapons are now classified as either dual-wield or two-hand, eschewing any confusion with a single button press. Even the mana bar has made a return from Demon's Souls to get rid of the spell charge system of DSI and II.
As I mentioned previously though, Dark Souls III doesn't simply rest at making old mechanics better, it implements all new ones, most noticeably in the form of weapon arts. Every weapon in the game has a special skill associated with it. While either dual-wielding or two-handing, pressing L2/LT will trigger that skill, consuming both stamina and FP (magic points, essentially).These range from simple-but-useful to pretty damn impressive, and experimenting with them adds a new level of depth to the series.
The gamefeel has been improved as well. Dark Souls II sought to fix the incredibly clunky nature of DSI with a reworked dodge mechanic, but held it back with a stat that determined the effectiveness of the roll's invulnerability frames. Dark Souls III tweaks the dodging of DSII, and does so without the Adaptability stat. As long as you stay under 70% equip load, you're left with a perfectly reasonable dodge roll.
A big point of concern for many will likely be the quality of the game's bosses, as Dark Souls II was notoriously weaker in that regard. Fortunately, Dark Souls III offers many impressive and entertaining fights. While the boss difficulty of the previous titles was very back and forth throughout the game, Dark Souls III — for the most part — gradually increases in difficulty throughout. I was quite pleased with the design of bosses in most regards. In fact, I feel confident in saying that the latter half of the game features some of my favorite fights of the entire series. Every now and then one will be a tad frustrating, or a bit on the easy side (usually in the earlier bosses), but your experiences will likely vary based on the type of playstyle you choose to employ, and there are many playstyles to choose from.
The level design of Dark Souls III is intriguing as well, but many will likely be disappointed to hear that it doesn't copy that of the first game. If Dark Souls was a layered world wrapped around itself, and Dark Souls II was an expansive map reminiscent of a 3D Legend of Zelda overworld, then I can only describe Dark Souls III as a land of crossroads. I cannot count the number of times I reached a point where I could go left or right, chose to go left, and found myself an hour later thinking “Man, what would have happened if I had just gone right?!” Sometimes the choice will lead you to some extra lore-filled loot, sometimes both will lead to separate parts of the story progression, and sometimes one might lead to an entirely optional area with bosses you could totally miss out on.
The game also looks fantastic. The Bloodborne engine has done a great job at giving us a gorgeous new Souls entry. There are some obvious reused assets here and there, but there are also plenty of points that will have you looking out over the scenery thinking, "Wow..." The music is on point as well, with some boss themes that really get your blood pumping.
If I could describe Dark Souls III in two words, they'd be “fan service.” This is a game that rewards all of its fans in some way or other. There are references, surprises, and little treats for anyone who has ever found themselves enraptured in one of the Souls games, regardless of which one was their favorite. This has everything from homages to events and characters from Demon's Souls to lore and equipment from both Dark Souls titles.
There's no shortage of content, either. If you're like me and love to really delve into the world to find all of the bosses, characters, equipment, and whatever else, then you could easily get 30 hours out of your first playthrough, more even if you decide to mess around with the covenants, which work better than ever. In fact, I found only two problems worth noting in my time with DSIII. The first being the framerate, which — on PS4 at least — had brief moments of dropping to uncomfortably low numbers. It didn't happen terribly often, and the areas affected seemed to become less and less frequent as the game went on, but it's an issue worth noting.
Also, PVP multiplayer seems to be in a bit of a rough spot at the moment. Each time I was invaded there was noticeable lag present, which, obviously, leads to some disappointing matches. I also found it a bit strange that invaders are given multiple estus flasks to heal themselves with, not because it makes these encounters more difficult, but because it can make them drag on for quite a bit longer.
There's so much more I could go into when talking about this game. It's an experience with so much depth in both its gameplay and its lore that I could prattle on about it for hours, but unfortunately I must stop somewhere. Dark Souls III could easily have been a rushed, disappointing end note for the series, but instead it brings the brilliant ideas of its predecessors together for one fantastic finale. Only time will tell how well the community chooses to stack it against its brethren, and I look forward to seeing all the ways it's broken and flipped on its head over the coming months, but in the here and now, I can't help but find myself immensely pleased with the journey that Dark Souls III has taken me on.
The review copy of this game was purchased by the reviewer.
Bearer of the curse, seek Dark Souls III