Dark Souls III Review
Platform – PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer – From Software
Publisher – Namco Bandai
MSRP: $59.99 USD
(Editor’s Note: This game was reviewed on the PS4 with the game copy being provided by the Publisher.)
The final chapter in the try hard and die hard series Dark Souls is finally upon us. For those who don’t know, Dark Souls is known for it’s punishing trial and error gameplay, heavy RPG elements, tons of deaths, hidden secrets and areas to explore and rich lore that takes place in a dark gothic fantasy world. Dark Souls was originally born from a game called Demon’s Souls back in the PlayStation 3 era. Not many people knew anything about Demon’s Souls, but once they played they got hooked on the addicting and punishing gameplay that at the end of the day became extremely rewarding. Eventually, Demon’s Souls became a successful niche hit from From Software that ended up spawning an entire trilogy of Dark Souls.
The very first Dark Souls game came out back in 2012 and was a massive success, and later spawned a sequel in 2014 and now Dark Souls III. However, in between Dark Souls II and Dark Souls III From Software created a new franchise in the same genre-type gameplay – Bloodborne, which was a PlayStation 4 exclusive that came out last year and was also a phenomenal success. And now here we are with Dark Souls III the final game in the “Dark Souls” series but perhaps NOT the last “Souls” type game from Hidetaka Miyazaki who’s the president and also director of Dark Souls, Dark Souls III and Bloodborne (Dark Souls II was created by a different team in the company.) After playing the game for a good course of over 40 hours, personally meeting Hidetaka Miyazaki at last year’s E3 behind-closed presentation and reviewing this game I have come to a conclusion that From Software is one of the very few game developer studios who know how to write an official love-letter to the fans and gaming industry as a whole. Without further ado, let’s jump into the in-depth review of Dark Souls III.
The World and Lore
All of the Dark Souls games were always rich in lore, mystical and frightening but at the same time interesting and begged to be discovered. From Software has this ability to craft these atmospheric environments that just suck you into the world and make you want to explore every bit of nook and cranny and there is no shortage of that in Dark Souls III. As a matter of fact, Dark Souls III is the most content-dense game that you’ll play in the franchise out of the other two. As far as the plot goes you wake up as the Ashen one whose mission is to find and return the Lords of Cinders back into their thrones where they belong after they have been awakened from their graves. Just like in the old Souls’ fashion, you will be introduced to the plot via a beautiful cinematic that introduces to you the Lords of Cinder and the Lothric castle which is where the main scenario takes place. After the cinematic ends, you will be greeted with the character creation screen which is where you will be creating your perfect role-playing character who may or may not be ready to face the dark enemies and monsters of Dark Souls III. The story in the Souls series was never straight forward, but that’s the beauty of it because the game was designed to be explored, talked to NPCs, complete hidden sidequests and find entrances to secrets areas with optional bosses, weapons to find, rings to collect and tell more of the story just by venturing into the unknown territory and seeing things you’ve never seen before.
For those who played previous Dark Souls games, you’re in for a huge treat and know exactly what to expect, however, this time around it’s more of it and just better. Be ready to explore some dark fantastical places with drop-dead gorgeous jaw-dropping views that will just take your breath away within seconds. I used to think that the original Dark Souls, Dark Souls II and Bloodborne had fantastical views, but I was quite wrong (They’re still great), From Software has once again topped the art direction of the Soul’s series. I honestly think that when you play Dark Souls III and get to certain areas not only will you be left speechless because of where you are and what you see but also because you will be hit with a giant nostalgic overdose in the head. There have been quite a few times, where I just didn’t want this world exploration to end and I just wanted more and more of it because it was such atmospheric and fantastic experience and the more I explored the more I was rewarded either with loot or punished with death because I went somewhere where I am not supposed to really go yet and this is why the Souls games are known for having such addicting nature of magical exploration.
Dark Souls III also continues the series’s trend of creating some of the most memorable boss fights with epic chilling chorus soundtracks. There are over 17 monstrosities that you will have to face throughout your epic journey. Some of those monstrosities will pose quite a trial-and-error experience over and over again while others may seem like a cakewalk due to abuse of their animations hit boxes or certain character builds. Not all of the bosses are perfect, but majority of what you will face in Dark Souls III will still be challenging and memorable enough to the point where you will always remember the music that you were hearing when you were fighting the boss and what the zone looked like and all the secrets you found and hardships you went through to get to the boss room in the first place.
Gameplay, Combat and RPG Elements
Dark Souls III starts in the same fashion as any other previous souls game where you begin at tutorial type area. The tutorial area is filled with a good portion of enemies, bonfires, secrets, smart-hidden areas that are hard to spot and plenty of optional but yet powerful and useful items to collect that will later serve their purpose. As soon as you get to the hub world, you will be introduced to the Fire Keeper the female character that takes your souls to level up your stat points, a weapon smith that upgrades and infuses your weapons with gems and an undead merchant that is actually quite useful and sells a lot of interesting items as you progress through the game. For those that are wondering Dark Souls III does not have an interconnected hub world like the original Dark Souls did or Dark Souls II. The Dark Souls III hub world is much more equivalent to Bloodborne’s Hunter’s Dream. While at first I kind of missed the interconnected hub world, I later became content with it because the rest of the game’s world was just too beautiful, extremely atmospheric and satisfying to explore as I mentioned previously.
For those that are looking forward to finding a lot of items and crazy builds for your characters, I am proud to say that there are massive amounts of weapons in the game to collect, plenty of rings and +1 rings in New Game+, Miracles, Sorcery, Hex, and Pyromancy spells to find. When you kill bosses and collect their Souls you can trade them in for special boss weapons, even rings and special spells also. If you’re looking to get everything in the game and collect all the trophies/achievements then you’ll be in for a long epic ride as it will require a lot of patience, careful exploration, and multiple play-throughs to obtain everything the game has to offer. This game will give you a ton of replayability, especially for those who just love experimenting or participating in different PvP combat styles.
Dark Souls III battle system has definitely taken a bit of inspiration from Bloodborne’s fast-paced combat by adding a new mechanic called “Sword Arts” you can use the L2 button on your Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller to consume mana to cast a unique weapon attack. Each weapon has it’s own special Sword Art. Sword Arts can range from uppercuts, weapon buffs, or blazingly fast attacks with dual daggers or twin swords. I personally didn’t need to use it that much to get through the game, but I thought it was an interesting addition. Also, if you enjoy firing your bows at a more rapid pace and kite enemies you can now do so in Dark Souls III.
The funny thing is that even though the combat is more fast paced it still feels like a Dark Souls game, many people were worried that the combat might be exactly like Bloodborne due to how well designed and fun it was. What worked for Bloodborne may not work for Dark Souls III and that’s exactly the case here. If Dark Souls III had the combat system of Bloodborne then this would just might as well be Bloodborne 2. Thankfully, From Software knew that they had to keep the original Dark Souls combat to stay as classic as possible while still tweaking it just a tad bit to make it feel more refined and entertaining and in my eyes they were quite a success.
The game has a good variety of different enemies, ranging from the slow but yet painfully hitting undead corpses, skeletons, big knights with greatsword weapons and greatshields, and plenty of new other surprises that you’d have to see for yourself. And of course, Dark Souls III would not be a Dark Souls game without dragons. As far as the actual density of the content goes, there are plenty of shortcuts to discover and NPCs to rescue and talk to and of course, it wouldn’t be a Dark Souls game without the Covenants. There is a total of 8 Covenants to find and each of them offer different things, I am not going to say where they’re located or what their names are or what they do, but what I can say is that you will be seeing some of your old favorites and new ones as well.
When I was first stepped into one of the first main zones of the game I was quite overwhelmed with what I saw. I didn’t know where to go or what to do because there were just so many pathways to go and that’s where the density of the content comes in. As you take your time to look around corners, open doors, fight a group of enemies or try to get to an item that you see in the distance, you start to realize how many things there really are in a single place. It got to the point where I didn’t want to continue the pathway that I took because I was frightened that I might be going boss area and I kept thinking to myself that I missed a secret. I would constantly force myself to go back where I originally came from and the next thing you know,I found another little pathway or an illusionary wall that opens up a small hidden area full of items, chests or even a shortcut that gives you that magical “Aha” moment. As said previously, this is the nature of the Souls’s games and there is a lot of it here and that is an excellent thing.
Get ready for some heavy stat allocation games in Dark Souls III. One of the most fun things to do in the Dark Souls franchise was always the experimentation of using different combinations of weapons, armor, and rings along with your stat points. There are so many unique weapons and rings to find that you’ll have a complete blast replaying the game in New Game+ with a whole new set or trying to get a speed run going with specific conditions. Or maybe you’re tired of the PvE and just want to invade other players and participate in PvP combat and you will do whatever it takes to have the best build possible. Want to be a quick assassin ninja with awesome looking leather/cloth armor that runs super fast and rolls quickly while wielding a dual twin-sword? You can do so, but it will take time and proper item/stat allocation game in order for you to achieve the perfect fantasy and style that you want and that’s where the fun comes in. Once you’ve fulfilled your requirements then you are free to live your fantasy to the fullest. My initial play-through was done as a Northern Warrior which was a basic pre-set character already in the character selection screen, despite finding a lot of better weapons and upgrades I still wanted to challenge myself because I really liked living out the Northern Warrior fantasy with a round shield and a battle-axe.
As far as the technical department goes, the Xbox One version suffers from a lot of screen-tearing, 900p resolution (even the hud elements are rendered in 900p) and some nasty frame-rate drops during certain boss fights and specific areas that are filled with a ton of mobs. There was a point in the game where I got out of the cave and the draw-distance was nothing but a blank blue sky and it took about 5-10 seconds for it to load completely. Once the area in the distance was completely loaded in it was quite a beautiful sight, but unfortunately, the technical performances caused a loss of immersion and atmosphere that kind of ruined the amazing pace of the game exploration. It was quite upsetting, but thankfully it only occurred once. Other than that, about 80% of the game runs somewhat smooth and doesn’t really break the overall experience.
Dark Souls III is one of the best epic finales that I’ve ever witnessed in the gaming industry. There are very few games that manage to top its original games and make it better than it ever was. I have no idea how From Software does their magic, but I know that Hidetaka Miyazaki is one of the best directors in the gaming industry in today’s age. It has been proven first with Demon’s Souls, then with Dark Souls, Bloodborne and now once again with Dark Souls III. When I played the game from beginning to the end I was paying attention to every single detail and it was just astounding how much small details can make a huge difference in the overall impression. It’s very hard to imagine how a 3rd game in the series can become the best, but the matter of fact is that it was pulled off. Don’t get me wrong, Dark Souls is a fantastic game, but Dark Souls III lays on its original foundation and just makes it that much better thanks to next-generation hardware and From Software’s ability to keeping the same formula without ruining it. There might be some technical issues here and there as I’ve mentioned previously, but thankfully they’re not game breaking and you really shouldn’t worry about what platform to play it on because it’s just a fantastic game that you must experience whether you’re a fan of the Souls series or trying to find a fix for a real hardcore westernized RPG. Kudos to From Software, this is the best love letter the gaming industry will ever receive in a long time to come.