Review: Dark Souls III

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For newcomers to the franchise, Dark Souls III will be a brutal journey where you’ll die over and over again to learn and understand what’s required in order to progress just that little bit further. For veterans familiar with Dark Souls’ design, you’ll also have a similar punishing ride. After completing it, I thought about my experience and whether or not I found things too easy – because, honestly, that was something on my mind the entire time. I went in having knowledge of its fundamentals and mechanics, and that’s not something I can change. I’ve been through dozens of hours learning from previous games, but when I look down at my “You Died” counter — which I recorded on paper every time my character was slain – I see 140 notches lined up across the page. I guess, then, I don’t think I can say my time with Dark Souls III was easy.

Dark Souls III will have you journey through the Kingdom of Lothric in order to find the Lords of Cinder and return them to their thrones at the Firelink Shrine so that the linking of the flame can be restored. The story in these types of games which developer FromSoftware delivers is usually quite vague and mysterious… that is, until the community gets together and joins the pieces of lore from the world design, conversations, and items that you come across. But story isn’t what most the people playing Dark Souls come for; it’s the gameplay.

As you take your hero through the world you’ll encounter a wide variation of enemies, and with all of them you’ll need to be cautious because they can deliver lethal attacks in a matter of moments. When you make your way through these enemies you’ll collect their souls, which you can spend to level up your character and make them stronger. The risk is that when you’re on this journey and you die to an enemy, you’ll drop all the current souls that you have saved up. Once you are resurrected at the nearest bonfire you’ll have to trek back to your death location to pick up those unspent souls. If you die again on the way, then all those souls will be lost. That is why these bonfires are so important; they are checkpoints you’ll unlock inside the world that serve as a safe area. The closer you are to a bonfire, the more risks you can take because you won’t have to traverse as far away to recover any dropped souls.

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The combat in Dark Souls III is very similar to the previous game: learn the pattern of your enemies’ attacks and strike at the right time. You’ll be able to wield something in your left and right hands; it’s up to you choose a classic sword and shield, go in for crazy destruction with dual clubs in each hand or, if you’re the type of person that wants to throw out a couple of spells, that too. The decision is entirely up to the player and the way they build their characters’ stats on how they approach the combat. Everything you do in battle for has a cost though, mainly in the form of stamina. When you swing your weapon, run in a direction, roll out of the way or block an incoming attack, your stamina bar will drain with each manoeuvre. This is an important resource to manage because without stamina you’ll be left open for devastating attacks. The biggest change to the combat is that Dark Souls III introduces weapon arts which consume Focus Points; each weapon comes a special skill that you can trigger. Even with this new addition it’s just another way for you to approach your offensive and defensive capabilities, but doesn’t make that much of a difference to overall combat.

The crescendos in Dark Souls are when you reach a boss. These formidable enemies will test your patience as you learn when to strike and when not to. This is stretched even further as the boss will undergo a change in pattern once it hits a certain phase during the fight, meaning you have to change up your tactics and be aware of new incoming attacks. The variety in the bosses you’ll encounter along the way are fantastic; each one will have you approach them cautiously as you try to determine what exactly it is that they are going to throw out your way.
One of my favourite things about FromSoftware is its level design and art style, and Dark Souls III continues this trend with some of the best levels you’ll find in video games in terms of design. As you progress through each area you’ll unlock shortcuts that will loop back around to a place you’ve previously visited. It’s not until you spend hours traversing through several locations, only to find yourself standing on the other side of a lake you passed so long ago, that you can appreciate how much care has gone into this world and what has been built. When you stand out on a ledge and peer over what this world offers, most of what you’ll see is somewhere that you’ll eventually end up along the journey. While Dark Souls III is an amazing looking game, I did find it to struggle in a couple of areas on the PC with the performance dropping from its locked 60 frames per second, jumping between 30 to 45 frames on a high-end gaming computer.

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The community in Dark Souls is a very important aspect of the franchise. You’re supposed to talk to each other, figure out the best way to approach certain obstacles and inform others. One way that this can be done is within the game as you can leave messages which other players can read and rate. Additionally, you can also offer assistance to players by putting down a sign on the ground; if other players want they can interact with this sign to pull you over to their game for help if they are struggling to take down a boss. But then there is the other side of that spectrum, the player vs player aspect of the game. You can choose to invade other people’s game and cause chaos for them while they are just going along doing their own thing. Fun times!

Dark Souls III may not stretch too far from its roots, but it’s still one of the most rewarding video game experiences you can have. You’ll get frustrated, but you’ll learn from that frustration. The combat combined with the level design is unlike anything you’ll find in most AAA titles these days. Dark Souls III is not for everyone, but for those that do give it the time required that it takes to learn, they’ll hopefully walk away from the game satisfied like I did. Because what they’ll end up playing is one of the best games of this year.

Dark Souls III was reviewed using a promotional code on Steam as provided by the publisher.

***UPDATE 12/04/2016***

Dark Souls III has launched today along with a patch for the PC bringing it to version 1.03. As noted in our review we experienced some performance issues related to the framerate in a few areas of the game, this day-one patch however has resolved these problems. As such, our score has been changed to reflect this.

 

Review: Dark Souls III

The good

  • Visual and level design is superb
  • Combat and boss encounters are outstanding
  • Rewarding gameplay experience

The bad

  • Doesn’t stray too far from the previous games
  • Might make you cry

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