The Dark Souls franchise has successfully developed a longstanding relationship with diehard RPG enthusiasts over the last few years, fulfilling the expectation of a challenging yet rewarding experience like no other. While Dark Souls II may have taken a few missteps along the way, the third entry brings fans back into familiar territory, with series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki once again at the helm.
As was the case with past entries, Dark Souls III is all about the challenge of overcoming difficult situations by learning from defeat, and a large portion of your time spent in the game will involve the latter. From Software’s latest will put you in punishing situations and expect you to gradually rise above them with the wisdom that you gain from recurring failure.
Set in the kingdom of Lothric, Dark Souls III’s world is divided into a number of regions, each with its own intricate perils. These deeply intertwined areas are filled with cunningly laid out traps, complex puzzles and ruthless foes, making the game’s only checkpoints, the bonfires, a crucial discovery. In terms of level design, it’s a return to form for the series, as Dark Souls II’s areas lacked the intricacy found in the first game.
Bonfires are scattered throughout the world, and upon discovery, can be used to fast travel to previously discovered ones as well as the game’s hub region, known as the Firelink Shrine.
The Firelink Shrine works much like it did in the original Dark Souls. Once there, you’ll have the opportunity to improve stats for your characters and the weapon they carry. Meanwhile, you’ll also be able to recruit certain NPC characters who will settle down at the shrine and offer you new items and enhancements that can prove useful against tougher enemies.
Dark Souls III is just as much about exploration and discovery as it is about its deep and engaging combat. Discovery can come in the form of unraveling the game’s lore, locating a hidden bonfire, or finding a much-needed shortcut that traces back to an earlier area. There are usually multiple paths to take, some of which take you to secret areas or dungeons that lead to hidden bosses, while others may be an elaborate lure to a trap. Those who don’t stray from their path would essentially be missing out on a significant part of what Dark Souls III has to offer.
The combat has taken certain cues from Bloodborne, resulting in more aggressive encounters than there were in past entries. That’s not a bad thing, however, and the game retains its build variety, giving you several ways to duel, among which is the classic sword and shield arrangement. Strategies used to overcome the odds in past games still hold true here, and the wait-and-bait approach to encounters is just as viable. Your adversaries range from disciplined knights to savage beasts, each having its own set of strengths and weaknesses that you’ll need to figure out through patience and observation. Just as in previous games, a well-timed dodge-roll can leave enemies in a vulnerable state for you to capitalize upon.
Skills are a welcome addition to Dark Souls’ combat. You now have the ability to activate Battle Arts for weapons and magic at the cost of your accumulated Focus Points. They range from damage enhancements to unique attacks, such as a stunning chain attack or one that can break through shielded opponents. There’s also a quickstep, which works somewhat like Bloodborne’s sidestep during lock-on. These arts add an additional layer of depth to the combat and generally come in handy during tougher encounters, particularly when you’re up against bosses.
Boss fights have been a highlight of the Dark Souls series, and the third entry is no different in this regard. They’re cleverly designed for the most part, although a handful of them echo similarities with bosses from previous From Software games. Additionally, you’ll find some commonality between a few of the game’s own bosses, right down to their attacks and animations. Boss difficulty is also quite inconsistent; some are surprisingly easier than expected, while others will test your patience and give you the kind of challenge the series is known for.
Although the combat is primarily designed for more personal encounters, you will, at times, be thrown into crowded situations. It’s here that camera issues can rear their ugly head, especially now that the pacing is more aggressive than in previous games. Locking-on to enemies in tighter spaces will sometimes result in the camera going haywire. This is the only instance where the game is at conflict with its fundamental principle of being fair amidst all odds.
One particular annoyance from Dark Souls II was the inclusion of an unnecessary ‘Adaptability’ stat, which dictated the invincibility frames of your dodge-roll. It’s good to see that the sequel has rolled back on this change, meaning that there is no longer an individual stat that scales your agility, as was the case in the original Dark Souls.
If Dark Souls III does away with the missteps introduced in Dark Souls II, it also manages to retain the latter’s improvements over the first game, particularly in the realm of PvP. Much like its predecessor, Dark Souls III has two dueling arenas where players can summon or invade each other and battle it out solo or in groups.
The current generation iteration of Dark Souls continues the trend of delivering an atmospheric and believable realization of its game world. While it’s technically somewhat dated by today’s standards, the audio-visual presentation holds its own in terms of setting the right kind of mood.
All in all, From Software’s latest succeeds in offering the ultimate Dark Souls experience. Save for a few uninspiring boss encounters, this is indeed a return to form for the series and a must-play for Souls and RPG fans alike.
This review covers the PS4 version of the game.