Dark Souls III
For fans of the series, Dark Souls III is certainly a worthy title to add to your collection.
Release Date – April 12, 2016
Platform – PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer/Publisher – FromSoftware/FromSoftware, Bandai Namco Entertainment
Anguish. Despair. Rage.
Relief. Elation. Triumph.
FromSoftware’s third installment in its Dark Souls series will force you to experience each of these emotions during your journey through the grim Kingdom of Lothric. Throughout the majority of your journey you will be outnumbered, outmatched and quite possibly out of your mind. Inch by inch, however, you will find yourself overcoming foes who, not so long ago, seemed in a league all their own.
Therein lies the beauty of Dark Souls III.
Much like developer FromSoftware’s recent titles, including the remarkable Bloodborne, Dark Souls III does not bother with holding your hand or unraveling a grand tale. It should be noted though that Dark Souls III’s story was probably the easiest out of the series for me to follow, although given the comparison that may not be saying too much.
You are one of the “Unkindled”. An undead tasked with felling the Lords of Cinder, who, as an early encounter with an NPC informs, “We’re not fit to lick their boots”. Positive reinforcement from the outset. Unfortunately, he’s not altogether wrong. In your current form you would be a mere gnat buzzing around their charred crowns.
For those acquainted with the Souls games, you will be happy to know that Dark Souls III feels the way it should, despite some notable changes. Replacing the previous magic-usage system is a new bar on the HUD for Focus Points (FP), which allow you to cast magic, miracles and pyromancies. Focus Points are also used for Skills, unique attacks or buffs for each specific piece of equipment at your disposal, with the exception of armor. This change helps breathe new life into combat, giving you yet another way to think about facing your foes.
The introduction of Focus Points also brings with it new Ashen Estus Flasks, which are used to refill your FP. Much like their original Estus Flask counterparts, these bottles are refilled through resting at bonfires or defeating certain enemies throughout the game. An interesting quirk, however, is you now have to decide how many of each flask you want to carry with you. Are you a tanked-up warrior that enjoys up-close and personal combat? Consider stocking up on the original Estus Flasks. Do you prefer a sorcerer that casts spells from a distance? Perhaps keeping more Ashen Estus Flasks in your inventory is the way to go. Whichever you decide, your choice is not permanent as an NPC back at Firelink Shrine (home base) gives you the ability to reallocate as you see fit.
Finding the right balance for your play-style is key to just about every aspect of Dark Souls III. Your character build, your equipment and how you approach your enemies needs to feel comfortable, or as comfortable as it can be given that even the first enemy you cross paths with has the ability to end your journey.
Speaking of your journey, expect it to be a gorgeous one, accompanied by an equally as striking score. From vast cathedrals to dimly-lit catacombs, the environments you encounter are as impressive as FromSoftware has churned out, with the soundtrack largely contributing to the feeling of tension mounting throughout your playthrough. Many times you will be able to physically feel the darkness of certain areas of the game creeping in. What makes Dark Souls III shine, however, is the ability to make you weary of every corner, even in the brightest daylight.
As stated earlier, everything in this game has the ability to conquer you for being careless. If you are a Souls veteran, you will probably notice you are accosted by numerous foes more often than in previous games, where it was rare to have to deal with more than two or three enemies at a time. This leads to many hair-raising moments, requiring thoughtful tactics to emerge in one piece. This also brings me to what is the game’s biggest weakness – frame rate.
I reviewed the game on the Playstation 4, where it has been widely publicized that dips in frame rate can slow your experience down to a trudge. While I certainly fell victim to these frame rate drops, it by no means breaks the game. Honestly, it worked to my benefit in some instances, though I am sure that was not FromSoftware’s intent. I have heard that the Xbox One version suffers from similar issues, but a properly optimized PC is said to be free from this problem.
A second downside, although one I did not feel to be a big issue, is the way in which you progress throughout the game. While there may be some who take umbrage with the more linear progression than the original Dark Souls, I certainly found more options available to me than Dark Souls II. There are a number of secret paths that are obscurely hidden which require a careful eye, or even dumb luck, to access. Many of these paths lead to useful treasure, entirely new areas and optional bosses.
Strictly speaking, Dark Souls III’s bosses taken as a whole may be the most punishing among the series. Oftentimes you will be mere seconds away from victory before a mistimed dodge or greedy string of attacks leads to your undoing. Expect to spend some quality time getting to know these foes, with perhaps one or two exceptions. A new mechanic has also worked its way into boss encounters, which was sparsely present in previous Souls games. When bosses reach about half of their original health they will “transform” to some degree, bringing with them a new move-set to contend with, as well as buffed attacks. In one specific instance this transformation changes the fight altogether.
Dark Souls III also offers a similar PvP mode as its predecessors. Leaving summon signs on the ground gives players the ability to assist others in need or invade their world and bring a frown (and quite possibly a few expletives) to their face. While my time through the game was spent mostly flying solo, I did team up with some benefactors during a few particularly sticky situations. While those assisting are mostly random people playing the game, you do have the ability to create a specific password for summoning if you want to bring your friends into the fray.
For fans of the series, Dark Souls III is certainly a worthy title to add to your collection. Changes to combat help keep things fresh while the punishing experience you expect from a Souls game is present and accounted for. Frame rate dips may mar your enjoyment from time to time, depending on your console of choice, but altogether FromSoftware has delivered yet another can’t miss experience.