Despite being called Dark Souls 3, From Software’s latest release is actually the 5th game that focuses on the 3rd person, action-RPG gameplay the Souls Series is known for. Demon’s Souls released for Playstation 3 in 2009 was, initially, a Japan only release, as it was believed that the game would simply not sell in western countries due to its (at the time) unorthodox and rather uncommon difficulty level. Never shying away from a challenge, I imported myself a copy way back in 2009 and have been a massive fan of the series ever since.
Dark Souls 3 sees the triumphant return of original series director Hidetaka Miyazaki, who due to the side by side development of Bloodborne, took a step back with Dark Souls 2 in the way of being more of a consultant than a director. And it showed, Bloodborne and Dark Souls 2 are 2 games that while feeling very much like souls games, seemed to lack a ‘special something’ that existed in both Demon’s souls and the first Dark Souls experience. Dark Souls 3 brings the magic back and I’m pleased to say I haven’t been this enamoured with a game since the original Dark Souls was released in 2011.
Gameplay is what you have come to expect of the series, Methodical, thought provoking and quick to punish a lack of concentration. Timing strikes is much more effective than raining a blade down on enemies in a flurry of attacks. Learning how the enemy moves, attacks, blocks and retaliates to your own movements is key in both progression within Dark Souls 3 and progression within the player. And you will feel progression as a player, Dark Souls, unlike any other series I have played, forces the player to get better, noticeably better within a few short hours. Bosses can feel downright impossible when you first encounter them, but then as you stand triumphant looking down upon this challenge that once seemed insurmountable, you will realise that not only did you defeat the boss, you did it with relative ease. Areas that at one time felt impenetrable will suddenly feel like a walk in the neighbourhood park. Then in a brief lapse of concentration and in true Dark Souls fashion, an enemy 20 levels lower than you, will melt your health bar and your confidence as you watch all your hard earned souls disappear. Therein lies one of the more ‘difficult’ components of the Souls series of games, Souls are used for damn near everything. Buying Items, levelling up and upgrading weapons. Dying means losing all the souls you are currently carrying and despite having a chance to regain your lost souls by making it back to the point of your demise it is not uncommon to die during this soul recovery expedition and watch your lifeless corpse fall to the ground as you cry softly and witness thousands upon thousands of souls disappear into the Darkness. Or twist the controller in frustration as you grit your teeth and watch a few hundred THOUSAND souls vanish into nothingness.
I found Blocking to be a little less effective in Dark Souls 3 and as such my go-to build of Strength as a core stat while using a shield and 1 handed sword was forgotten, instead I focused on my first ever dex (Dexterity) build in a Dark Souls Game. Both dex and strength builds can be greatly customised, but in general dex based characters rely on faster weapons like the Katanas or Rapiers while Strength builds utilise heavier, slower but more instantly powerful weapons like Greatswords and Greataxes. In the end, regardless of whether you chose to play as a spellcaster, melee based fighter, or some weird bastard breed of both, each and every player will need to master the artful skill of dodging and rolling. The roll is a core component of success within Dark Souls 3. The invincibility window offered during the roll/dodge maneuver gives you ample time to be able to leap through any oncoming projectiles or swinging blades and attack the opponents from behind. Circling round the enemy is still a massive part of the Dark Souls Gameplay, so much so that I was able to beat the first boss on my first attempt by utilising this tried and true technique. Learn it, Master it, dream about it. You should be rolling in your sleep by the time you complete your first playthrough of Dark Souls 3.
There are more than 100 individual weapons and shields to track down and try out within Dark Souls 3, each with their own set of stats and upgrade paths. A dex player will likely be more interested in weapons with a higher dex Gain, and a Strength based plater will be searching for items with a higher str gain, These gains are displayed as an S, A, B, C, D or E ranking within the weapons stat screen. Certain weapons will not be available for use without first meeting a set requirement for the item and a large majority of the weapons in the game can be infused with gemstones to grant them additional effects. Such as fire damage, bleed damage or poison damage.
Enemy design and more emphatically, Boss Design within the Dark Souls games has always been awesome, so much so that some of the most incredibly grotesque and terrifying creatures I have ever had the pleasurable displeasure of seeing have come from the obviously disturbed minds within the From Software development team. Monstrous creatures that move in even more monstrous ways await you around every corner, or seemingly lurk in every shadow. There are some truly gigantic enemies within Dark Souls 3, both in terms of size and difficulty, and each one moves in its own unique way. One of the core complaints that I had regarding the second Souls game, was the ease in which the bosses fell. Simply standing at the enemy’s legs and circling round to their back was usually enough to take most opponents down with relative ease. And whilst rolling around to attack the enemy from behind is still a valid way to defeat some of the mythical bastards you will face in Dark Souls 3, more often than not standing too close for too long will see you get fucked faster than a hooker during tax season.
There is a rich lore behind the Dark Souls universe that is both as interesting as it is elusive. Seasoned players of the series may not even know exactly who they are fighting and why, the importance of the introduction of fire, or even what the hell the Age of Dark was. The Souls universe is steeped in rather heavy themes and mythic influences, yet it forces players to actively search and piece together these portions of world history through item discovery, NPC questlines and mumbled dialogue. While this may be annoying to some and a complete waste of time to others who don’t care about the backstory of this dark, abusive world; for those of you who do care, uncovering a new piece of information that alludes to one of the bosses you just slaughtered, can sometimes be as rewarding as defeating the boss itself.
There is so much more I could write about in terms of what you can expect out of Dark Souls 3. I haven’t even touched on Covenants, Sidequests, optional bosses and areas. I haven’t even mentioned new game + which massively boosts the games replayability, nor have I spoken about PVP, which is an enormously important part of the game, as being invaded for the first time is a horrifying moment that every player will remember for the rest of their days. Invading and killing another player on the other hand, is just pure, sadistic fun. Instead of explaining them, these are all things I implore you to discover for yourself because Dark Souls is a game all about discovery and progression, mystery and mastery. Whether you are a newcomer to the souls series, or a returning veteran. Dark Souls 3 is an incredibly well crafted RPG and a strong contender for game of the year. As I stated at the start of this review, I haven’t been enamoured with a game like this since the original Dark Souls release in 2011 and I find it hard to imagine I’ll find a game like it, until we get another Miyazaki masterpiece