Title: Dark Souls 3
Version Tested: Xbox One
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Genre: Action RPG
Official Site: www.darksouls3.com
Release Date: April 12, 2016
Where to Buy: Retail, PSN, Xbox Store, Steam
I stood in front of the thin warrior. He had a fraction of his health left and so did I. Only one Estus flask remained in my inventory and I had already used an ember – an item that fully restores health. He raised his flaming blade and swung it into the ground, sending a column of flame rocketing towards me. I dodged out of the way, narrowly avoiding several incendiary attacks before charging in to land the killing blow. He finally fell to the ground, defeated. I breathed a sigh of relieve. I had spent nearly an hour and a half learning the boss’s tells, patterns and when to strike. This kind of experience has always been at the core of the Dark Souls series. Dark Souls 3 builds upon the previous entries while simultaneously providing a fitting conclusion to this masochistic series.
You are the unkindled – an undead warrior searching for their humanity. The kingdom has fallen into chaos and ruin after the departure of the Lords of Cinder. Your goal is to find these powerful foes, defeat them and return them to their thrones. But since this is a Dark Souls game, it is often easier said than done. After being treated to a gorgeous CG opening and being given this snippet of story you are sent off into the world. And what a world it is.
Every corner of the breathtaking world is slowly crumbling. The grey skies hang overhead, creating a constantly dreary mood. Bricks law strewn on the ground, fallen from the ornate towers they once supported. There is an abundance of vistas that you cannot help but stop at – just to take in the view. The far draw distance helps create a sense of scale, even when exploring the most claustrophobic of areas. The environments are as varied as ever. I started out in a run down castle and before long found myself in an underground cavern where the ceiling was seemingly on fire, casting a macabre light on everything below. Walking into a new area never ceases to be exciting. Exploration is a big part of Dark Souls 3, and while the title is more linear than previous entries, there are still plenty of branching paths and shortcuts to uncover.
While the overall design of each area is fantastic in its own right, the attention to detail in every room or dungeon I explored was remarkable. The positioning of tables, chairs, barrels, cages and even enemies contribute to the environmental storytelling. Every time I opened a large door my character would place both hands on them and slowly push as the mass of stone of wood moved against their weight. The entire world is lovingly crafted, bearing a sense of weight and sporting a foreboding atmosphere that is draped over every nook and cranny.
The landscapes aren’t the only place where the art shines through in Dark Souls 3. The enemy designs are as awe-inspiring as ever. Even the smallest of enemies held my gaze as I slowly strafed around them. They range from skeletons wielding swords to grotesque, demented villagers. I was constantly surprised and delighted when I found a new enemy. The incredible variety in the enemies not only means that you never get bored, but you have to stay on your toes.
Like in any Dark Souls game the bosses are the true spectacle. They come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes towering above you, raining death from above or sweeping your legs out from beneath you. Others weren’t much taller than me but delivered quite a hit regardless. I won’t describe any here for fear of spoilers, but trust me; Dark Souls 3 does not pull any punches in the boss department.
The latest entry in the souls series draws a lot of inspiration from its past. Characters from the first Dark Souls litter the world and some enemies and area designs look like they were dragged straight out of Bloodborne. But it still has a cohesive style, wrapping everything up in the same coating of dreary fantasy that has permeated the entire series.
Despite how beautiful the world is to behold, the amount of detail and hordes of enemies can occasionally cause the framerate to take a hit. It doesn’t crop up too often but you really don’t want the game to chug when you’re at an integral part of a boss fight. It may not be noticeable all of the time, but the Xbox One wasn’t always able to keep up with the demands of the game.
The music sits in the background, only popping in for boss fights. But when the heavy orchestral score does swell up you know that a real fight is ahead of you. All layers of the presentation come together to form a cohesive package that may stand as the best in the series.
But Dark Souls 3 isn’t just about stunning visuals; it’s about brutally difficult combat, strategic usage of items and the many intertwining systems. There are ten playable classes: Knight, Mercenary, Warrior, Herald, Thief, Assassin, Sorcerer, Pyromancer, Cleric and Deprived. Each one has a unique play style focused around either hand-to-hand combat, bow, and arrow, or the use of spells. I played as a knight, which meant I clutched a sword in one hand and a shield in another. But the weapons on each hand can be switched out depending on how you want to play. I could use two blades or just one great sword. The amount of options available to you even within one class mean that you are never constrained to one style.
Other than weapons you can equip various items into slots. Estus Flasks – the series’ best item for health recovery – now comes in two varieties: health and mana. This new addition now lets players who want to wield magic have more options at their disposal. The item descriptions are still convoluted and hard to decipher, but that is due to the design of the game. Part of the fun is figuring out how various items work, how different NPCs react to one another.
The puzzling nature of the game remains intact, but it’s more linear and approachable than other Souls games. The main hub area houses an NPC who levels you up, a merchant and a blacksmith. They simply sit there, giving you access to the upgrades right off the bat. This doesn’t detract from the experience but makes it more approachable to newcomers. Even if you haven’t played the first two Dark Souls games you will be able to feel right at home in Dark Souls 3.
The minute-to-minute combat hasn’t changed much at all since the first Dark Souls. You have two attack options, light and heavy, same with defence. Sprinting, blocking hits, attacking and rolling all use stamina, so knowing when to back off and recover is crucial. Weapon arts are a new addition and give the combat more diversity. These powerful new attacks change the way weapons operate and create new foils in the midst of combat. The key is knowing when each attack should be used when to block when to dodge, and when to heal. I could feel myself getting better at the game the more I played it. Each hit has a weight to it. Every time I sunk my sword into an enemy a spray of blood would explode from them. Slaying an enemy, even a simple one, never ceases to be satisfying.
Dark Souls 2 introduced hollowing. Every time you died, a fraction of your health bar disappeared. It became frustrating, especially when you were up against a particularly difficult boss. Dark Souls 3 throws this away, opting instead for a health bar that never decreases – except when you get hit. This also adds to the approachability of the game.
Dark Souls 3 is more tactical than Bloodborne but is still the fastest game in the series. You are still rewarded for taking your time, dancing around your enemies and jumping in to strike when the opportunity presents itself. There aren’t many enemies that can be considered unfair. There is a clear path to victory in each case; the trick is in discovering it.
Dark Souls 3 stands tall amongst its predecessors. The world is stunning to behold and exploring it becomes an addiction. The combat feels as great as ever while the weapon arts and altered Estus Flasks allow for new options in battle. The bosses and enemies are some of the best in the series, serving as the perfect sendoff for this infamously difficult series.
- Gameplay: Fast-paced combat that is as difficult as ever
- Graphics: Beautiful locations and a great attention to detail
- Sound: Fantastic music, sharp sound effects
- Presentation: Everything comes together to form a cohesive whole
- Beautiful graphics
- Stellar combat
- Fantastic boss and enemy design
- Accessibility in upgrade system
- Frame rate drops
- Still hard to approach despite being more open