Me and Dark Souls have had a rocky relationship, you guys. I didn’t enjoy the second one and though I liked the first one, it never gripped me but, like Bloodborne, Dark Souls III has had me itching for more.
My only complaint with Bloodborne is that it lost steam towards the end and that the size of the bosses made it easy to exploit, as you could stand underneath them and they’d be unable to attack you until you dealt enough damage to force them to do something else. Sadly, this complaint is still present for Dark Souls III but that’s okay, because it’s still a challenging game and a whole lot of fun. As is standard with Souls games, there’s very little story on the surface and it requires you to get digging if you want a story but you can easily enjoy it without worrying about the lack of focus on the narrative. In the Kingdom of Lothric, you play as one of the ‘Unkindled’ who is hunting down the Lord of Cinders so that you have the power to keep the ‘First Flame’ ignited which is the source of all heat, helping to keep the world from diving into a cold and lifeless abyss.
Incredibly atmospheric, Dark Souls 3 takes you from a variety of areas such as a forest to a church and, although they’re decrepit and gloomy now, it’s clear that these areas once brimmed with joyful life and it’s bittersweet to see how these places have been ravaged and destroyed. Faced with fighting many fearsome foes, you pick one of several classes and get on your way. I chose the Knight class, armed with sword and shield and not attuned to magic, so that I could defend and parry my way to victory. I enjoyed my time with the Knight class a lot and would recommend it as a starter class for anybody new to the series, or even for a first playthrough, although a strong magic class is great for range and targeting an enemies weakness. You can level up your character as you like, using souls to enhance stats such as your health, strength and stamina (these are the three I focused on, and I stand by them!), as well as use items and souls to strengthen your equipment. Great thing about the Knight class is that the armour you start with is some of the best you’ll find in the game, especially in the early areas, so you can distribute your souls better with less to worry about.
Your standard attacks are assigned to R1 with strong attacks assigned to R2, whilst L1 blocks and L2 parries or, depending on the size of your shield, will allow you to pull off even more powerful moves. Circle allows you to dodge roll and sprint with square reserved for the use of items, and although it might take some getting used to, you’ll find yourself getting used to it in no time. Dark Souls is known for its difficulty and whilst it certainly is a challenge, it’s nothing that patience won’t handle – you may die to a boss a few times, but you’ll read its patterns and approach the next battle with more knowledge than before and boy is it satisfying when you defeat a boss! Attacking, defending, dodging and sprinting all use up stamina and considering how quickly this can run out, it’s important to keep an eye on that green bar and to think ahead because enemies can be much quicker and more aggressive than you could hope to be, and this is why I’d advise to level up your health and stamina as your two main stats, considering you’re not a magic-centric class.
Dark Souls doesn’t hold your hand and exploring is a fun yet dangerous experience that can result in great items and a large amount of souls, or may result in a trap – I genuinely screamed when I opened up a box and a long, spindly monster with a massive tongue pulled me in and ate me, and now I’m very weary about opening any box that looks similar to it. You’ll be exploring to find your way forward though and to fight side-bosses, which I encourage as the boss battles are great fun and get my palms sweaty in the best way possible, but the areas keep you on your toes and manage to make walking around just as fun as battling enemies. Admittedly, I did a lot of running away from enemies, as I did in Bloodborne, but I manage to hold my own against bosses far better. It’s easy for Dark Souls III to feel unfair as enemies have unlimited stamina, generally higher speed and larger numbers than yourself and whilst I do think it’s unbalanced at times with deaths that seemingly could not have been avoided, it doesn’t detract from the sheer fun of it all.
Dark Souls III is leagues ahead of Dark Souls II when it comes to visuals, although this may be an unfair comparison considering that was originally made on last generation consoles. I prefer the aesthetic to Bloodborne but graphically it’s on a similar level and, like Bloodborne, this boasts gorgeous art and From Software are fantastic at bringing these dead worlds to life. Boss design is brilliant and varied with large, lumbering creatures being imposing and threatening and, along with standard enemies, can be rather horrifying and leave you wondering how you’ll ever win. The only issue I have with the visuals is the horrendous framerate and, honestly, I have no idea how From Software have created a game that relies so heavily on reaction time that they’ve let the framerate as it is slide by, and I hope that they have plans to patch it to be better. It happens during action and just by simply walking around, with no real reason as to why the framerate drops so badly and so often – you might be shocked, but this is the worst framerate I’ve experienced since Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. If From Software patch this, I’d likely revisit this review to update this section and the individual score I’ve given to the ‘The Looks’ portion at the bottom, and even though it didn’t lead to me any notable deaths, it was something that kept actively pulling me out of the experience and proved to be the worst enemy found in Dark Souls III. (As promised, there has since been a patch that’s alleviated most of the framerate problem and it’s a better game for it, so I’ve upped The Looks another point as it plays much smoother than before.)
Maybe I never paid as much attention in the previous titles, but Dark Souls III has lovely music which, surprisingly, reminded me of the vocal orchestral tracks of Devil May Cry. They’re haunting and beautiful and I could listen to the main menu theme for a long time. Other than that there isn’t a whole lot of music to be heard in the game, rather there’s a lot of noise working towards creating the tense, lonely and desperate atmosphere of the game and From Software have certainly achieved that with Dark Souls III. Voice-acting in the series may be at its all-time high right now too, and I found myself emphasising with the characters much more here than I have done in other Souls’ titles. Distraught, pained and hopeless, the voice talent brings life to the characters in such a way that they make me want to save them.
After my disappointment with Dark Souls II, I was worried whether or not I’d find enjoyment in Dark Souls III and to what level that would be. Thankfully, other than my issues with the framerate, I have had and will continue to have a blast with Dark Souls III which is a fitting end to the trilogy, and it has me wondering what’s next for From Software although I personally believe that a Bloodborne 2 is on the cards somewhere. Who knows, maybe they’ll create a similar game with a completely different world? Either way, if you’re looking for a challenge with an abundance of care and detail, then Dark Souls III is the game for you. Although the stories link, you won’t have needed to play the other games as the game isn’t narrative-heavy, and it’s easy to follow what’s going on in this game without prior experience or knowledge. Dark Souls III is a fantastic game and I’ve been amazed by it, and it’s gripped me enough to convince me to return to the first two games in the series. It’s early in the year but Dark Souls III may very well be one of the best games of 2016.
A little update here! Since posting this review, I’ve been playing more Dark Souls III and have since completed every single boss (optional included) and area, as well as getting the true ending if not every ending. I might have given it a 4/5, but I feel as if it deserves more so I’m going to tweak the scores a bit. Dark Souls III is one of the best games I’ve played, and I wholly recommend it. There are many words that can describe this game such as fantastic, brilliant, excellent and amazing, and it’s all of these things and more. It’s made a big From Software fan out of me and I’ve already found myself revisiting Bloodborne where I realise I’ve become a far better player, and I plan to revisit the other Souls titles too. Maybe think about a PS4 upgrade for Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, Bandai Namco? I love Dark Souls III and I’m confident it’ll be in my top ten games of 2016.