The Souls series sure has come a long way, hasn’t it? Back when Demon’s Souls released, not many people actually played it, but there was always this urban legend of sorts about a super hard and obscure RPG that was like nothing else on the market. Fast forward a couple of years and the Souls series is one of the biggest names in the industry right now. It’s become synonymous with brutal yet satisfying gameplay and that is most definitely its claim to fame, but having spent dozens of hours with what could be the last game in the series, it’s become really clear to me that there is so much more to this franchise than just its difficulty.
The story telling in Dark Souls 3 remains the same as the other titles, so if you didn’t like it then, you probably won’t be warming up to it here. From the onset, all you know is that you’re an Unkindled tasked with the job of bringing back the Lords of Cinder so that they may Link the Fire. Linking the fire means to sacrifice one’s self to ensure that the light prevails and the darkness is kept at bay. That’s about all you’re given at the start, and it’s up to you to try and piece everything together. The world and its story is probably the strongest aspect of the game for me personally.
I’ve been playing this series for a long time now, and to be perfectly honest, I kind of know what to expect in terms of gameplay, and this will be true for most Souls players. This is not to say that this game is not without surprises, because there are quite a few of them, and they’re pretty awesome. Hwever, once I started peeling away at the layers of this game, and I started to delve deeper into the world and story, I found myself completely hooked and drawn into the characters and lore.
A large part of my enjoyment of the story came from game’s new central hub. The new Firelink Shrine will be your sanctuary away from the chaos and danger of the outside world. Here you’ll level up, barter and upgrade your weapons. More importantly however, all the NPCs you meet along the way eventually end up here and most of your interactions take place in this hub. I’d often take numerous breaks just to do the rounds and speak to everyone to see if I can advance a specific questline or just get new dialogue from them. Each character has their own tale to tell and I found it fascinating how well they’re integrated into the world. For instance, there is a gravestone outside the shrine that, to me, looks like every other one. Once when I got back to the shrine however, one NPC was not at his usual spot, instead I found him kneeling at this gravestone. After learning more about him, and inspecting that gravestone further, I could understand the importance of it, and it’s just so incredible how much detail FromSoftware puts into the world.
The care the developers put into this game extends to the design of the various areas as well. Dark Souls 2 before it was widely criticised for its incoherent and often bland world, but all of that seems to have changed here. Sure, you can still warp between bonfires, but each individual area feels intricately connected with branching paths often leading to new and previously visited locations in surprising ways. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring every nook and cranny, and the game does a good job of rewarding you for doing so with numerous secrets, optional sub-bosses, NPCs, items etc. I feel this game is at its best when you take everything in as a whole and not just focus on fighting. In saying that though, I can’t fault anyone for being drunk on the combat, as it is incredibly addictive.
Combat remains largely the same as the previous Souls titles. Most encounters are slow and methodical and blindly attacking on a whim will almost certainly get you killed. Instead you have to carefully analyse the enemy’s movements to find an opening for an attack. This tried and tested formula has been polished and upgraded over the years and as a result, this feels like the best iteration of the combat system. There are numerous other minor additions that newcomers might not pick up on, but fans will most definitely appreciate such as the classic riposte making a return and the increase in equip load ratio before a player starts to slow roll.
The biggest addition, however, has got to be the introduction of Weapon Arts. These are weapon-specific skills that really add another layer of depth to an already intricate system. Each weapon (in most cases, weapon category) has a specific skill attached to it that can be used at the expense of the new focus bar. At first, I didn’t find much use for them but as I started developing my build and experimenting with different weapons; I grew to appreciate the finer nuances to them. As an example, the Uchigatana’s skill is a defensive-like stance where using a weak attack unleashes a fast slash, whereas the strong attack is actually a parry. This grants you the ability to still parry while not equipping a parrying shield. This is but a small example of the types of builds you can create, and to a Dark Souls fan, creative builds are half the fun. Where I really saw this feature get put to good use, was in the game’s multiplayer portion.
Multiplayer is still more or less the same, wherein players can leave notes, invade each other or partake in co-operation. There are covenants, too, and you can now switch between them on the fly which allows you to easily try out the different online flavours. I’ve been hearing complaints about the online portion not working as expected, but I honestly never ran into much trouble, in fact, I’ve had more fun with the online portion of this game than I did any other Souls game. While co-op was definitely fun, PvP was a whole other beast and can get quite crazy sometimes with up to 6 players in one session. Here you can witness a wide variety of builds and playstyles and it was fun to see how my character stacked up against them. While, the online portion is most certainly far from perfect, the tweaks that they introduced make for a really rich and enjoyable experience.
Visually, this game is absolutely stunning. The art direction is on point with what this series is known for but even then, there are times when I feel that From absolutely knocked it out of the ballpark. The first time I arrived in Irithyll, I was blown away by the beautiful vista that hits you as you enter the area and I actually just stood there for a few minutes to take it all in. Dark Souls 3 has some of the best looking levels in the series, but it also has some of the worst. There are a few underground areas that actually remind me of the chalice dungeons in Bloodborne, which is to say that they’re really bland and quite boring. Thankfully, these areas account for a really small percentage of the overall game. Unfortunately, the game does suffer from framerate issues here and there, which for me personally, never really detracted from the overall experience, but it did end up breaking the sense of immersion when it happened. In terms of the music, all I can say is, when I heard Vordt’s theme, the first real boss of the game, I wanted nothing more than to hop out of my seat and praise the sun!
Dark Souls 3 offers a deep and satisfying gameplay experience, but the experience of travelling through this world is what will stick with me. The thrill of discovery was greater than the thrill of beating a tough boss. All I wanted was to get lost in this world. I wanted more of the story, more secrets to uncover and I wanted to know more about the characters. Even after nearly 50 hours of play, I am still as enthralled as I was when I first started.
Last Updated: April 25, 2016