Review: Dark Souls III (PS4)
You are of the unkindled, nameless, accursed undead, unfit even to be cinder. Sent to seek the lords of cinder and return them to their abandoned thrones.
That is your journey, your quest. Fulfilling this task set upon you is not easy, and how you reach your end goal is entirely up to you. The plot of Dark Souls III is very vague, just like its predecessors, with a lot of ambiguity on offer. If you’re looking for a straightforward plot-driven game, then turn away now. If you’re looking for an extraordinary journey, that tells the story through experiencing it, then you are in for something very special.
Dark Souls is the story of your life
Dark Souls III is nothing new in terms of the series. If you are somebody who have paid your dues with the Souls series, then you should know exactly what to expect. Nothing I say will convince you not to dive straight back into the obscure and wonderfully strange world of Lothric. This review is for those who are on the fence, or maybe for those who have no interest in playing it, due to certain stigmas surrounding the series.
I’m not going to lie to you. Dark Souls III is a challenging game, and requires a lot of patience and practice to get into, never mind to master. I’ve played every Souls game created by From Software, and I still have not mastered all the ins and outs of what the series has to offer. The game offers some incredible challenges, one particular area nearly broke me, and drove me to tears, but each and every one of the challenges can be overcome with a little bit of patience and perseverance. It is unfortunately traits that we have lost due to the rush of modern day life.
Back to familiarity
Last year, From Software brought us the PlayStation exclusive, Bloodborne. The game was very well designed, and the same style of storytelling, via experience, was utilised. While the game felt very familiar to Souls game veterans, it was different in many ways. Playing Dark Souls III, after I played Bloodborne, I couldn’t help but feel that it was nothing more than a tech experiment, but From Software didn’t want to take such huge risks with an established name, and possibly upset a very vocal community.
Dark Souls III returns to its roots, with good old fashioned swords, shields, fireballs, magic and some miracles. The pace of the game is noticeably slower than that of Bloodborne, but it does retain some of its elements. Combat is a lot more aggressive than previous Dark Souls instalments, especially against the bosses. You cannot hang back and wait for an opening, as the enemies tend to be a lot more in your face all the time. It does make for some very intense situations from time to time, and sometimes it pays off being aggressive against the mob that’s ambushing you. Other times you will know what’s lying in wait for you, since it didn’t pay off the first time round.
But, although combat is much more aggressive, everything feels smooth and controlled, unlike some of the chaotic battles you encountered in Bloodborne. Some of the fights with the bigger enemies, semi-bosses, bosses (and one boss in particular) felt like a dance of wits and skill, and it was incredibly satisfying taking part in these encounters. Everything in the combat and enemy design felt perfectly thought out. Especially the bosses, which is some of the best I’ve seen in a long time!
You still have the same type of multiplayer system as before, with other players sometimes invading you as dark spirits for a bit or PVP action, or you summoning others to help you with a particularly tough area or boss battle. Unfortunately the matchmaking is not working so well at the moment, and I often found myself waiting a long time to be summoned or was unable to summon others altogether.
Not without hope
Lothric might be a ruthless and dangerous place, but it is very generous with its bonfires. There were very few times that I felt like I was in desperate need of a safe place so you can preserve the souls you have acquired up to that point. It is a dungeon crawler in the truest form. You’re not going to find a quaint little village with a tavern and NPCs giving you side missions, and the bonfires is your only solace. No, as is the case with any of these games, it is a brutal slog from beginning to end. Luckily loading times are also pretty short, so when you do meet your eventual demise, the wait to get back into the action is not too long. Where Bloodborne had loading times of over 30 seconds you’ll now be waiting a mere 10-15 seconds for another go.
The only true safe place is Firelink Shrine. It is the central place where you can spend your hard-earned souls on levelling up by the Firekeeper, upgrading and infusing your weapons, or purchasing useful items for your journey ahead. The shrine is also the place that most of the NPCs you come across might go to. You can then barter with them to learn new skills in pyromancy, magic or miracles, as well as learn more about the lore and story of the game.
Firelink Shrine might share the name with a similar place in Dark Souls, but it feels a lot more like the Nexus of Demon’s Souls. The Firekeeper is almost a carbon copy of the Maiden in Black (or the Emerald Herald of Dark Souls II), and the place offers a bit of exploring for some interesting loot and added lore details.
A perfectly crafted labyrinth
One thing that Dark Souls II was criticised for was the linear feel to it. I personally feel that its sequel feels even more so. You have a very set path from beginning to end. You can go to some of the places in a different order, and there’s a few places that is completely optional, and it is highly advised to make the detour, but progression did feel a bit like a point A to B affair. There were also a few instances, where I didn’t know where to go after defeating the boss, as the next step is not made very clear to you on every occasion.
Demon’s Souls had four very distinct worlds that can only be accessed from the Nexus. All of these worlds ended with an archstone that can take you back to the Nexus after defeating the main world boss. Dark Souls III, also have a few instances where you reach a dead end after a boss, and you have to return to another bonfire to continue your quest. It can get very confusing as to what to do next, and it sometimes feels like a waste of time running around trying to figure out where to do.
However. The entire world is such an intricately designed labyrinth that connects with each other in the most surprising of ways. Often I was baffled to find myself in a previously visited place, only to then realise how well-crafted the world really is.
But not all is well in Lothric
Dark Souls III is incredibly well made. It has very few graphical issues, and it looks amazing. The backdrops looks of castles or ruins look like oil paintings, the lighting is really good and combat animations are spot on. The sound design and the music is also a huge improvement over its predecessors. The music also sees a great improvement over the previous Souls games. While soundtracks of the series has always been good, the music did sometimes feel a bit out of place for the situation. This was not the case with Dark Souls III, since all the tracks are perfectly designed and matched to the given circumstances.
But, as well as the game is made, it still comes with its own flaws. I noticed some drops in frame rate, although it was a lot less than in any Souls game before it. It also seemed to have been only in non-boss areas. Since all the boss sequences seemed to be buttery smooth with no stuttering at all. I also found it a bit strange that none of NPCs encountered has any facial animation, and having a bunch of ventriloquists does feel very outdated. I had the odd graphical glitch were the landscape doesn’t load quickly enough, but it was mostly when you enter a new area, and it didn’t affect the gameplay at all.
The Souls games have always been praised for its unique take on multiplayer and PVP type gaming, but it is a bit of a mess at the time of writing. I tried out the summoning of others to help me with some of the areas or boss fights, but I was mostly on my own due to matchmaking not working properly. I joined the Blue Sentinels covenant, which is a covenant that helps out others if they are invaded but often I was too late to the fight due to the matchmaking taking too long. Hopefully it is something that can be fixed very soon, since the invading and summoning of others is a big part of a Souls game.
A true journey of discovery
It is very hard to convince somebody who might have a certain mentality towards something otherwise. It’s definitely so with Dark Souls III. You either love it, hate it, or are not willing to give it a try. It is not for everyone, and I understand that. But, for those willing to set out on the journey, and persevere through the trials and tribulations of the game might find something special along the way.
Dark Souls III, along with the whole series is a journey of discovery, and if it were to be the last one ever made, then I have no problem with that. Reaching the end had a profound impact on me. Not just in the way of plot, but on some aspects of my own life. Few forms of entertainment had such an impact on me, and it’s not just with Dark Souls III, but the entire series that contributes to my sentiment.