From Software has risen to fame with its Souls series of games. After a rather lengthy stop in Yharnam courtesy of PlayStation 4 exclusive Bloodborne and its expansion, Dark Souls III has finally released to us mere mortals, ready to challenge gamers everywhere. With new combat mechanics and a new world to explore, is this a game worthy of those looking for a test of all their skills? Only one way to find out!
Punishing for Newbies
As with any game in the Souls series, you should expect to die a lot. The game’s manual says as much. But if you ever expect to get through a Souls game, you have to learn from each death. Progressing in Dark Souls III really comes down to memorization. Once you memorize where each enemy is, and the best methods with which to dispatch them, then given enough time/leveling you will ultimately succeed. To be honest, Dark Souls III does not feel as tough as games before it. This may be the veteran of From Software games in me speaking, though. Make no mistake — this is still a very tough, rewarding game.
I think the veil has been partially lifted for many people with regards to this game’s difficulty level. Simply taking things slowly, remembering where enemies are in each section, and taking them out one at a time will work for 90 percent of all encounters. Respecting your foes, and taking each as a valid threat that could very well end your life is always something to keep in mind. Dark Souls III, like its predecessors, never hands you anything, though it does feel like item drops are a bit easier to come by this time around (and it really helps).
Enemies in Dark Souls III are high-powered idiots. Sure, they can kill you in no time if you let your guard down, but that is merely a symptom of their strong attacks against your relatively weak defense. Multiple times in my playthrough, I witnessed enemies killing themselves in fire. They simply stood in a lit fire, stared blankly in my direction, and died after some time. It didn’t matter if this was a large, lumbering baddie worth 800 souls, or a lowly peon worth a mere 30. They all did the same thing. Enemies also feel a bit more reserved this time around. They are quick to back away from you, and are generally easy to escape if you’re in a pinch, with a chase radius that is rather small. This does mean that coaxing a single enemy out of a group is harder to do without using throwing knives or some other tactic, and so it feels like this is by design. Still, once you know an enemy’s guard route and combat moves, then taking them down becomes a simple manner of blocking until the right moment to attack presents itself.
Flames for Guidance
In-game bonfires serve as checkpoints, in a series mainstay. You use these checkpoints to rest, which will instantly heal you. Estus flasks, which you drink from to regain health and/or mana, are also filled at this time. However, any enemies that you have killed in the area are also instantly reset to their original positions. Any bosses killed or items destroyed are not reset, though, which can lead to a somewhat different playthrough of the area the second time and beyond. The only time the maps completely reset are when you travel back to the Firelink Shrine, which serves as your main base of operations.
One aspect of Dark Souls III that gamers will either love or hate is its leveling system. As before, you have a universal currency known as souls, which you collect when defeating enemies or by finding them on static corpses, occasionally in hard-to-reach areas. Bonfires can only be used to heal, refill estus flasks, and change spells — you can only level up your character by traveling to the Firelink Shrine. Souls and Bloodborne fans are no doubt used to this, but for anyone coming from a more traditional RPG who may be used to instant leveling, it is something to get used to. It just feels like leveling could have been enabled at the bonfires to speed up the game a little bit. There is a lot of level grinding in a game like Dark Souls III, so loading the Firelink Shrine, then leveling up, and then reloading the area you were just in can eat up a lot of time over the course of a campaign.
A new mechanic introduced this time around, and merely hinted at in Bloodborne, is dubbed Weapon Arts. You can wield one weapon in each hand, and if combined in the right way, new abilities can be used. These can be elaborate moves such as a spinning attack which causes large amounts of damage, or something simpler such as a tackle into your enemy, which causes a bit of damage to yourself, but massive damage to your foe. Since there are a wide variety of weapons to choose from, such as swords, lucernes, spears, axes, whips and more, including shields, you can expect to mix and match to find the right balance of attack and defense that suits your play style.
Graphically, Dark Souls III has about the same fidelity as Bloodborne before it. The environment and enemies aren’t quite as dark as in Bloodborne — Dark Souls III has a brighter color palette, though not by much. The game looks grotesquely beautiful, with zombie-like shells of people strewn throughout the areas that you find. Almost everything that moves is likely out to kill you, which makes your first encounter in any new location very tense indeed. Whether it’s an old, dusty bookshelf, or a set of earthenware on an aged, rickety table, the world feels well-worn and dilapidated. However, some issues with the game engine do crop up, and with alarming frequency. For example, knocking down objects such as those old tables and chairs becomes a matter of strategy when dealing with enemies that have wide-reaching weapons. So it’s a bit disconcerting when some of those objects appear to be frozen in mid-air, causing you to unnecessarily waste precious stamina points to roll into them in a futile attempt to knock them down. Thankfully, you pass right through any glitched objects, and can carry on battling through these hovering items or pieces thereof. This glitch is frequent enough that given any single room, at least one smashable item will end up frozen after interacted with.
There are also frame rate issues. While the 1.01 “day one” patch has gone live as of this publishing, and I cannot comment on the game’s performance prior to this patch, I will say that the frame rate dips are not so common as to hinder gameplay, but they are noticeable and can pull you out of the immersion of the world in no time. I did notice the game struggle to keep up during multiple boss battles, but that wasn’t ever the cause of my demise — the badass in front of me was! Bloodborne had a similar issue, so it seems that From Software could do with just a little more optimization to their game engine for their next entry.
Another Tough Performance
Cameras are a hard thing to get right in third-person games; perhaps doubly so in any game where action takes place in cramped quarters. There is no easy answer here, and unfortunately the camera can still be an enemy in Dark Souls III. Veterans of the series will already be used to having to account for this. For anyone new to the series, it may prove to be too big of a problem to look past when the game is already fairly challenging. If you stick with it, though, you eventually learn the camera’s nuances, and prepare to deal with it as best you can.
Dark Souls III is another punishingly hard game in an era of hand-holding that masochists will appreciate. While enemy AI is laughably dumb, those same enemies can take you down in no time flat. This is a game that forces you to learn its intricacies and quirks, and use them all to your advantage. Sporting a wonderful environment full of color, suffering, death, and a small amount of hope, fans can expect to sink several dozen, if not hundreds, of hours into the game, if they haven’t already. From Software knows how to make challenging games that reward those who invest the time needed to properly engage enemies, and Dark Souls III continues in that tradition.
Dark Souls III review copy provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.