Dark Souls III Review

By
Gaming:
Joshua Kowbel

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4.5
On April 12, 2016
Last modified:September 21, 2016

Summary:

For fans and newcomers alike, Dark Souls III is a magnum opus of From Software design. You’ll celebrate as bosses fall to your sword, gaze in wonder at the landscape’s snowy hamlets and towering cathedrals, scold yourself for losing souls to a bottomless pit or eldritch beast, then grab the controller to relive the nightmare again and again.

Dark Souls III Review

How do you review Dark Souls III?

It’s an honest question.

Do you pass subjective judgment on footage exclusive to this action RPG’s trailers and demos? Can I make fleeting remarks about the non-playable characters, quests, bosses, and locations I faced in the midst of more climactic hours? Would you believe I still don’t have the answer?

Darks Souls III strikes the same chord its ancestors did. Fussing over features before the rest of the community pokes and prods at this punitive puzzle box is, well, practical sacrilege. Spoilers this, spoilers that.

To give readers the short sell: Dark Souls III synthesizes aspects from previous entries into a Frankenstein of video game ecstasy. Bloodborne provides the brisk battle tempo. Dark Souls II pitches in weapon degradation meters, shards that increase your estus flask capacity, and fast traveling that’s available from the start. Dark Souls contributes a few eccentric members of its cast, as well as a health bar that won’t decrease with each death. Demon’s Souls donates the magic gauge – now called focus points – and armor sets you can’t upgrade.

Other qualities overlap in pre-Dark Souls III releases – there’s always a haven for the in-game merchants and magic tutors, for example – but From Software has tailored the franchise to my tastes in this post-Bloodborne paradise. If you’re rigorously checking your mailbox or console’s clock for the moment Dark Souls III arrives, I trust you’ll search the scenic panoramas until they starve for secrets.

But I suppose several of you still want me to elaborate, which I’ll delightfully oblige.

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Dark Souls III Review

Set in the kingdom of Lothric, the realm is in a downward spiral – due, in part, to four Lords of Cinder that have abandoned their thrones. To prolong the Age of Fire, players – accepting the mantle of the Unkindled – must slay these lords and reunite their souls, linking the land’s flame again.

It’s a nebulous buildup for a murky finale, and fans will adore the obscure exposition. I did not, however, wade through Dark Souls III for the plot alone. Although I consumed every morsel of dialogue and object text, I don’t spend hours analyzing where Souls games stand in the series’ narrative pantheon.

While I’ll refrain from explicit details, item descriptions leave less guesswork to the lore experts, and cryptic developer messages assist players, at last, in smoking out the optional bosses. For connoisseurs like me, Dark Souls III is more candid about its time and place. I met several fan favorite protagonists from Dark Souls before returning to – and ascending – an unforgettable fortress, its halls since engulfed by slime and frost.

Seeing renowned NPCs, cities, armor sets, and weapons assured me that From Software has paid attention to its supporters, though the call of combat was stronger still. Fresh off the more sluggish Dark Souls II, the basic enemies kicked my ass up and down Lothric, exercising their artificial smarts to chain deliberate combos together and leave fewer openings. While dueling a hot-tempered knight, the brute caught me off-guard when he switched to a two-handed stance, putting his shield aside to prepare a piercing lunge.

To say these one-on-ones are more imposing would be an understatement. Like Bloodborne’s belligerent hunters, rival humans – depending on their weapons of choice – possess the same attack patterns that you do, and in my case, they’re superior in timing their blocks and rolls.

Dark Souls III Review

The first boss also administers a wake-up call during its second phase. The demon – no longer man – transforms, sprouting a rolling, writhing mass of serpent-like tentacles. Such powers are not exclusive to beasts with screen-spanning health meters, either. Average, everyday enemies (or what constitutes normal in Dark Souls) succumb to corruption and grow more aggressive in response.

The mutations marinate early conflicts in uncertainty. Dark Souls brewed a merciless gameplay monstrosity, but as the story forged ahead, early-game fodder became punching bags for your esoteric weapons. Dark Souls III corrects that; every fiend makes pulses pound. Selecting the herald as my starting class, I defied death from jaws, talons, and claws to subdue hell-spawned adversaries. With adequate souls and patience, I netted trophy after trophy.

These minor alterations breathe excitement into a series whose gameplay has seldom faltered. Players report to the Firelink Shrine to cash in souls and level up, or just brace themselves for whatever upcoming areas contain. You will explore outlandish settings, unlocking shortcuts and kindling bonfires to top off estus flasks. When banshees, warlocks, and arachnid ladies offer no further resistance, you’ll test your talents against the resident boss to advance the narrative.

Dark Souls III remains familiar despite Lothric’s foreign, contentious terrain, and yet it’s not alien enough.

It’s the curse of an annual release schedule. Three role-playing games in as many years would exact its creative toll on any development team. While a few landscapes match the grandeur of Anor Londo or the Dragon Aerie from prior installments, they did not leave me speechless with their presence. Of course Dark Souls III includes profane temples and pestilent swamps. Why wouldn’t their bosses recycle the Storm King’s weakness from Demon’s Souls or Lady Maria’s moves from Bloodborne: The Old Hunters?

Those qualms cannot devalue Dark Souls III’s visual artistry. Unhindered by last-gen hardware, From Software packs every mountain stronghold, remote lake, and demonic village to the brink with secrets, incorporating many beloved blades and armor. I couldn’t stop the smile spreading across my face when I purchased the exalted chain mail of … well, let’s just say he was a loyal knight to Gwyn.