Dark Souls III Review

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 Screenshot 6

Although From Software references integral events and NPCs elsewhere, some veterans have criticized Dark Souls III for its apparent linearity. Murdering your way through one venue leads straight to the next, that’s true – there’s no branching hub. But From Software’s environments show signs of Skyrim syndrome. I scrutinized the Gothic architecture in between rounds of bloodshed, taking pride in my attentive eyes whenever I arrived at the cathedral or catacombs in the distance. As expected, the developers insert veritable armies between you and far-off domains.

I remember surveying a dungeon’s depths, checking cells and sewers for that soothing campfire glow. My opposition: emaciated ghouls and wardens that siphoned my character’s health pool when staring at her. Twenty minutes later – at a crossroad with my estus reserves dwindling – I nearly sobbed when I gambled on the western path on a hunch. The passage pointed me to an elevator and a shortcut a mere sprint away from the initial bonfire.

That’s to say nothing of the music that ebbs and flows to Lothric’s mysteries, its somber hymns symbolic of the world’s omnipresent woes. From Software saves the lyrical crescendos for boss battles, where players put on an exhibition fit for a god and worthy of the chorus.

No series, no developer rallies emotions like this. Comforting, agitating, coddling, or concerning, Dark Souls III renders thrills from beginning to end, whether you engage with its supplemental mechanics or not.

Embers take the place of humanity and human effigies, fortifying your ashen champion with an extra couple hundred hit points if consumed. And changing covenants is as easy as slotting the appropriate badge into your character’s loadout – no awkward breakups necessary.

Upgrades remain limited to weapons, meanwhile, and the shards and gems that enhance your medieval arsenal now surface in droves. I obtained six titanite slabs in one playthrough, a rough equivalent of two or three casual journeys through Dark Souls.

Less crucial are the weapon arts that vary according to the sword, shield, or spear type. Ultra greatswords deliver a stomp that leads into a 360-degree swing; axes buff your damage with a war cry; a shortbow loads three arrows at once, unleashing its barbed projectiles in supersonic succession. Dark Souls III relays that information along with the weapon’s stats, so latecomers shouldn’t fret when skirmishing enemies – online or off – that wield unfamiliar daggers.

The focus points that imbue special attacks, however, also act as a mana source for clerics, pyromancers, and sorcerers.

Focus points did not see much use during my primary playthrough. They’re superfluous against creatures unable to counteract your hero’s invincibility frames. Perhaps weapon arts will hold a higher purpose in the six-person, player-on-player invasions, though I was unable to try co-op ahead of embargo. A pre-release bug caused recurring crashes if I walked over summon signs, whether I intended to invite people to my game or not. (It’s been rectified in the latest patch.)

I, therefore, neglected the new ashen estus flasks that fuel focus points. Dark Souls III offers a layer of strategy for magic casters, allowing those classes to allot how many regular flasks and ashen flasks they bring into battle. Carrying a total of eight vials? You could equip seven estus flasks and one ashen, or split them evenly, or ignore estus entirely and switch all your flasks to ashen. Champions have room to dabble, and the blacksmith won’t bill you to allocate potions to your liking.

I prefer to hit stuff hard, plain and simple, and Dark Souls III humored that innocent elation. My no-nonsense tank build (heavy shield, heavier sword, lots of vigor) was all I needed to expunge Lothric’s parasites, appeasing my senses on a primitive level. I felt the jitters in my fingers as I struck the killing blow on boss after boss, savored relief with each bonfire kindled, and mouthed silent thanks to the audio team, because ambushes are rarely seen before they’re heard.

Dark Souls III Screenshot 5

For sheer spectacle, Dark Souls III shares some of the greatest bosses in the series. Although they tend to be human-ish in stature, only one – maybe the most mesmerizing of the bunch – forced me to wrestle the camera at the same time. Half a dozen minibosses warrant the term “abomination” instead, so aggressive and erratic in their movements that they make the classic Capra Demon appear inept. Looking for specifics? No spoilers, remember?

One miniboss coughs up a boss-level soul – consumables that certain vendors exchange for a devastating blade or spell. You trade one soul per weapon, per playthrough, but Dark Souls III simplifies a person’s decision-making. From Software lays out the extraordinary death-dealing tools available to you – their stats, too – in a single list. Half of the weapons can be obtained for free, yet I abused the PS4’s cloud saves to assess each knife, ring, and miracle in combat.

In Dark Souls II, because of its unappealing boss weapons, I consumed boss souls for easy experience. That’s almost unthinkable. For this adventure, I’ve already labeled the route for my New Game Plus run, where enemies receive spare shots of vigor and From Software scatters additional loot about the world. I must collect every bizarre broadsword. My OCD compels me. Pray for my petering sanity.

I’ll pray that you enjoy Dark Souls III, too. It’s Dark Souls, albeit prettier, faster, larger, and less of a technical dullard. It might be the swan song before From Software and the series undergo a transition, but with each level gained, guardian slain, or secret room uncovered, Dark Souls III shows I have nothing short of praises to sing.

This review is based on the PS4 version of the game, which we were provided.

Dark Souls III Review
Fantastic

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.