- Format: PC (version reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Bandai Namco
- Developer: From Software
- Players: 1 local, 2+ online
- Site: https://www.darksouls3.com/en/
- Game purchased by reviewer
The success of From Software’s Souls series of games is something that some argue should simply be impossible. Since 2009’s Demon’s Souls, these games have offered the brutal challenge of yesteryear with the gothic look and difficulty of the earlier Castlevania games. These vestiges of the past, however, have grown more and more popular, dominating the conversations of gamers with each new release despite this disparity with modern game design and what many feel the market wants. With Dark Souls III, From Software set out to grant this oddity its conclusion and lay the franchise to rest.
The lynchpin of all Souls games is its combat, and this entry is no different. Though it’s notably faster than previous entries due to Bloodborne’s influence, it is just as rewarding when you get enemy patterns down and deliver the necessary combination of light attacks, heavy attacks, blocks, and dodge-rolls that slay each of your foes to see you through the game’s finely designed encounters. While these are well crafted, there is a feeling of deja vu when it comes to the game’s later areas due to recycled enemies. That said, there is enough diversity among them that encounters stay fresh. There is a new addition to the combat in weapon skills that range from yells to stances. While these never feel necessary, they grant you an extra tool with which to dispose of your enemies.
The only major issue with the combat is the huge input buffer: If you try to roll in order to dodge an enemy’s attack but fail, your character will slowly get up and then roll anyway despite being a second or three after your input. It’s infuriating when this happens – which is far too often – and it’s baffling that this made it into the final game.
While the design of each level is good and provides for some incredible enemy encounters, we can’t help but feel that it’s a huge step down from previous games. The bonfires that act as checkpoints come far too frequently at the cost of the fascinatingly well-designed looping levels of prior titles. Later in the game, there are even two bonfires that you can see one from the other.
As in previous games, slaughtering enemies grants you souls with which to level up and buy and enhance weapons and equipment. Levelling up consists of dropping points into one of your stats and the fruits of each point is immediately obvious, making your character immensely more capable. While there is a huge diversity of weapons and equipment to buy we rarely felt compelled to experiment, perhaps due to the fact that every weapon can be useful when upgraded so it’s neither a good nor bad thing.
It’s a shame that Dark Souls III‘s bosses are a huge disappointment, far too often boiling down to a simple affair of learning attack patterns and dodging them. There are a few that either replace or augment this with a simple gimmick or a visual spectacle, but it’s never anything that enhances the boss to a satisfying degree. They’re also fairly easy, even the optional ones that will take minutes to fell rather than the days that the titans of previous games required. There are also a handful of extremely large bosses in which you’ll spend most of the battle fighting your right stick rather than your enemy.
The Souls online modes have returned: Players join covenants that determine their role within the game’s online multiplayer from helping other players with bosses, invading other players to kill them, or helping victims of said invasions. It’s mostly functional but a bit temperamental: Our attempts to help with one boss were met with the boss’s door refusing to dissipate, and other players often appear to be standing still while floating around, making it impossible to predict their movements in hostile encounters.
The stories of the Souls games have always been largely obscure and this one is no different. This does have one negative, however: visiting areas out of the intended order has always been encouraged, but in Dark Souls III it will lock you out of certain quests. It’s more linear than the rest of the game allows for, and it’s a frustrating side-effect of one mechanic being at odds with the series’ traditions that feels more like a punishment than a reward.
That is the only negative, however, as the traditional narration through item descriptions and level design makes a return, rewarding exploration and extrapolation with fascinating tales surrounding the game’s cast. Players who don’t really care about any of that can safely ignore it, but piecing the Lords of Cinders’ stories together was one of our favourite aspects.
From Software’s artists have done a great job once more with the horrifying menagerie of enemies in the game that come in an alarming array of shapes and sizes, but they’ve fallen short in a lot of the levels. While the first two games featured a compelling and diverse collection of environments, you’ll quickly get tired of castles in this third outing. It’s a huge shame as there are a few unique and interesting areas in towns, swamps, and a dungeon reminiscent of Demon’s Souls; but after those you’ll just be back on a castle rooftop again.
Technically, the game looked great on our machine and maintained a stable frame-rate, though there are widespread reports of the game being unplayable on 700-series cards. Another minor technical niggle comes in the form of stuttering when the game auto-saves.
Dark Souls III is a fine game with more than enough for new and old players to find it a worthwhile adventure. It’s just a shame that some huge issues place it firmly at the bottom of the Souls pantheon, and bring the series to a close in a way that left us feeling rather hollow.