For what might possibly be the last entry in the ‘Dark Souls’ series, From Software will have you enter the harrowing yet wondrous world of Lothric, filled with deadly monsters, treasures and secrets alike.
On the surface, Dark Souls 3 will be similar to be your typical action RPG set in a dark fantasy setting. However, explore deeper and you’ll find that the Dark Souls franchise is a different beast altogether. The main reason for the popularity of these games is their punishing attitude. After a basic character creation, Dark Souls will drop you into a “tutorial” zone where your only instructions are short messages scrawled onto the ground. Killing the tutorial boss is no small task in itself, as you will need to block, dodge and slash with precision timing in order to have a chance at slaying it. And with all other enemies in the game, learning its attack patterns and exploiting them will be your first step in felling the boss. As a player delivers the last strike to the gate-keeper, the game has already taught the player all the traits they require in order to succeed in the unforgiving world of Dark Souls.
Understanding an enemy and their weakness, the skill to execute your strategies, and possibly the most important of all: the perseverance to continue when you are inevitably slain are the most important tactics in Dark Souls 3.
In the approximate 40 hour long campaign of Dark Souls 3 you will encounter a plethora of different enemies, from armored knights who wield weapons not unlike your own, to frightening beasts with mythical powers. What the Souls games particularly excel in is imbuing a sense of tension and weakness into the player. You are never truly at ease while exploring the carefully designed levels, as monsters love to set up ambushes and traps. And careless play is quick to be punished as most enemies in the game are quite capable of killing a complacent player. Perhaps it is knowing that a quick death can lurk behind every corner is what makes these games so exciting, and keep us coming back. Though dying at a boss repeatedly can be frustrating, it makes the taste of victory that much sweeter.
That is not say that we are entirely helpless. Dark Souls 3 comes bearing a wide variety of different armaments and spells for you to use, depending on your play style and character. The massive amount of different equipment ensures that there is something for every player to use, as long as your character meets the requirements to utilize it effectively. You can build a heavily armored knight who uses great shields, a dexterous warrior that prefers speed and quick weapons, spell-flinging sorcerers… the sheer number of different build possibilities adds to the replay value of the game, ensuring that there will be something new for you to try out should you begin anew. Furthermore, fallen bosses will yield special Souls that can be transposed into different weapons or items. As you can only receive a single copy of their Soul each game, you will need to begin again in a New Game+ to collect every item. Dark Souls 3 also introduces a new mechanic known as ‘Weapon Arts’. This unlocks a unique move that you can perform with that weapon, outside of the typical hacking and slashing.
True to its roots, the Souls series gives very little narrative exposition, and count on the player to connect the dots. You are told that the fire is unlinked, and the Lords of Cinder are absent from their thrones. But beyond that, you are to discover on your own. Learning more about the world from cryptic NPC (Non-Playable Character) dialogue, and inspecting items can give you hints into unravelling the reason for the impending chaos that seems to be descending upon Lothric. Even little details in the geography and enemy design can be clues into piecing the narrative together. Dark Souls 3 is rich in lore and mysteries, but only to those who take the time to seek it. For those who care little about the story, you can choose to kill the bosses and beat the game without any detriment. This type of ‘lore-hunting’ is simply another exciting part of Dark Souls 3 that isn’t prevalent in modern video games.
Speaking of NPCs, there are no shortage of them here. However, what’s interesting about these NPC interactions is that they can always be a surprise. Beyond a few lines of dialogue, you simply have no information on them. They may be cordial to you now, but what if you make choices that will cause them to hunt you down? Should you assist this fellow in his quest? Can you trust the man named Patches? Your decisions can be immediate, but sometimes the consequences won’t reveal themselves until much later. Furthermore, there are several NPCs and events that you can miss entirely. The level design of the game is fairly linear, but you will need to explore every crook and nanny in order to really discover some hidden locations.And even then it is likely that you’ll have still missed some locations at the end of the game. However, the game rewards an inquisitive player with hidden treasure and secrets, making exploring every detail of the level a worthwhile prospect.
Dark Souls 3 is a single player RPG at heart, but the online aspect of it adds a whole new dimension of play. For example, you can put down a sign in order to be summoned into another player’s world as a ‘Phantom’. There you can team up with them in order to clear an area, with additional rewards to you if you are present during the death of a boss. Enemies and bosses will scale in health depending on how many phantoms are present in a host’s world, but overall cooperating with phantoms will make the game much less difficult. Not all players are benevolent however; some will choose to invade a host in order to slay them and receive their ember. These make for a harrowing experience, as monsters will not be aggressive to invaders, and they typically have the advantage of surprise. Player versus Player in this game is quite prevalent. Certain covenants in the game will have you pledge your allegiance to a faction, making you hostile to other factions. Therefore, a single host world can be home to many different players, including regular phantoms, invaders, ‘territorial’ phantoms, and mad phantoms, all seeking the death of one another. These scenarios are rare, but make for an exciting field of gameplay and PVP.
Though Dark Souls 3 is a fantastic game, it isn’t without flaws. A lot of NPCs and items are actually references from previous games. Though it does attempt to explain their presence, it still feels shoe-horned in at times, and I can’t help but wonder if the game would have been better if they used entirely unique characters that weren’t bound to the limitations of their previous incarnations. Additionally, there are some specific areas in the game where the framerate drops noticeably. Though not enough to make the game unplayable, it can knock you out of the immersion, which is a shame considering how beautiful the textures and overall aesthetics of the world.
Overall however, it seems that Dark Souls 3 may truly be a culmination of all the previous games, covered with a fine coat of polish. Providing a rich world to explore, filled with challenging encounters and hidden treasure, Dark Souls 3 takes you on a brutal yet rewarding journey.And once again, FromSoftware delivers an excellent entry into an ever-expanding video game series.
- Challenging yet rewarding
- Wide variety of equipment
- Deep and rich lore
- High replay value
- Framerate drops