Die, Defeat, Rinse, Repeat.
Dark Souls 3 is a title that can potentially send shivers down gamers’ spines. That’s due to a few reasons, but the two most popular would have to be either A:the game totally kicks their asses, or B: they love the difficulty, the lore, and the style that Dark Souls games continue to deliver. Just for background purposes, let it be known, I have only completed Bloodborne and Dark Souls 1. Demon Souls and Dark Souls 2 still sit unfinished. Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves and think that I didn’t enjoy those iterations. I simply was pulled into Bloodborne and Dark Souls 1 immensely and pushed hard to get through those games as a result. The other two I appreciate and also had a blast with, but I’m sad to say I’m still working on them. How does Dark Souls 3 compare to them all though, and is this the best From Software has to offer? Let’s find out.
Dark Souls gone easy? Yeah right.
As I spread my time out between all three versions of Dark Souls 3, one thing became very clear early on. Dark Souls 3 starts off easier than any of the previous games. Gone is the insane boss with overarching health to kill players immediately, pushing the fact that death is inevitable. Instead, some rather basic and downright tame enemies get in the way. That’s not to comment on the art style or enemy design, which From Software always does amazingly well with, enemies included. We’re talking strictly from a difficulty perspective, and with a few whacks of a weapon enemies dropping faster than flies. New players to the franchise might even find themselves a bit cocky in this case. I can only imagine folks saying “this is it? The very souls games people say are terribly hard and I’m mowing through it like butter?” Hold that tongue gaming savant, give it some more time.
Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1
Price I’d Pay: $59.99
How long to beat: 30+ hours
Soon after this area a Dragon appears and burns the ground unexpectedly causing an environmental trap; yeah…that hurts a little doesn’t it? No problem, oh look now the game is throwing even more enemies at players at one time. Some might say “Oh ok… I’m getting the hang of it now” after defeating a new horse and then suddenly one of the enemies transforms, wildly swinging at the player with its new hugely mutated body. I’m not one to try and say I told you so, but… I told you so. The intensity and difficulty just continues to increase at an incline. Of course, along with that comes players’ ability to adapt and understand enemy patterns and learn how to play, but to say Dark Souls 3 is easy is an overstatement. Does it have the most new user friendly intro to the franchise? Absolutely. Though in the same breath, it also offers one of the most challenging games in the entire franchise potentially. Pros and cons, as such is life. Combat is still as ever about offense as it is defense, with fighting feeling a bit faster than the prior games. I don’t think it feels as offensive natured as Bloodborne, but definitely feels like a good mix of parrying, rolling, defending, and backstabbing, all proving to be just as important to the franchise as it has been.
Dark Souls being Dark Souls.
Players that are not familiar with the franchise but have heard all the praise for it have a great opportunity here if they want to jump in fresh. Due to the way the story is told more through lore, item descriptions, and implications, it’s easy for new faces to take it all in at base value. A beautiful, dark, even horror like adventure RPG that strikes fear into players. I’ve never played a game that not only gave me so many visual nightmares to look at and battle, but also tested my skills to the very core of what it means to be fan of video games…well aside from the other From Software Souls titles of course. I grew up in the 80’s, and obscure NES games and artificial difficulty (due to confusion and lack of explanation) are no stranger to me.
It never seemed to stop me from beating some of those insanely difficult games as a child. While I don’t think the Souls series is nearly as obscure as some of those early moments in my life, in comparison to most “hand-held” tutorials that are fed to consumers these days, the Souls series can feel downright old-school. It’s tough, players will get lost, the way to progress isn’t always clear, NPCs talk cryptically, and there is no spoon fed checklist of objectives to complete. It’s easy to see why some of these games don’t bode well for players, and also why some absolutely love them. This all remains tried and true for Dark Souls 3.
Exploration is a huge factor as it always has been, and most want to know if the level of intricacy and design of Dark Souls 1 is intact after 2’s more branching nature. I’d say yes and no. While most of the areas stick to having their own unique atmosphere and vibe, they don’t magically connect to a prior place usually. I envision it more like each area having various connections through them. It feels like they took elements of Demon Souls hub, Dark Souls interconnectivity (smaller scaled), and Dark Souls 2 branching paths and sort of worked them all together. It might be a disappointment to some, but otherwise I find it enthralling and just as exciting. The soundtrack and audio design once again scores with amazing themes for various areas and boss battles. Loud, somber, energetic, and inspiring, the franchise has always had these great verbose music tracks that seemingly provide even more of an adrenaline rush to accompany the challenges presented.
“What a lovely day”
Being the third game in the franchise and also debuting on new consoles, most people are probably wondering what’s the new additions and enhancements. Firstly, if you were fortunate enough to play Bloodborne, it won’t be a surprise to see the graphics having a very similar look at times, almost too similar at moments. It was a worry that some players thought it would prevail throughout the entire game, though I’ve always felt the Souls games felt different aesthetically in certain ways compared to Bloodborne, and I think that still remains true here. I never felt I was playing a game using previous assets.
There is so much variation to the levels and what they offer, the enemies to fight, and the gorgeously vomit inducing and sometimes gigantic bosses, I can’t help but be both pleased and terrified at the same time. Graphically, it’s not exactly pushing the best looking game ever, but artistically, it’s a nightmare come true. There are a few new additions joining the typical core mechanics of leveling up, fighting, souls, and gaining new gear. There is a mana-like pool that is used for magic attacks, but now non-magic users can do powerful weapon arts that drain from it as well. and the estus flasks can be used to fill either one up. It’s a tough choice to decide if player wants more health at their fingertips or focus point resources, but the choice is theirs to make. Bosses also have an effect of changing their pattern/habits mid battle or after taking on a certain amount of damage, which always leads to throwing players right off their high horse just when they think they have learned the patterns.
I don’t have to mention the invading of other players, and the online summoning returns and is still as prevalent as ever to make players either hate or praise its graces. For some it’s all a part of the experience, for others that enjoy their time in Lothric alone, the offline features works wonders as always. Build balance seems decent enough, but I will say it feels, as of now, choosing to do a magic build is a bit of a disadvantage for players and they shoul expect to take more of a beating in the process, though knowing the Dark Souls fanbase, they just might enjoy that.
The end of times.
When it comes to the various versions of Dark Souls 3, those looking for the ultimate experience will want to choose PC of course. Offering 60 FPS and 1080p, PC is going to provide the best technical presentation of the terrors that abound in Lothric. The console versions are quite suitable if that is the only option possible, with PS4 edging out the Xbox One version in framerate and resolution. Xbox One does have some moments of worse framerate drops during key moments and boss battles, and while PS4 tends to look just a bit better and performance is a bit stronger, it still has issues as well. All three provide a very fun and enjoyable experience at the end of the day for newcomers and fans alike. None come off feeling broken or unplayable, but Xbox One is definitely lowest on the scale. Saying that though, it feels odd to even really compare the console versions to each other; the PC version enhancements far outweigh the minute differences between both consoles.
Dark Souls is a franchise I’ve learned to love over time. My first experience was with Demon Souls, but it wasn’t until Dark Souls 1 that I grasped just how masochistic I truly was. It’s about determination, exploration, patience, and learning. It comes with defeats over and over again, but with that comes the growing process. Dark Souls has always taken players, thrown them into their dark fantasy world unabashedly, and said “ok go!” It’s unforgiving at times, but that’s part of the appeal, and with it comes the satisfaction of overcoming defeat at all odds. I’m not always in the mood to play Dark Souls, but when I get hooked, I just fully encompass everything these games have to offer. I truly believe Dark Souls 3 is the best Souls experience a player can get out of the franchise. Newcomers can jump in, old fans will experience lots of ties to the previous games both visually and lore wise, and if this is indeed the final Dark Souls game in the series, it went out with its monster arms swinging high! It’s fitting that the end would come like this, not dead and buried but at the pinnacle of its hollowed life.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.