Dark Souls III Review

by

Here we are finally, the apparent last game in the Dark Souls series, and holy father of Gwyn is it good! In fact, in my opinion.. well, actually lets leave that til my conclusion. I’ve sunk in a good 80+ hours, so I can get a good feel of all aspects of the game overall and am able to better comment of everything. Things are different, that’s for sure, but is it for better or worse? Lets dive straight in and start discussing the changes and improvements to the mechanics of the game.

Straight off the bat, spell uses are gone in favor of FP, which hasn’t been a thing since Demon’s Souls. Now at first, I was a bit worried this would be exploited for infinite spell use or ridiculous FP Regeneration, but with the way FP is used, the way stats apply to it and how it works with the addition of Weapon and Shield Artes, I feel it’s a welcome change to the spell uses we’ve become accustomed to. Lets be honest, having to pop herbs every 20 seconds to maintain your status as a Sorcerer/Pyromancer/Miracle User/Hexer had become tiresome to say the least. Back to those Weapon and Shield Artes though, I cannot be happier with this addition. It adds so much in the way of combos, attack types, and move sets. Very reminiscent of the way Bloodborne added an L2 and Weapon Transformation combo but with a Dark Souls twist that worked SO well. It makes you feel like an absolute bad ass and leaves you in awe of the people that cut you down with finesse. It is an addition to the tweaked battle system that totally changes things up and improves things across the board. We also have equip items for Covenants now too and honestly, having the ability to change on the fly and only needing to visit out of the way areas to turn in Covenant ranking items makes the concept so much less of a hassle. I’m a bit bummed out that there are only 2 rewards per Covenant but for an improved system, I can deal. Especially since the point of each covenant is simplified and automated based on which is equipped. No more wasted ring slots to get summoned to invade or protect. A Luck statistic has been added to govern item drop rates and while Luck may have been prevalent in earlier Souls games under Item Discovery, now you can actually sink points into it so if the drop rates of some enemies are a problem for you, you can sink a few thousand souls into Luck.

DARK SOULS™ III_20160416063219

Now in terms of Dark Souls equipment and upgrading staples, many things make a return. A starting location you can populate with merchants along the way, spell salesman, unique/boss armor merchants, boss weapon/spell merchants, infusing/upgrading equipment at the blacksmith.. That blacksmith though. In Dark Souls III, Andre the Blacksmith only upgrades weapons. There is NO armor upgrading whatsoever. I believe the implication is to make various sets have overall better stats so people focus less on the best armor sets *cough*Havel*cough*, but in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t matter too much when you find a really strong armor set anyway. You’re still going to choose what looks cool and has the best stats for your build. This is just as Fashion Souls as it’s always been. I see it as a pointless take away from the overall experience as I personally like upgrade options to give a game longevity, yet I can see how others who couldn’t be bothered upgrading several sets of armor would find it appealing. I will give From Software props on their shields this time around. Many more 100% damage reduction shields. Sure some could be better, but there are enough to give you decent options. Back to the upgrading options though, as well as your typical upgrade paths, you can also infuse weapons into various types (Refined, Fire, Holy, Magic, etc) each adding or subtracting damage types, scaling based on stats or raw damage. It seems like a combination of the upgrading systems of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls I, and Dark Souls II to be perfectly honest. So, despite the lack upgrade options for armor itself, the weapon upgrade depth more than makes up for it.

Let’s talk about the battle system a bit more. As I was saying earlier, the battle mechanics have seen some refinement also with rolling and dodging very noticeably faster. Weapon types (Straight Sword, Axe, Ultra Greatsword, etc) have seen refinement also with enhanced movesets and balancing. With the addition of Weapon Artes, combat gives you so many weapon combo options, so extra points into stamina is highly advised. Dual Wielding has been vastly improved with new Twin Spear, Twin Dagger, Twin Sword and Twin Axe weapon types on top of whatever weapon combination options players can come up with. Some weapons (like Fist weapons) when held in both hands can split into two, which is a nice alternative to finding a matching/corresponding weapon. Visceral attacks have been included again alongside the classic Dark Souls parrying and even weapon charge attacks (R1/RT), reminiscent of Bloodborne, have made it in. Bows have been completely reworked from being primarily an enemy aggro tool to actually being effective in combat firing much faster, dealing much more damage, and consuming much less stamina. Spell casting is now a lot easier with the removal of uses and the addition of FP and to be more specific, Ashen Flasks and their ability to refill FP. Being a spell caster in previous souls usually came with the trade off of having to buy plenty of herbs, have enough attunement slots to equip multiple versions of the same spell or enough varied spells to get you through, Intellect, Faith and Attunement based equipment and configured stats and usually a few supportive rings for additional damage, spell effects stats or attunement slots. I’d say overall that Dark Souls 3 both balanced spell casting and made it more customizable and fun. Certainly a more viable combat type to all players now. With some weapon artes also effecting stance, combat overall is extremely versatile.

DARK SOULS™ III_20160419030215

One thing I do need to give bad points on is the invasions. Now before anyone gets upset, I do like that you can fight multiple people. I don’t even mind that you can get invaded back to back. But getting invaded by 9 people in 20 minutes was a bit much. While that’s probably great news for trolls in the game looking to screw with people trying to get further in the game, it’s a total bitch for the latter and the game was rampant with it during launch week. I feel if there was a cooldown after each invasion, it would be more balanced. 3-5 minutes between each isn’t a big ask. Nor is not allowing multiple invasions by the same person in succession. It wasn’t completely horrendous, but it was a bit of a cop out. The fact you can farm Embers was a plus and killing an invader restoring Estus did soften the blow, but the annoyance was still there. I assume it will be patched for balance in the near future regardless.

Now it seems that rather than choosing between connecting everywhere up like in Dark Souls I, having the ability to warp between areas immediately like in Dark Souls II and having ArchStone style location/area warp point pages like in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls III has decide to include all 3. While not everywhere is connected, each area is like a backwards labyrinth like Dark Souls I was and a lot of areas do connect to other unexpected locations, but generally in the confines of that area of the world map. And while that might sound like a take away in some ways, it does makes a lot more sense than taking an elevator up into a castle drowning in lava like in Dark Souls II. Areas seem much more elaborate and thought out in terms of world map placement and each with accompanying lore in various item descriptions. The ability to warp back and forth does make for less of a hassle getting around and because there are area pages of warp locations, some early warp points have areas you won’t unlock until much later in the game, better interconnecting the locations for ease of travel and getting your bearings.

DARK SOULS™ III_20160423054802

Enemies come in some pretty strange forms with a wide array of abilities and you’ll find yourself resorting to all sorts of means to avoid their attacks and kill them. I found that a lot of enemies were intimidating to see coming but when handled seriously, most could be bested without too much hassle. Individual enemies aren’t too much of a problem bar a few special cases. It’s traps and the grouping that generally gets you and reminds you to take things slow and tread cautiously. NPC phantoms in the style of Dark Souls I have made a return, encountering which requires both human form and the Area Boss to not be slain. Defeating these NPC phantoms yields weapons, spells, and armor sets. Many non-hostile NPCs you meet throughout the world, through Covenants and at Firelink, will offer quest-lines that yield all sorts of rewards and can have effects on which ending you receive. Completing these will unlock a lot of end game equipment, items, and spells so they’re well worth pursuing and add a lot to the story and character development of the NPCs themselves.

Overall the Boss fights were a bit lackluster with the occasional amazing exception. I’d say I really liked about a third of the boss fights and the rest were pretty lame due to being a gimmick fight or just plain easy once you figured them out. It’s a shame because I found it a huge take away considering the Boss fights in the two games prior. Many bosses were just people and while that may have been quite a bit like Demon’s Souls, I strongly feel more big bad demons were needed. It was a shame that Tail weapons from Dark Souls 1 didn’t make an appearance also as that was just a kickass thing to add in. Almost like a challenge mid-boss fight. Still they did well with many bosses still being difficult and fun and some optional. Many of the boss fights have multiple phases where the Boss itself changes stance or switches things up to really make you sweat. So while a few bosses weren’t as horrifying, there were still a lot of difficult fights to look forward to breaking your morale enough to push through to NG+

The vanilla release of Dark Souls III has 4 available endings to work towards, some with very specific tasks to complete to receive said endings.  In combination with the age old New Game Plus feature, the addition in difficulty, the available and conflicting quest-lines of various NPCs, the options in Boss Soul equipment/spells, the replay value is absolutely staggering. The wide array of different Sorceries/Dark Sorceries/Pyromancies/Miracles, Weapon types and combinations, movesets, and vast amount of different armor sets only support this too. Before reaching the ending, I’d logged more the 80 hours.  With some areas changing, having shortcuts opened up, and the various play styles and builds, the game feels fresh for a long time.

DARK SOULS™ III_20160423054812

The extremely subtle music added to the atmosphere of each area so much and was very well composed. Very haunting and ominous nocturne style music with extremely clear and vicious sound effects gets Dark Souls III a gold star on sound quality. Because of this, each individual area was so easy to immerse yourself in and with the highly aggressive enemies defending their place in this sinister and cryptic world, sometimes it’s almost worth dying so you have a moment to take in the breathtaking surroundings. It’s so nice to see a Bloodborne level of detail in the Dark Souls world. I have to admit, despite the smoother textures and higher resolution of Dark Souls II, the PS4 re-release was so noticeably different in overall looks from Bloodborne, so seeing things like Dark Wraiths, Black Knights and stuff like that in this new engine was an amazing experience.

I feel comfortable saying that this is without a doubt, the best Souls game and a strong finish to the IP’s legacy. With DLC on the way in coming months and all the aforementioned replay value, this Souls game not only did the Dark Souls name proud but will keep people busy for a long time. At least long enough til we see a Dark Souls I HD, Demon’s Souls HD, Demon’s Souls II, Bloodborne II or even new entries in the King’s Field or Shadow Tower series’ anyway, which is what laid the path for the Dark Souls games we play today. So this may be a farewell to Dark Souls, but I feel it’s also a reminder that the Souls series is more connected then we think and From Software will have many more brilliant games for us to look forward to and revisit in the future.

I’m giving Dark Souls III 4.5/5 stars (or 9/10), I recommend it and look forward to the coming DLC!