Developer’s From Software have crafted their own genre since Demon Souls on PlayStation 3. since then we’ve had many refinements and changes coming from games like Dark Souls, Dark Souls II, and Bloodborne. In many ways playing through Dark Souls III feels very much like a “best of” compilation between these games but everything is so finely crafted that Dark Souls III is very much the best the developer has ever been.
Possibly the biggest difference I noticed, especially earlier on is that the game eases you in a little bit more than previous games in the series. At first it feels like it might have been a dumbed down experience but instead From Software have streamlined some of the more overly obscure aspects of the game. Don’t expect things to be really different if you’ve loved the structure of the previous games as it’s all still present in Dark Souls III.
If you love the bleak, desolate worlds in which the story is mostly told through the world then expect Dark Souls III to possibly be the best the series has ever done. Locations feel distinct and stand out more than previous iterations but it never feels disjointed. Standing on the top of a building on the top of a mountain to take in the stunning vista, it all feels connected. Looking in one direction you can see the multiple areas you’ve visited before as well as get a glimpse at what might be to come. It feels very much connected like the first Dark Souls game while simultaneously giving you a grander scale of the world.
There’s still something special about discovering the next area. Making your way through a dark cavern to be met with the unveiling of the next major area is pretty memorable. There’s one moment where this happened in Dark Souls III in particular that genuinely left my mouth agape as a surprisingly beautiful scene was unveiled in front of me. I honestly stood there in awe for a few moments.
Each area is rich with story if you look hard enough. Dark Souls has always been steeped in lore if you take in your surroundings and there’s an incredible sense of place within the areas. There are secrets for those with a curious mind and a sharp eye. Being adventurous will bring you new equipment, weapons, as well as seeing more of any given area.
Combat is an excellent middle-ground between the previous Souls games as well as Bloodborne. Because of the increased speed, combat feels more open-ended and that is enhance by both the combat arts and the various weapons you find in the world. The dual-wielding weapons are possibly the most distinctly different to other weapons at your disposal. Combat Arts are used to unleash new attacks with your character to change up your strategy.
One of the biggest discoveries in Dark Souls are the bosses. The bosses in Dark Souls III are varied and a lot of them have two stages that either changes up the enemy’s attack patterns as well as introducing new health bars to keep things varied and exciting. It’s still just as nerve-wracking and satisfying as the game ever has.
The more accessible beginning hides the same challenging and punishing gameplay to the extent that the enemies have never been as fast or hit as hard as they do in Dark Souls III. Even the easiest of enemies become intimidating should you be surrounded by two or three of them. I have fallen bosses on my first attempt while a small group of paltry pawns have downed me on multiple occasions. This is no place to have your guard down.
A lot of what you have learned is still present in Dark Souls III but with a few new twists thrown in. Estus Flasks return and off the same progression to obtain more and improve its strength but you will now have a second estus in the form of the ashen estus flask. While the estus flask recovers health, the ashen variation recovers your Combat Arts pool while is a third blue bar that now sits between your health and your stamina. As you find estus shards, you increase the number you can hold and these can be allocated between the standard estus and the ashen. Should you find undead bone shards then this can increase the power of the bonfire and in return improve the strength of your estus flask.
The idea of humanity returns be because you literally rose from the ashes this act is now known as ember but largely works in the same way. You can only access the online features if your ember has been restored. The ember also gives a boost to your health which is vital is some situations as some enemies can kill you in one hit.
Once again, you can upgrade your weapons and the titanite pieces required are in plentiful supply in Dark Souls III. You can also infuse gems into some weapons which can give it more damage or add elemental damage which could be needed in some boss encounters. The plentiful supply of titanite in the world means you can switch between a few weapons in your encounters.
Dark Souls III will take anywhere between 20-30 on your first playthrough but the way everything feels open from the character classes to weapons and more, it warrants experimentation and replaying. The captivating nature makes completing the same game multiple times easy to want to do.
There is one downside to the game and that is its technical shortcomings. There were multiple times when the framerate noticeably dropped and struggled to recover for seconds at a time. It’s something I’m sure will be fixed in time but it did damper my overall experience with the game which means its worth mentioning.
Dark Souls III, while in many ways feels a “best of” compilation, is also the most engrossing, captivating, devastating, and awe-inspiring title in the series. If this is the end of the series as we know it then I can’t imagine a more fitting culmination of one of the most mesmerising and incredible game series to come out in the last decade.