The Dark Souls series has come a long way from a relative unknown to one of the biggest franchises in gaming today. With that rise to stardom has come a massively devoted following of hardcore fans, as the series has evolved through three main entries in just five years, or more if you count Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne which are sort of spiritually linked. With a game this big, having that many games come out so quickly could lead to the audience becoming bored or tired, yet the core gameplay and world are so dense that fans gobble it up and ask for more. Dark Souls 3 is exactly what fans are asking for, more of the same, with some new stuff added in to keep everyone on their toes. Whether that works for you really comes down to what you are wanting out of the game.
In case you are new to the franchise, Dark Souls 3 is a full-blown, classically styled RPG. As you trek across the massive, open world, you take on enemies and bosses, all of which give you XP in the form of Souls. What makes Dark Souls stand out is its brutal difficulty, and the fact that death carries real meaning. When you die, you don’t just respawn at the last checkpoint, instead you actually drop all of the Souls you were carrying and lose a bit of your humanity, causing you to become weaker. If you want to get the Souls back, you have to go to where you died and collect them, which usually means confronting whatever it was that killed you.
This is Dark Souls 3 (Gameplay Video & Commentary)
Those confrontations play out with one of the more simple, yet refined combat systems in RPG gaming. Unlike others in the genre, Dark Souls 3 doesn’t gamify its combat. Instead you simply have a few key moves, such as light and strong attacks, which can be modified depending on the weapon, and how you are moving as your strike. This creates a very tense situation for each fight, and given how tough the enemies are, every dodge, block, or swing of your sword can be the difference between victory and death. And, of course, the game is entirely different depending on your class, as magic wielders play different to knights, and so on. Unfortunately, the very wonky and hard to control targeting system makes combat in any form a little tougher than it needs to be. Players can get used to it, and work around it, but many deaths will come early in the game simply due to the targeting system messing up your plan.
Every dodge, block, or swing of your sword can be the difference between victory and death
There is also an online multiplayer component to the game, which many spend a majority of their time on, while others skip almost entirely. Essentially, players can join each others games and help out, making it into a co-op experience. Alternatively, players can invade your game and try to kill you. It is an interesting aspect of the game, even utilizing items that you pick up during the main quest to either call in helpers or banish invaders as necessary.
As far as why you are doing all of this fighting, Dark Souls 3, much like its predecessors, doesn’t really have a detailed story. At least not one that you can figure out without spending hours talking to every single character, reading every piece of lore, and looking up what you miss online. The world is, essentially coming to an end, with the ever impending Age of Dark looming once more. The First Fire is going out, and it is the task of the five reborn Lords of Cinder to reignite it and keep the world turning. However, they seem to have abandoned their posts. It’s up to you and the rest of the Unkindled Ash to track them down and bring them back…by killing them, obviously.
While that is the quest that you are essentially tasked with, Dark Souls 3 doesn’t actually force you down that path, and in fact you won’t even pick it up until many hours into the game. In fact, Dark Souls 3 feels much more linear than the previous games, with less of a hub from which to expand out from, and more of a straight path through a few areas, which then branch off into more locations later on. This prevents the problem of wandering into an area that is far above your ability, so overall it is a great change, though veterans of the series might not be as pleased.
Still, you’re almost always moving forward, traversing new areas, taking on new enemies, and improving your characters, but you won’t really have a driving motivation behind it in terms of the plot. Instead, story takes a back seat to gameplay, which has definite benefits, but for those seeking a deep plot, Dark Souls 3 might disappoint unless you’re willing to put in the effort of uncovering all the intricacies that are hidden away.
Things being hidden away is kind of the theme of Dark Souls 3, and the entire series for that matter. Aside from the basics of combat, the game doesn’t hold your hand on anything, instead letting you explore its deeper elements, or allowing you to ignore them. For newcomers this certainly presents a massive wall of a learning curve, as even the basics of getting by in this world are mysterious and take either a lot of Googling, or a ton of luck and guesswork. Once you break through that wall, it is ultimately quite rewarding, as you watch yourself grow as a player, and become much more knowledgeable and capable.
However, it does feel like Dark Souls 3 takes it to an extreme that isn’t necessary to create the feelings that it hopes to elicit from the audience. Sure, it’s nice that it doesn’t hold your hand and flash walkthroughs on the screen for every little thing, but even longtime fans will likely find elements that they completely miss in the game. It can, and likely will be argued that this is part of the game, but the question is, should it be? For many it will be a good thing, allowing them to explore the game in new and interesting ways, but for some, they will miss out on a lot of pieces of the game, creating frustration and anger.
That’s not a totally bad thing, in fact it’s kind of a trademark of Dark Souls that it will frustrate you and make you angry. In the end, it’s a tight balance between doing so by presenting a challenge, and doing so by stacking the deck against the player. Overall Dark Souls 3 walks this balance well, but that also depends on the player. Many will find themselves tossing their controller to the side and swearing to never pick it up again. Some of those will return and pick that controller back up, head back into the battle, and come away victorious. That player will become a true fan of the series, but if you might be that other one, be wary of jumping into Dark Souls 3 without some deep thought.
If you are a die hard fan of the series, then you should easily be able to dive into Dark Souls 3 without much trouble. The game is certainly not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but at this point if you’ve delved into the depths of the previous games, you know exactly what you are in for. This might be a problem for some though, as aside from a couple of key areas, there isn’t much new on offer here for those that have spent hundreds of hours with this series.
Dark Souls was a near-perfect formula, so it isn’t surprising to see that FromSoftware didn’t want to mess with it
This being series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki’s return to the franchise, after allowing someone else to helm Dark Souls 2, many wondered how this game would compare to previous Souls games. It seems to fit nicely into the trajectory of the series, still keeping its challenge high, while making the combat more fluid and easy to understand. Other areas haven’t been touched at all, such as the UI and overall interface. If one were to walk by a TV with Dark Souls 3 on it, aside from the improved visual design, it might be difficult to distinguish exactly which game was being played.
Dark Souls was a near-perfect formula, so it isn’t surprising to see that FromSoftware didn’t want to mess with it. Unfortunately, while the overall game is still fantastic, once you work through its intricacies, there were some important elements that could have used some tweaking. There is the aforementioned targeting system, which can frustrate quite easily, but also small things, like how you can’t compare your currently equipped items to those in a shop. If you are looking through a vendor’s inventory and want to decide what armor is best for you, you either need to have your current stats memorized, or have a pen and paper nearby to jot it down. It might seem small, but when a series has this many entries, you expect the small stuff to have been worked out long ago.
An area that has seen improvement though is the visuals, where Dark Souls 3 excels quite handily. Certainly, it isn’t presenting top of the line graphics and effects, but the art design on display is truly astounding and impressive throughout. Character and world design are particularly excellent, with the joy of seeing a new monster or area pushing players to keep going, even when they hit the inevitable brick wall of difficulty. Lighting is of particular note, as the dynamic lighting system really pushes the atmosphere and ambiance to new levels for the series. Playing on PC was especially impressive, with 60fps and 1080p visuals looking quite good overall.
However, performance is definitely not perfect, and many areas of the game cause the framerate to tank significantly. This has also been observed on consoles, and seems to be specific to areas of the world, most likely heavy with graphical effects. Strangely, dropping the graphics settings on PC don’t seem to help the matter much, so it appears to be a constant problem, most likely in the optimization or implementation of certain effects.
A grand, epic, sweeping, and extremely lengthy adventure awaits players in Dark Souls 3. The switch to current gen consoles has allowed the game to flourish, with the best visuals ever for the series. This comes at a bit of a cost, sadly, as performance can be sluggish on rare occasions. The gameplay is still pure Dark Souls bliss though, and if you enjoyed it in the past, you will eat up every single hour of this game. For those looking to get into the series, this one is a good place to start, as it does a better job of funneling players along the proper path. It is still an open world though, and getting lost is not only inevitable, but also part of the fun. While everything you loved is back, some problems also return, such as a not-so-great targeting system and other missing features. Those seeking something wholly new will be disappointed, but if you want more of the Dark Souls gameplay that you love, this is exactly what you’ve been asking for.
- This article was updated on April 4th, 2016