Hidetake Miyazaki has done it again with the latest installment of the Dark Souls series: Dark Souls III. With familiar mechanics and familiar game-line stream of events, Dark Souls III maintained the perfect balance between new and old that did not leave fans disappointed.
Dark Souls as a whole is generally a brutal and ego crushing ride – with enemies of every horrifying caliber, the world within is designed to beat the you down while giving just enough of a reward to keep you craving to get that final boss and triumph. The game begins in a similar manner to its predecessors; a somewhat ambiguous story-line propels your character immediately into a frenzy of bloodshed and mayhem in the hopes of making it to the next step with a least one drop of blood left.
With this fantasy RPG, the unforgiving nature of it is what draws players back into this seemingly masochistic game style shrouded in mystery – and we all seem pretty OK with that because the rewards are immense. Not only with loot drops and achievements but the sheer design of the entire framework of the game appeals to your sense of perseverance and drive to succeed in a way that a lot of games don’t seem to capture.
The world within the third installment is a disjointed and broken land made up of detailed parts in an intricate maze that house horrors that are designed to break you down. Every part of the design had purpose and was incredibly detailed even down to the bonfire checkpoints, which allows the player to have a relatively close spot to go back to should (when) that player dies. These small fires act as milestones to gauge story-line progression as well as a means to progress in the story during a defeat without having to start over from a distant point in-game. Another important thing to note about this feature, is they also act as a fast travel from any previously explored area.
Like any RPG, stats are important. I love assassin builds so that is the character I chose when looking at certain boons and strengths that were important to my cat and mouse playing style. Beyond that, weapons, armor, and other miscellaneous items are all in place to help make the journey a little more bearable. Companions are introduced throughout the game to aid you in your quest whilst lending a helping hand setting up bonfires as well as enhancing certain character buffs during fight sequences.
For some players, the vast level of exploration littered with enemies can seem a bit overwhelming at first. Dark Souls 3 manages to make it a little easier, especially on newer players, by adding an appropriate amount of guidance and game inflections to aid in gaining your bearings. This macabre and twisted world can be a little intimidating but the basic mechanics of the game make sure that the character has everything in their arsenal to give the player the hope that 100% completion is not a lost cause. Explore, explore, explore – you’ll find hidden dungeons and rewards for your bravery in every nook and cranny.
One thing I love about the Dark Souls franchise is their mechanics. The fighting and defensive styles that are embedded in the very mechanical framework of this game are intricately implemented, quick, and seamless. Dodging, blocking, parrying – the combat style is nearly flawless which is helpful when facing down a horde of feral dogs, suicidal monks, and massively overbearing giants.
With their use of dual-wielding weapon styles, there are constantly new ways to learn new attacks and hone in practiced techniques. Bows, longswords, shields – these “weapon arts” are a treat to skilled characters but be careful: this means that offense and defense is quick to drain your stamina and in the world of Dark Souls, a quick stamina drain usually equates to an imminent death. Another interesting bit about the newly itemized fighting system is that the focus system does not automatically regenerate after a certain time so it is important to pay attention to the strategy of the game and unleash those critical attacks only when absolutely necessary.
When fighting enemies, the dynamics of these trying hurdles are constantly evolving. Unlike most games where you beat an enemy and – boom – you know their fighting style, their strengths and weaknesses. Not here, can’t let the brutality slack off a bit, this is Dark Souls, not Minecraft. Should you die and are forced back to the nearest bonfire, the enemies you face may be different entirely or have an altered state of offense. Dark Souls doesn’t just punish, they teach. Tough love is the name of the game and it comes in the form of evolving (and RAGE inducing) circumstances.
The boss fights … let’s talk about the boss fights. There’s no way around it, especially to the newbies coming into the franchise – you are going to die. You are going to die A LOT. “Hello darkness, my old friend” – yeah, that’s going to be your new life motto as you make your way through this deadly web of monstrosities. With each boss, the dynamics of the game change. With evolving offensive and defensive points, these bosses will present a new challenge every time you face them. Most of them get STRONGER as they edge closer to that point of death. So get acquainted with that “YOU DIED” screen because you are going to see it. A lot.
Speaking of dying – there is one cause of death that you really can’t do anything about. The worst boss of them all … the dreaded camera angles. The auto-locking feature is cool and usually the path of camera tracking is fairly seamless but it does struggle at times to adjust – particularly in enclosed spaces or unusually agile foes. If you find yourself facing off against one of the more mobile enemy, the imprecise and unpredictable camera can go from being your best friend to the most annoying of hindrances. I know personally, my face has become more acquainted with the inside of a wall more than once during my playthrough.
Speaking of those “ARRG WHY?!” moments – there is one design flaw that got under my skin enough to make me want to complain about it. There is one specific boss that requires a particular item in order to beat him unless you are comfortable playing cat and mouse for hours as you slowly take down his HP one micro point at at time. There is a quest earlier in the game that gives the player the ability to bypass the item requirement but it is pretty well hidden and is not the easiest to find and that’s as a veteran. I can’t imagine many newbies being able to catch the importance of such a small quest unless they were a completionist down to the core.
This was my first playthrough of a Dark Souls game on the Xbox One. I played the first two on PC and Bloodborne on the PS4 (exclusive) so picking up the collector’s edition for the Xbox One was a new experience for me. Upon launch, this title did fall below the promised 30 FPS that they initially advertised. From reports, this is evident on the PS4 as well but comparing game play videos, I would definitely say that it was more so on the Xbox side of the platform spectrum. It wasn’t horrible, by any means – the game was still very beautifully done but it was just an interesting thing to note fairly soon after world immersion.
The game’s story was beautiful and much to the From Software’s earlier titles in the franchise, it definitely does a solid job at shrouding every purpose and milestone in mystery. A subtly that this universe has mastered, the story is more explained through intuition, game tones, enviromentals, and experience versus the more direct “this is what happened at point A, now we are at point Z – good job!” The cloaked story does appeal to the player’s curiousity and almost empathy to what some of these characters have gone through and the path of the idols. Do the ends always justify the means? Is solitude a fair price for the knowledge and paths sought? An almost philosophical glass surrounds the player’s eyes during the game that helps with the more tedious aspects of the play style. Curiousity and perseverance are what will keep those feet moving and that sword held high. If there is one thing that can be said, it’s that the creators of Dark Souls know what they are doing. They know exactly how to rip away the player from their comfort zone faster than the player can even realise they are engaged in combat.
Overall, the game was what I wanted it to be. With a few hiccups with the frame rate, the unimaginative (and sometimes irrelevant) menu options and the wonky camera – it overall was the Dark Souls experience I was looking for and they did not disappoint. The changes they made to combat style, the bonfire locations, and the dynamics of ever-evolving boss fights made this title a worthy one for the books.
Final Verdict – 8.5 out of 10
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