Stirred from the slumber of death, and called to quell the powerful Lords of Cinder, you play the role of an Ashen One in FROMSoftware’s latest title: Dark Souls 3. Traversing castles, towers and various ruins, your journey will test the limits of your pitiable existence as you put down restless souls throughout the kingdom of Lothric in an attempt to “link the fire” and restore the kingdom to some semblance of normalcy.
FROM’s latest installment in their Dark Souls franchise attempts to strike out of the mold by incorporating some elements of their recent hit, Bloodborne. While the faster combat will certainly stir some feelings of familiarity for those who have conquered the Lovecraftian action-RPG, there’s not much else. No, this title falls squarely in Dark Souls territory: you know it from the minute you see the shield in your off-hand at the character creation screen. Fights are to be approached with caution, as even the humblest of enemies can deliver a swift and punishing death.
While Dark Souls 3 is more defense-oriented, the purposefulness of combat will sharpen your strategic mind. Coming across a pack of enemies, a flurry of thoughts cross your mind: Can any of them use ranged attacks? How fast do they run? What kind of weapons are they wielding? Maybe you pull one out of the pack with an arrow to better your odds, maybe you sneak behind and target the squishiest enemy with a backstab attack. There is certainly some room for variety in your tactics, and the constant fear combined with engagement lends to an entertaining and consistent gameplay experience.
A major pain-point of the Dark Souls series has been, and continues to be, camera performance. Targeting and un-targeting enemies is essential in games like this, and yet on some occasions the camera responds dismally when utilizing the targeting system in closed-quarters. The spinning camera is not only disorienting, it can certainly be the difference between life and death, which of course results in angry gamers and serves to highlight the problem even more.
Even without camera issues, it’s no secret that the Dark Souls franchise prides itself on its difficulty. Across gaming forums and in living rooms across the country you’ll hear the common response to gamers’ complaints about the title: “Git Gud”. However, like the flame that flickers within the spirit of our protagonist, the novelty of Dark Souls difficulty is fading. After playing the first two Dark Souls to completion, and thoroughly conquering Bloodborne (platinum trophy GET), many bosses were familiar, and the strategies I had used in the previous months were surprisingly effective. Still, while the boss fights falter in difficulty, the ever-lurking threat of death seeded in the mobs that patrol Lothric force you to remain vigilant.
If there’s one element that Dark Souls 3 improved on from previous entries, it would be the world that it casts us into. Aesthetically, it’s a major improvement over the last two titles. I often found myself distracted by the landscape, a fatal error in a game like this one, and one I paid the price for on at least two occasions. As for the story itself, it is at its best when you remain unaware of the larger picture. Other titles guide you down their storyline road brick by brick until you arrive at your final destination. Dark Souls prefers that the player approach it as a 1,000 piece puzzle: getting bits and pieces at a time, sometimes out of order, certainly requiring more than one play-through, until it can be appreciated in all its glory. Many players may leave the puzzle unfinished and still be able to walk away satisfied, but for those who persist, the reward is sweet.
In short, Dark Souls 3 delivers just about everything fans of the series have come to expect: punishing difficulty, a vast and mysterious world with untold secrets (many of which you don’t know that you don’t know), and a long and lonely journey through a dark and shattered world. Any fan of the Dark Souls franchise should be glad to have this in their library.