This is generally one's first thought when it comes to the Souls series. Dark Souls 3 is no different. To start, you wake up from a coffin and explore your starting zone. Going through it, you will learn the controls and discover how much enemies can and will hurt you. Depending on which path you take, you will find out just how much this game wants you dead. If you have never played a Souls game before, each of these titles is a gauntlet of enemies, with a struggle to get to the next bonfire - your safe haven. The first thought to a new player in the series would probably be something along the lines of “This is unfair”. It may seem like that at first, but as you improve and learn, you will realize just how much you can do to tip the scales in your favor.
Between healing, buffing, rolling, shielding and farming just to get higher stats that all work together to help you survive. Enemies are fair even if they do not always feel like it at first, with move sets that will throw off a player the first time that they encounter said enemy. However, with some time you will discover that they all have exploitable weaknesses. Be it shielding, dodging, parrying, or even trading a first blow to land your others, there’s most always a way to beat every enemy through pure skill, though better stats obviously help.
Learning to roll properly is the biggest skill you’ll need to master. With proper rolling, you can negate all incoming damage, and give yourself more mobility to strafe the enemy with, resulting in an advantageous position. But failing this, you can also choose to use a shield, big or small. Generally, I prefer to take lighter armor with a strong - but small - shield, so that I have to option to use speedy rolls and shield when I don’t want to change my positioning. However, you can also choose just to maximize your damage, and two-hand wield your weapon of choice. What is great is the game's flexibility, as you can handle a second weapon or wield magic in your offhand as well. This makes it riskier for you, but at the same time, I often found myself forgoing the shield for a higher damage output or a change in move set for specific bosses and enemies.
Don’t be afraid to change weaponry itself too, as Dark Souls III rewards trial and error (and there will be lots of error). At all times, my secondary right hand weapon was a dagger with bleed, because the quickstep could be extremely powerful against most foes. Despite the dagger itself having low damage, the bleed scales with the enemy’s strengths, making it an efficient weapon even against foes with large health bars. At times I’d also swap my main weapon between shortswords, greatswords, and curved swords. Sometimes I’d use a greatsword when I need to have singular, huge hits, or when I needed to clear a crowd. The curved sword was great against mobile, singular enemies. If you land just one hit, you can combo through with most of your stamina bar, shredding the life they had just moments before. And as usual when I play a Souls game, the straight sword, paired with a powerful shield, was always my backup and came in handy especially for a boss battle I had never encountered before.
You can easily find your own play style throughout this though, as there are a multitude of choices for weaponry, including Spears, Halberds, Axes, Greataxes, Bows, Crossbows, and more. That’s not even counting all of the spell types. One thing of note is that as of right now, spells of all forms seem weak. The types of spells and the effects they give are strong, but combat spells have lower damage than should be expected. I feel as if their scaling should be increased, to make it so that the most dedicated of spellcasters have something they can properly use. As of now I feel it would be difficult to be a pure spellcaster just because of the lacking damage output that also usually goes hand-in-hand with lesser armor as well. All that being said, the variety of available spells is just amazing in this installment. You have so much more at your disposal, allowing magic to have the same kind of variety that the various types of melee weapons allow (if not the effectiveness).
When you push your way through the first area - not revealing what’s in there - you’ll come across the ‘new’ hub, Firelink Shrine. You can meet a few people here for your first visit, and you’ll likely want to talk with all of them. The first person you should see is the Fire Keeper, the most necessary of all NPCs. Speaking to her allows you to level up, spending your souls to do so. Afterwards, you can find a few other necessary NPCs, before coming across the extras. Walk into the nearby tunnel, and to your right you’ll find a merchant whom you can purchase useful items from. Stuff like weapons, armor, and consumables, including embers and resins - timed buffs that increase your weapons’ attack in whatever element you happen to use. At the end of the tunnel will be a familiar face - a blacksmith, recognizable from one of the older games. Here you can do quite a few things, which will be necessary throughout the game. The first, and most important, of which will be the reinforcement, where you upgrade your equipment using different forms of titanite, depending on how powerful it is already and/or what type of weapon it is. There are a few other NPCs around, and more you’ll find later, but these the are the most important that you’ll interact with at this early stage.
Once you finish exploring the Shrine, make your way to the bonfire, and select travel. One thing I’d heard a lot about this installment, prior to playing it myself, was that it would have a hub world, with travel only being within a level’s own instance and through the hub world. Think of Demon Souls, because that was the comparison I heard tossed around. Luckily, that isn’t the case. If you’ve played Dark Souls II, then it works just like that. You have a hub area, which is safe for the player and filled with helpful NPCs. You come back to Firelink whenever you need to level, upgrade your gear, or shop with the merchant hag or with other NPCs found throughout the game. The only difference in travel between this and Dark Souls II is that Firelink isn’t connected to the rest of the world.
Through the travel menu, you’ll find one place where you haven’t yet been - the High Wall of Lothric. The game so far has been beautiful, absolutely stunning me when I first saw it. But once you reach this point, you’ll see what this game has to offer. You can see far into the distance, where the castle of Lothric is standing mighty across the skyline. You now have two paths ahead of you. One will lead you towards the main portion of the area, but going the other leads to a shortcut, albeit one that can’t be accessed quite yet. One thing that Dark Souls III brought over from the first was its use of shortcuts, in place of extra bonfires. A lot of the time, you need to go through the area for a while to find an easy way back, one devoid of enemies, or at least a lower amount of them. Multiple times I found myself asking whether I should press on - despite a lack of restorative items - or head back to cash in my souls, knowing I’d have to make this trip again, albeit slightly stronger. Homeward bones will be your new friend in this game, to that regard. The level structure is far better than that of Dark Souls II, pulling from the first game and Demon's Souls more clever construction.
Running through the High Wall, you’ll come across some familiar enemy archetypes, such as the general mindless hollows or the dogs of games past. You will also find a lot of newer enemies in just this area, including stronger knights clad in proper armor with shields that use much smarter combat tactics. You may notice how nice their armor is, compared to yours, leading me to my next point. In most of the Souls games, you can likely pick up weapons from the enemies, and at times you can grab their armor, albeit both of these at very low drop rates. But in this, you can almost always grab the weapon or armor of your opponent. If you see them wielding a powerful looking weapon, or they have an armor set that you’re fond of, you can farm them and there’s almost always a chance you’ll be able to get it eventually. If you’re really fond of this mechanic, then you can even put points into luck, which will give you a higher chance of finding items throughout your journey. I like this, because while luck has always had some value, it is more useful here than prior games.
Progressing leads you to finding different enemies, keys, and likely a bit of death as well, until you find a gigantic doorway. At the end of it, you notice another set of doors, seemingly closed shut by plants. Upon walking up to it, your character stops to inspect it, and soon finds themselves locked in, when suddenly a gigantic, menacing foe appears. This is Vordt, of the Boreal Valley. A quadrupedal, armored knight, wielding a huge mace. At first, it seems pretty easy, basic, slow attacks, giving you ample time to land your own blows on his body. However, after a certain threshold, he empowers himself, surrounding his body in a chill, and if you stand near him too long, you’ll start to gather Frostbite, a new status effect. This effect causes you to have significantly decreased stamina regeneration, something that you don’t want, especially in the middle of a boss fight. On top of that, he gains newfound mobility, dashing into you at high velocity, needing to be dodged very precisely if you wish to survive the onslaught. Eventually, one of you will die. If it’s him, then you get a bonfire to rest at, and both sets of doors open up for you. If you walk out into the previously shut doors, you’ll come across a ledge, overlooking the Kingdom of Lothric.
This is something to note, because every area you see here, is somewhere you can explore later into the game. Be it the Cathedral, the forest down below, the wall itself, or even the gigantic castle in the distance. All of it will be explored, and throughout the game, you can peer into the sky and find this point, or places that you had explored at other points of the game. It just adds to how amazing this game is to look at, and gives you a sense of the world, and where you are at any given moment. Diverging from this, I think the best thing to talk about would be the difficulty. A lot of the previously shown footage for this game caused it to be labeled as easy. For the most part, it has been steepened in terms of difficulty, though the early areas might not show it as much. They seem to have made the first areas intentionally easier, and this isn’t that bad a thing as it lets people ease into the title and learn the nuances of Dark Souls III without punishing them outright.
Rest assured however, that it is not long before the game starts getting to its commonly respected difficulty, and when it does, it certainly feels appropriately challenging. It becomes something akin to the other Souls titles, harder than the second game, and similar to the first, and it’s all fair. Rarely did I ever feel like something was a cop-out for difficulty, or something that I had no way to counter. There are flaws in the system, and every once in a while something stands out that doesn’t feel quite right, but all in all, this is an amazingly fair game. It trains you through your failures and teaches you how to play by its rules. Saying it’s fair means that if you know what you’re doing, you aren’t going to be surprised at what this game has to offer. You’ll expect the enemy’s attacks, as long as you know how they usually work. You’ll think to look carefully before progressing, due to enemies hanging on ledges, or peering around corners. Take a good long look at chests before you decide to open them, because they could be a mimic, attempting to trick you into opening them, before they devour you whole.
The boss design in this game is absolutely outstanding. Every single boss stands out to me, and only one of them feels iffy. By iffy, I will not spoil the contents of the fight, but it was the rare miss as it was not so much hard as actually somewhat boring and anticlimactic. Some bosses are easier than others, but have great cinematic value, and some bosses are remembered due to their difficulty, stemming from having to learn the boss, rather than make yourself stronger through farming. You can easily progress through this game on skill alone, as has been said earlier, and it remains true throughout the entirety of the story. As mentioned previously, the world design is beautiful, and every area in the game shows that. Not once do I look at an area and think that it’s ugly. There are some prettier than others, and a few that stand out above the rest due to how absolutely amazing they look. The general enemy design in this is great, with a lot of variety, and a ton of new designs, both in combat and looks. You’ll find some familiars from past Souls games, and that’s to be expected. Designs that worked great in the other games translate well here, and provide a sense of familiarity for fans of the past games.
That being said, there’s just enough of them not to be overwhelming, whilst giving something that older players can breeze through, knowing their combat patterns in advance. And to top it off, the armor and weapon design is spectacular. One of the biggest things that the Souls games have going for them is that they know how to make armor, and what weapons to implement, as well as creating great designs of their own. Weapons have a weight behind them, a sense of balance and complexity, a sort of game within the game that you have to learn to make the most out of them. This game has gorgeous armor, and I easily found a look that works for me, something slim, yet menacing, completely highlighting my play style of quick movement and high damage output.
Overall, this game is absolutely outstanding. I’ve played through all of the Soulsborne titles, and I’d have to say with certainty that this is the best one. It has everything that the games should have, with a perfect blend of atmospheres, creating a varied environment, and the enemies provide ample challenge, whilst not making the player feel cheated. The bosses are the best in the series, where people loved Bloodborne’s bosses, they’ll like Dark Souls III’s even better, due to just how amazing they are. The combat is at its peak faster than the rest of the Souls games, while being slower than Bloodborne, the perfect blend of speed and strength. Newer mechanics - such as riposting off of guard breaks - makes the combat feel even more fresh, and I can’t wait to see what all these new spells feel like in a PvP environment. The sound design is one of my favorite things about this game, however. Like all games in the series, you get a perfect atmosphere, where the only music is during boss fights. This gives you the chance to hear everything as you’re advancing through the levels, such as the enemies. Quite often, I’d find myself scared to enter the next room, because I can hear certain enemies I’ve already fought behind the wall, knowing what I’ll have to deal with in advance of the combat. And once you reach a boss, you’ll fall in love with how well the music fits. The best soundtrack of most any game, in my opinion, and the best of all the prior games in this series.
Dark Souls III hits most every mark with perfection, and marring a few minor points in the game, is a perfect staple in the series. Truly the best game to end the series, and a game that will stick with you for a long time to come. This is the result of lessons learned over the years, taking the best elements of the prior games and blending them together skillfully with the best presentation the series has seen yet. I recommend this game to anybody who wants a challenge and enjoys cinematic, memorable experiences. I’d like to extend a thank-you to From Software, for making this possible. On my second playthrough on the PC, this is easily my leader for game of the year in 2016.
Bandai Namco Games
Article by Chris H.