Dark Souls III is a combination of different games, pulling influence from earlier the earlier Souls and Bloodborne games for inspiration and lessons learned. To that end, Dark Souls III is a complex, challenging game that continues to reward perseverance and punishes those unwilling to adapt to its distinct style of play. Ultimately it is a rewarding title that fans of the series will enjoy, though I did come away with the distinct impression that it was less its own game and more a culmination of the prior ones.
By no means is that necessarily a bad thing. Certainly Dark Souls III is 'more of the same' - and fans have made it clear that they want more of what they have come to love from the series. When you think of the Souls games (and Bloodborne), you think of dark, brooding, challenging games that will test your reflexes and your puzzle solving. No, not puzzle solving like burning bushes or pushing blocks in action RPGs, but in trying to figure out the riddle of enemies. Chris went into some detail in his PC review of the game on this, but the long and the short of it is that Dark Souls III gives you the tools to succeed - but you will have to fail a few times before you get it right.
The early guys, the zombie-like undead can be dangerous in their own right. They are fast, they can attack in packs and they certainly are more menacing than the typical shambling undead found in many horror films. They are also simple, usually leading in with a single very predictable attack that you can counter, dodge or simply lunge in to beat them to the punch. Later enemies provide a much more varied type of challenge, however. They will adopt attacks and attack patterns reminiscent to old NES games. You remember those old 2D boss battles where you had to memorize a specific pattern and then respond accordingly, looking for that narrow opening that led to a supreme feeling of success, right?
This is a crystallization of what the Souls games have to offer, and Dark Souls III provides this in spades. While the calling card for the series has always been its tremendous, memorable boss battles, there is something to be said for many of the more interesting enemies nestled throughout the labyrinthine levels as well. Some enemies come across as mid bosses almost, capable of felling you on your best day let alone if they catch you by surprise. Enemy design is varied and generally excellent. Certainly some are more frustrating than others, but you will adapt and learn to play by their rules, by the rules of Dark Souls - or you will die.
Let me correct that. You will die regardless, but you will die more if you do not adapt and improve your skills. There are ample opportunities to grind and farm, and naturally having more health or being able to deal more magical damage with your spell is an advantage not to be taken lightly. However, you will not grind your way to a maximum level and then sleepwalk your way through these encounters. While there are plenty of RPG elements in this game, it is an action title through and through.
Many have token note of how the game seems faster than prior Souls titles, and that is accurate. While it is nowhere near as brisk in pace as Bloodborne, Dark Souls III provides the quickest combat in the proper Souls series. I was actually a huge fan of the overly aggressive tones of Bloodborne, so I was not heartbroken to see a faster pace played out in Dark Souls III, but this title never matches the all out offensive tactics Bloodborne requires. Defense is still key, and shields are still a great means of staying alive. You might decide to bulk up with heavy armor and a massive shield, or perhaps your style is better suited to staying light on your feet and relying on rolls to dodge out of the way. Regardless of your preferred form of defense, you will not simply slash or blast your way to victory.
One of the issues I had with Bloodborne was the somewhat limited weapon selection. Between the different shields, spells and myriad of weapons at your disposal, Dark Souls III offers up more variety in gameplay than any other title in the series to date. Weapons have different styles, leading into unique combinations. Some work better in close quarters, others try to keep your enemies at a distance. Some are more suited for the close confines of a hallway passage, while others have arcing sweeps meant to keep multiple enemies at bay. You have to carefully manage not only your swings and how vulnerable they leave you, but how your stamina is impacted as well. I found myself playing with almost every new weapon just to see which ones I liked, because I never found a 'one size fits all' strategy. Some enemies and in particular, specific bosses, simply were more susceptible some attacks over others.
The level structure here is a throwback to the earlier games in the series. Dark Souls II was a much broader, flatter feeling game as you trudged from one bonfire to another. Bonfires are still key to your survival, but the stage design is far more creative here than in the last entry. Shortcuts abound, secrets are waiting to be discovered and the complexity of level design is on par with the best in the series once again. I always found myself overjoyed when I would open up a gate or lower a bridge or create some sort of a shortcut back to where I had been. Because I knew I would eventually die, but this would expedite my future return.
Despite all of these familiar aspects to the series that have been honed to a razor sharp edge, it is clear that this title was made with newcomers in mind. The early stages are not nearly as hard as in the prior games. Maybe it is simply because I am already a veteran of the series, but there was more direction here, more structure and yes - less forced failure right off of the bat. It was as though the game was designed to be slightly more welcoming, with a gorgeous cinematic to open things up and a well-designed introductory stage that should serve to interest gamers instead of punishing them.
While the audio design and visuals are as good as they have ever been in the series, aside from a few small touches here and there along the way, Dark Souls III comes across a little more generically than past titles have. There are plenty of beautiful vistas to observe, with smatterings of light and ruins in the distance that tease of your future along the way, but it all feels a little bit more like generic fantasy than in past releases. The ringing bells of the tendril faced keepers in the prison cell stage of Demon's Souls and the haunting Gothic horror vibe of Bloodborne created more memorable stages for me than most of what Dark Souls III could muster up. It is as though the game lost a little of its own would-be identity in taking cues from the prior games. Certainly lessons were learned and formulas and mechanics tweaked and improved upon, but one of my only complaints is that for all of its polish, Dark Souls III had fewer key moments for me than its predecessors. Almost as if it lacks its own clear identity at times.
There are some technical hiccups to note as well. There are places where the framerate does suffer. So many things in the game look amazing, from the slightly burning armor and cloak of your character to the grotesque and twisting forms of your enemies - but when the action is at its height and perfect timing is paramount to survival, the last thing you want is any hint of stutter. Especially in a game that punishes mistakes so badly. While very few actual enemy encounters felt unfair in their design, the same cannot be said of those dips in framerate that impacted my timing.
All in all Dark Souls III is a spectacular fantasy action game that relies on its tried and true formula of risk versus reward, trial and error and a real sense of danger as you progress through the content. There is a bit more story to be had here than some of the earlier installments, but it still largely leaves you to your imagination as you skulk through its hauntingly beautiful ruins to battle monsters right out of your nightmares. While the game and systems are beautiful refined (despite a couple of technical hiccups that will no doubt be resolved soon), Dark Souls III did lose a little of its own personality along the way. It is subtle, and still incredibly enjoyable for me, but when it was all said and done, I had fewer of those truly memorable moments that I did from earlier games in the series. By no means should that sway fans away from playing it, because Dark Souls III is a fascinating and complex game that is slightly more welcoming than prior Souls games - but in the end just as hard as one would hope for an expect.
Bandai Namco Entertainment
Article by Nick