Dark Souls III is the latest installment of the critically acclaimed Souls series which we have come to love (or hate) depending on your love of dying!
We find ourselves in a purgatory of sorts- dead, yet not. We have awoken from the ash to seek out the lords of cinder and return them to their rightful thrones in order to rekindle the fire and restore order to the world. You’d be forgiven at this point if you think this sounds similar to the original Dark Souls game; find powerful beings, defeat and retrieve their souls and restore order to an otherwise damned world.
The character creation is much the same as we have come to expect from Dark Souls or any RPG. You have 7 or 8 classes to choose from; ranging from your walking tank (knight) to your sorcerer class who dies from being blown too heavily by the wind. The attribute system appears to have been reworked, allowing for finer-grained control of your stats and abilities. Initially, I was impressed with the ‘luck’ attribute providing you with better discovery, but this is just ‘humanity’ reskinned from Dark Souls I.
As the game begins, we can see that there has been some work put into the graphics, they look fresh, clean, and what the game was calling for. As you can see, the HUD is the same as all the others; and that’s okay. The HUD is a tricky thing to get right, and From Software nailed it, so it’s no surprise they kept it.
The first part of the game is set in the ‘Cemetery of Ash’, so much of the graphical niceties are lost in the grey, black, and brown colors of despair and desperation that we have come to expect from the Souls series. It’s dull, but it ties in with the theme and I’m okay with that. This section is treated like a tutorial, with big messages written on the floor to guide the player and teach you the basics of combat and tactics.
By no means does Dark Souls III mollycoddle. It retains the iconic steep learning curve which made the Souls series what it is. There are a few amendments to combat, now some of the weapons have a special ability that can be used to gain the upper hand by using focus points (the blue bar in the UI). This special ability ranges from ‘stance’, where you assume a sword-fighter stance and perform wicked slash and thrust attacks to ‘war-cry’ which provides you with a temporary boost to attack. There is an element of risk and reward to this tactic – exposing yourself to enemies and praying you to have the timing down or getting nailed. It’s a slight addition, but it adds a layer of good complexity to the combat. This is not an ordinary hack-and-slash by any means. You must assess, think and coordinate before running in blindly slashing at all and sundry. Trust me, I made that mistake once or twice before remembering the Souls Way.
We don’t need to wait long for our first ‘transition’ boss. The boss which you have to kill to begin the game. My first impression of the boss was meh; until he transformed into some sort of hideous abomination of half man half demon, and then it was on! Then I died. As always with Dark Souls, it has a way of pumping you up and almost goading you in, only to smash you in the face for having the cheek to try. And personally, that’s what makes the Souls series, it gets you fired up only to smash you down and force you to try harder.
From here on, the game follows the traditional path of letting you loose on the world, and going whichever way you feel is best, even if that way will get you pummelled and enraged. Yet, even though this game feels larger and more expansive, I couldn’t help but feel it wasn’t as explorative as previous titles. Each area, although vast and expansive with many routes and paths, all led to the one funneled point. You couldn’t really deviate or explore another area that was nearby, as there was nothing behind you except the start of the area or the end of the last. Don’t get me wrong, the game is as big as promised; at 8 hours in I’m only at the first ‘real’ boss after having fought 2 or 3 mini intermediary bosses. It clearly has a lot of playtimes and an expansive world to explore, and a difficulty spike between the seamlessly joined environments to keep you entertained for quite some time.
The bosses I fought in the game thus far, although monstrous and terrorizing, felt a little too easy for a Dark Souls game. I died, a lot. But some of this was poor camera angles when locked on and my own stupidity. The bosses never felt truly insurmountable as in previous titles, but I’m hopeful that this will change as the game progresses. The truly outstanding boss battle so far has to have been the Abyss watchers, which I won’t go into too much detail in case you find yourself facing them. It was a unique and fresh experience, it’s just a shame it took 8 hours for the game to show this element of uniqueness.
But even with all of this, I was left feeling deflated and disappointed at Dark Souls III, right from the start. The game felt overly familiar and comfortable. The fact I began to enjoy it made me realize that it was for the wrong reasons; throughout my time playing I felt like was back in Dark Souls all over again! The names of the items, weapons, and even some of the enemies haven’t changed nor have their descriptions or lore. Yes, arguably they have changed graphically, beyond this, I would struggle to identify a unique element of Dark Souls III. The combat is slightly improved as are the graphics. The overarching story and the world are slightly unique but stick to the similar theme of hunting big bad-asses, bringing ‘em back, and restoring the world to light.
Add to this the fact that some of the niggling issues that have persisted since Dark Souls; like dodgy camera angles, poor collision detection, and framerate lag. I get that they are trying to finalize the story that they have crafted over the 2 previous games, and in doing so require some elements from these in order to make it connect, but nothing seems to have changed.
One word could sum up the thought process behind this game, complacency. It feels like the writers know they have a core following who’ll buy this regardless so don’t need to worry about making any dramatic changes.
Although I’m being scathing, this isn’t a bad game. It is fun, difficult, and reminiscent of Dark Souls I. It’s also huge, you are guaranteed to find a tonne of things to see, do and explore, albeit in a refined way. The game will challenge you, it will punish you and it will make you pay for the slightest mistake. If you are a fan/follower of the Souls series, this is probably up your street. If you’re reading this as someone looking to get into to the series, or just want a good hack and slash and assessing whether you should bother, don’t. Buy Dark Souls II, and wait for the price on this to drop.