*** This review was previously published April 2016 but was lost due to my incompetent database backup. I was able to find an archive of it and so I’m re-uploading it. ***
Dark Souls. A game series known for it’s difficult yet rewarding gameplay. Known to test the player’s patience after each and every death as they run back to their corpse to retrieve all those precious souls. The latest iteration will satisfy both returning and brand new players in what is the most polished experience yet.
You start at the character creation screen where you customize your appearance and choose from one of the ten starting classes. Each classes stats are allocated differently and are equipped with different weapons and armor. The facial customization isn’t on the level of some of the other games out there but you can still make some interesting looking characters. Once you’re finished, your character rises from a grave as you start your journey to link the fire once again.
Acquiring souls from killing enemies is the first thing you should focus on. Souls are used to level up your character by placing a point in one of many stats such as strength, dexterity, and intelligence. Souls can also be used to purchase items from merchants. The catch is that when you die, you leave behind all your souls on your corpse. You have to fight your way back to your bloodstain to retrieve them and if you die on the way back, the souls are gone forever.
If you’ve played Dark Souls before, you’ll know what to expect out of the combat. An intense 3rd person action adventure game with an emphasis on stamina management. It’s important to keep an eye on your stamina in order to be able to block or dodge after taking a couple of swings at an enemy. The speed of the game sits somewhere between the original Dark Souls and Bloodborne. It’s faster than your normal Souls game.
Weapon arts are a new addition to the combat in Dark Souls 3. Every weapon has a special ability that uses up focus points, whether it be an offensive or defensive buff or more notably a special attack. These attacks are often more powerful and devastating than a normal swing and make combat more enjoyable when executed properly. No longer do spells have a finite amount of times you can cast them. They also use focus which you can replenish with a special flask and there are plenty of awesome spells this time around.
Multiplayer in the Dark Souls series consists of placing a sign down on the floor that will show up in other player’s games. They can then summon you to their game where you can help them defeat enemies and the boss in that area. You can easily play with friends by setting and sharing a password that will only let those with it see each others signs, similar to Bloodborne. The other aspect of the multiplayer is invading other player’s worlds to try and kill them. You achieve this by using a cracked or full red eye orb in an area you want to invade. There are also covenants that expand upon the multiplayer portion of the game.
Covenants are factions you can join that have certain objectives they require of you to rank up. Unlike the previous titles covenants have their own slot in your inventory that you can swap at any time. This makes it easy to decide whether you want to invade, help, or protect other players. The covenants this time around aren’t as fleshed out as they could have been. There’s nothing quite as unique as the rat covenant from Dark Souls 2, where instead of invading another player, that player is brought into your trap filled lair. The closest dark souls 3 has is the mound maker covenant. The objective of this covenant is to kill any other phantom, be it the host or an invader in the host’s game. You can put down a white soapstone which has a purple hue to the host summoning you and help kill npcs, invaders, or the host himself, but you can’t enter the boss room. So the only real reason you are there is to kill off the host or anyone invading them. So as the host, why would you gamble on summoning a mound maker into your game? Just summon a regular white phantom or a sun bro. I fear that once other player’s figure this out that there will be little reason to join the mound makers. And since their objective is fulfilled once any phantom dies in the session, you rarely get the satisfaction of killing the host and his companions.
The dark moon covenant is making a return as well, but it lost the blue eye orb to invade guilty players. The only function it has is to help other players being invaded, just like the Blue Sentinals. One concern I have is with the amount of players that can be in one session. You can have up to five other people in your game and it can get really crazy when there are two white phantoms, two red invaders, and yourself all battling it out. This can be quite fun but it’s a double edged sword. You can invade a game in which you are outnumbered 3 to 1 and have very little chance to win.
The level design takes a more linear approach similar to Dark Souls 2. This isn’t a bad thing however. Think of it like a tree where there are branches that lead to dead ends off the main pathway. There’s a pretty clear destination in this game as you descend the high wall of lothric. You’ll be visiting castles, dungeons, crypts, swamps, a prision, and much more as you collect the souls of your enemies. Speaking of enemies, there’s tons of variety and they are much more aggressive this time around. Similar to Bloodborne, enemies may react to you trying to drink an estus to recover health by rushing you down.
Similar to the other Dark Souls games, there are plenty of secrets. Whether it be large hidden zones behind illusionary walls or NPCs that require you to perform certain actions to progress their storylines.
Bonfires, which are a checkpoint system that lets you teleport to any previous location, feel like they are more common this time around. Some show up within one minute of the other without any enemy interference. Having so many bonfires to teleport to makes some of the shortcuts that you can open up in between areas obsolete. There are some shortcuts made me think, “why would I ever use this?”.
Those that enjoy the story in these games will feel right at home. There’s plenty of lore hidden in item descriptions and character dialogue for you to decipher. Or just watch one of the many YouTube storytellers after you finish the game.
This is the best looking Dark Souls game yet. Even better than Bloodborne, but it comes at a price. The game runs at 30 fps with some frame drops here and there. There was one boss fight where the frame rate dropped substantially, down to less than 10fps. And I wasn’t the only one with this problem. Thankfully it doesn’t detract the overall experience too much. I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game, pouring over 60 hours into it already and I can’t wait for the PC version.
If you’ve never played a Souls game, this is the perfect time to jump in. The exceptional combat and forward moving linear level design will guide you in the right direction. Just don’t expect it to be easy.