Dark Souls is a franchise dear to my heart, as a massive fan of RPGs I love a challenge and playing a game to completion. The Dark Souls universe is an intricately designed and interconnected world, and where most RPG games have a quest log, Dark Souls has none. You only really have one quest which is laid out for you at the start of the game, as you travel throughout the world NPCs have continuing story lines that fill in the blanks.
Dark Souls is well known for its difficulty, as we live in an age where games tell us how to play, or some give us some idea of how to utilise the basic mechanics; whereas Dark Souls doesn’t do this. The game encourages you to explore the controls and to practice. The game really isn’t that hard, despite the series being perceived as such. Your death will only ever come because of a poor decision made in a moment of haste. The game is fair to the player, although the odds may always seem to be against you. Death is always a human experience. Dark Souls 3 isn’t all that different in this sense, although there’re some major differences to set the game apart from its predecessors.
When approaching a new area, you’ll get a spectacular view of the surrounding region; if you can see it, you’ll be going there in the not too distant future, which adds an incredible sense of scale to the world. Dark Souls was contained in a very vertical world, from Lost Izalith to Anor Londo; conversely, Darks souls 2 was an expansive continent. Dark Souls 3 world is a cross between the two – more like a vein; the further you travel through the world more branches off from the main route. There’s a lot of world contained here, and the more you explore, the more you have a chance to discover those little bits of lore that complete the story.
The first enemies you encounter will be the Hollow, who have basic attacks and serve as the fodder for the end of your weapon. When you do encounter your first knight, they’ll attack with far more aggression than they have in any of the previous games, and also have the same weapon skills as you. Every enemy encounter feels like a boss battle, overcoming them can feel like an achievement. Fans of the series may feel unfamiliar with the change of pace in combat, but the design of the game introduces this at a rate that feels comfortable. Having added agility to evade attacks gives you another tool to survive the world.
Although death is never the end, when you do see the infamous “You Died”, you soon understand that death is a mechanic. Going back to the last bonfire and having to fight your way back to your spilt souls. How is this explained in the game? Only those who have lost their way will go hollow – if you stop playing the game or give up on it, your character becomes one of the mindless enemies you have been slaying. Well, it’s in the lore, and it’s something I like to think of when others have given up on the game.
Hidetaka Miyazaki makes a welcome return as director, having taken the role of supervisor for the previous instalment. The man has a serious portfolio in terms of RPGs, to this day fans of the genre are still left wanting another Demon Souls games, and although Dark Souls is its spiritual successor, there has never been any connection to the series. Miyazaki’s influence and his attention to detail is nothing short of a masterful. Dark Souls was a rushed game, produced to an incredibly tight deadline. So much so that the Atorias of the Abyss DLC was cut content from the full game, yet the game is still considered the best in the series. People still refer back to the lore from the first game over that of Dark Souls 3.
Combat has been vastly improved, with some mechanics adjusted for balance. Attacks are on the right-hand side of the controller, covering basic light and heavy attack. The left side of the controller deals shield and parry attacks. Pressing Y or Triangle will two-hand the current weapon although this time it opens up some more unique moves, known as weapon skills. These skills open your character up, leaving you with minimal defence. There are new ways to guard break or inflict massive damage on enemies. The basic character, the Knight, has a bulk-standard long sword. The weapon’s two attacks when in weapon stance are Shield Splitter and Stance.
The timing for parries and guard breaks have been changed – missing them leaves you open to attack. Weapon skills are a much easier risk reward for opening an enemy’s guard, but they come with the obvious dangers. I feel that this has become much more of an inclusion for PvP, and allows most players easier access to this side of the game. The AI for invading characters has been vastly improved in some encounters, and these skills can help you wear them down.
Managing your stamina in combat is vitally important as it governs blocking, evading and attacks. Not having enough stamina can leave you open for enough time for a combo, or that one moment where the boss finishes you in one hit. Dark Souls is a series where patience is rewarded, and when you do finally defeat that boss, you don’t need an achievement to pop up on the screen to know you’ve defeated them. You have that sense of accomplishment of beating a boss that’s destroyed you time and time again. Your rewards are lore to fill the story, new weapons and most importantly, progression.
Dark Souls 3 has been heavily influenced by both Demon Souls and Bloodbourne; reusable items have hints and throws back to the previous series and elements of these games. For example, the Red-Eyed Knights make a return, as well as a maiden dressed in black – those up on their lore will know what this means. From Soft have used all of their previous experience, and have made an entry into the series that is going to be talked about for quite some time. Not only is Dark Souls 3 the best looking game in the series, it also has some of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever seen.
The only musical score in-game heralds the beginning of boss battles. Whilst exploring the world, there’s only have the ambient sound for company – the wind howling through the trees, lava bubbling away close by, or the clink of armour as you wander the parapets of the castle. The world feels empty. The lack of music absorbs you and gives you warnings and hints as to what may be coming, allowing a deeper level of immersion.
Dark Souls still has a vicious multiplayer system built in to the game – invasions from other players, with the use of the Cracked Red Eye Orb. Other players can invade you world at any time (when you are enkindled with flame), which adds a little bit more tension to one’s already shattered nerves. I was invaded by a red phantom, who in game play terms are the PvP covenant. This player was sent to my world to destroy me. The interloper’s character walked up to me and then bowed his head. I bowed back and we duelled. Of course not all players are this courteous – some players will hide in the environment and cheap-shot you, or force the enemies against you, but there is a mark of etiquette in this game. Without voice chat, emotes carry all you need to say. There’s a huge amount of respect amongst the Dark Souls community, and to this day it makes me happy to be a part of it
The world is always online, and from the opening cut scene and the previous games, fans will know that time in the Dark Souls universe is distorted. Wander throughout the world, and messages from other players appear. You’ll see other players as ghostly apparitions – running through an area, resting at the bonfire or slain where you stand. Having your world blend and distort with other players makes one realise that you’re not alone on your quest and that other players are suffering just as much as you are.
Dark Souls 3 is everything that a fan could want and more. There are some open discussions regarding the lore, things that need to be explained – other than via fan service – but it’s still early days for the story as a whole. With new game plus, more information will surely be added. DLC is coming out later this year, and I’m sure that as this is the last game in the series, the story will be filled out in order to bring it to an end. I also feel that the DLC will have some of the hardest bosses that have ever been seen.
For me, Dark Souls 3 is the perfect ending to the series; it includes enough of the previous lore to make it relevant, whilst adding new lore to stir up old memories. There are some issues that need to be considered. I’d imagine most of them will be patched at a later date, but at present, they’re quite substantial. The main complaint is the frame rate – boss battles can lag out completely. In a game where every frame counts, this is a huge concern. Camera movement can also cause the screen to stutter as whichever system you’re playing on catches up. There are issues with enemies clipping weapons through walls, as well as some of the new weapon art. At points, I’ve been locked down in a stun animation, which may be abused in PvP. That being said, anything with multiplayer elements and online functionality will potentially be updated in the future.
Despite its flaws, Dark Souls 3 is a perfect ten for me because of the memories and the way the game surprises you. In a year from now, my first experiences with a certain level are still going to evoke haunting feelings. Whenever I boot up the previous games this is still prevalent. However, due to the issues, and as much as it pains me to do so, I have to remain level-headed and score it realistically.
There’s still some work to be done, but as with the previous games, From Soft have a very good record of improving what they have. If you’ve never played a Souls game, please don’t be put off by the difficulty. There are Sun Brothers who will help to guide you through the world. It’d be a shame if Dark Souls 3 wasn’t experienced by as many people as possible. Dark Souls 3 may be the last game in the series, but it’s been given it one hell of a send-off.