A lone knight kneels in the centre of a decrepit amphitheatre. You step forward, cautiously at first, betraying the fact that you know what’s coming. Moving closer, you see a blade plunged through the heart of the giant figure. With no option but to draw out the blade, the knight begins to stand, corrupted by a symbiote like organism on his back. He swings his halberd, and all too quickly it’s over. You fall.
You have died.
This is Dark Souls 3. The latest in a series of soulsborne titles that have become synonymous with death and difficulty, but deliver a powerful experience filled with learning and satisfaction. Miyazaki and From Software have once again crafted a stunning journey for players to enjoy, giving this iteration of the series the send off it deserves.
You are unkindled ash, this game’s ‘hollow’, tasked with reuniting the Lords of Cinder in order to stop the first flame from going out. The overall premise is pretty vague yet straightforward, allowing the gameplay and minor stories of Dark Souls to shine through; your personal journey, the world’s fate and the plight of the beings you meet.
Starting from your base of operations in the Firelink Shrine, you’ll set out on your exploration into Lothric and beyond from the High Walls, the game’s first area. As a starting section goes it does a great job of acclimating you to the basics of the game whether you’re a returning or new player. It highlights the Bloodborne style verticality and density you’ll find from here on out, mixed with signature souls architecture and level design.
More shortcuts and alternate paths weave through each area than in previous titles, a welcome addition for explorers out there, giving the developers countless new areas to hide secrets, lore and loot – or an untimely death. Each section of the world has its own beauty to it, from the marshy swamps to the undead town, the design of each has a lot of character. It also boasts the best graphics I’ve come across in a soulsborne game, especially on the PC, with each section looking more vivid than ever.
As the beauty of the game increases, so too does the difficulty, with some seriously hard bosses, foes and areas awaiting players. At first I was worried it was my general lack of Dark Souls skills hindering progress from time to time, but I was able to confirm with others playing it that it was indeed quite challenging. The upside is that it’s almost never unfair in its challenge – you’re supposed to learn from every mistake you make, be it dying to a boss or falling prey to an ambush.
There were only a few moments that an enemy felt unfair. Knowing you need to dodge an enemy’s move but getting caught, only to die because they can take you down fast can get a little frustrating, but it wasn’t a problem for the most part. The variety of foes you face is a refreshing facet after Dark Souls 2, with plenty of different enemies within a class as well as foes clearly influenced by Bloodborne.
The variety is showcased when you get to the bosses, triumphs of the title. These beasts and lords have a huge amount of personality poured into their design, and each one feels very unique. They’ll test your skill and patience over and over as you learn when to roll away and when to strike, giving you new patterns to learn and master as you progress. All of this is accompanied by some of the best in game scores I’ve come across, adding an extra layer of wonder to these climactic battles. These moments are Dark Souls 3 at its peak, especially when you emerge victorious.
The game plays a lot like previous souls titles with a noted plus – it gives you the option to play faster than before. The hybrid combat mixes the speed and aggression valued in Bloodborne with a calculated patience previous Souls players will be well versed in. It results in a very diverse playstyle adaptable by the class you pick, and the gear you find.
Gear is plentiful in Dark Souls 3, which is very welcome. Weapons drop especially frequently, giving you plenty of options when tackling how to build your character. I opted for dual scimitars on my Mercenary character, evolving into a shield and curved sword as the difficulty ramped. Weapon arts evolve the way you tackle combat even more, giving you special abilities and moves for the gear you choose to take into battle.
I also dabbled with spells during my time in the game, useful for a last minute heal or to wear enemies down from afar with fireballs. Pyromancy especially spoke to me, but these spells allow you to capitalise on your foes’ elemental vulnerabilities, shooting spirit arrows from afar or turning your hand into a flamethrower. While you still would need conventional weapons, a spell based playthrough is a very tempting style to try when I tackle Dark Souls 3 again.
You’ll find yourself returning to the hub world quite often in order to enhance the gear you have and level up. Aside from containing vendors, the Firelink Shrine is where the Lords of Cinder you’ve returned end up, along with other NPC’s you find out in the world. Returning here regularly and talking to these people will give you new opportunities to explore and develop your character, giving you plenty of reasons to return to past areas and explore deeper.
During my playthrough I played connected to the internet. While I never ended up invading another’s world or deeply exploring the multiplayer component, ghostly shadows of other players regularly flittered through my world. Dotted notes of help (and sometimes hindrance) littered the ground, and I had very few issues with disconnects. I’ll update this review if needs be, but for now the game’s online component seems stable.
Dark Souls 3 is nearly everything a Dark Souls fan could dream of in a sequel. It takes the best of the games that came before it, and with Miyazaki back in charge, feels stronger than ever. From dense and varied environments to the game’s art direction and story, Dark Souls 3 is a trial by fire well worth experiencing, sure to stick with players long after the final foe falls.
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One
A review copy was provided by the publisher.