When From Software introduced the world to the challenging Dark Souls series, I don’t think anyone could have imagined how successful the franchise would become, and just how much it would catapult the “ridiculously challenging game” genre into the spotlight of gamers’ minds. Yet, here we are, with the final entry in the series. With Dark Souls III having just released, and just like every previous From Software entry, this one promises to punish you until you either love it or hate it. However, while the game can be seen as a final goodbye to fans of the series, it’s hard not to see that there were some missed opportunities keeping this series from going out on a truly high note.
The first thing you notice when you start up any From Software title is the art, and that doesn’t change in Dark Souls III, though there is a catch. The art design in both the world and the enemies might be some of From’s best work to date. Nearly every enemy has its own unique feel and look, and the bosses are downright stunning in presentation and design. However, while the design continues to amaze, some of the game’s locations start to feel very similar as you make your way through. Upon first viewing, they are all incredible, but when every lair and rocky cliff starts to look the same, it can definitely be a drag on an otherwise stellar showing.
Thankfully, the soundtrack to the game has not suffered from any sort of monotony, and the haunting tones that play as you make your way through the game continue to be some of video gaming’s best. The game itself does a good enough job of creating tense moments, but the music only helps to accentuate those times. There’s nothing like making your way into a room only to hear the music kick into a frenzy as you realize you’ve stumbled upon a boss fight. Throughout the series, the music has always been some of the best sounds in any game, and it’s good to see that From didn’t skimp on it for their last ride.
Set sometime in between (or during? before? after?) the first and second Dark Souls, this game continues to take place in the kingdom of Lothric, a place that, by all standards, is a terrible place to live in. Nevertheless, you find yourself once again tasked with preventing the apocalypse, this time by having to hunt down and defeat the five Lords of Cinder, who happened to be people who lit the First Flame (your goals in Dark Souls I and II) and have since gone insane. As is the case with every game that From does, the lore and story within are masterfully crafted, even if it’s never directly in your face. Exploration is key in a game like this, and the story of Dark Souls is often told through tidbits of dialog and notes found scribbled in a hidden alley.
When you’re immediately thrown in, the game is somewhat merciful to you and gives you some hints to guide you on your way, along with enemies that generally aren’t that scary. But make no mistake, in the world of Dark Souls (or any game that From has created), death is not only present, it’s almost a given. This has oddly become one of the most popular aspects of the series, and something that Dark Souls III definitely continues to deliver on. It’s been discussed ad nauseam that the Souls style of games are truly punishing and can only be mastered by someone who is diligent enough to get better. Nothing has changed here, and Dark Souls III is another example of a game that, should you exhibit some measures of patience and strategy, will give you some of the most rewarding moments you’ve had in gaming.
I’ve touched a bit on how some of the locations feel a bit too familiar, and that’s the one real drag that kept coming back to me during my time with the game. Despite being an incredibly well made game, Dark Souls III never feels like it does anything particularly new. Enemies from the past return, some set pieces feel rehashed, and even the story doesn’t ever differ greatly from the “you are the chosen one” lore that we’ve been given time and time again. Some might argue that this is simply From Software’s way of saying goodbye to the series; bringing the story to a close and finishing the game that began as a cult classic and ended as a bonafide blockbuster, but to me, it just feels like From got a bit too comfortable in their time in Lothric.
When it comes to gameplay, not too much has changed, aside from a handful of stats that might affect how you build your character. Magic is now tied to focus points, which makes things like long range builds easier to use, and players who like to wield weapons like swords will find that there are a ton of choices to pick from; anything from katanas that offer different stances to daggers that allow you to step around enemies, there’s enough here for players to experiment on different builds for some time.
Sadly, while there are lots of choices, the game never really encourages you to experiment. Oftentimes, the way to beating a boss is through trial and error, and once you figure out how to do it, you aren’t inclined to switch to a completely different weapon. In the same vein, some weapons require you to fill certain stats to use it, which makes jumping from build to build almost impossible.
While playing, I did notice a some technical issues. Things like textures not loading/popping, janky movements, and some random moments of slowdown, although none of it was enough of a bother to take away from the game.
I may have gotten into a bit of a negative streak for the last couple of paragraphs, but don’t let those words fool you. Dark Souls III truly is a wonderful game, and might be one of the best games this generation has had to offer. From Software has mastered the genre of games that Dark Souls finds itself in, and it’s still very clear that no other company is ready to challenge them for the throne. If anything, the problems Dark Souls III has are all due to just how well the previous games have been built, and this one just couldn’t quite live up to the hefty expectations. Still, another compelling, exhilarating, and nostalgic experience make this a game that simply can’t be overlooked.
This review of Dark Souls III is based on a retail copy for the PlayStation 4 which was provided by From Software.