The Lords will abandon their thrones and the unkindled will rise
Dark Souls III, the final game in the series, has finally been released to the Western public, and I, as the team’s most avid Souls fan, donned my weapons and estus flasks, and trekked into the final Souls game. But is it the game we’ve all been waiting for?
Let’s start with the gameplay. From Software seem to have taken inspiration from both the original Dark Souls and Bloodborne, as the movement and controls are superb. Movement feels fast and sleek; running and rolling doesn’t feel clunky like Dark Souls II suffered from, and the jump mechanic is much larger than before. It actually feels like we’re running and jumping, rather than like we’re simply power walking or doing a tiny hop. It’s nice to see that they’ve improved the controls and movement, and it certainly makes the game much more enjoyable to play.
Combat has definitely improved from before too. Instant backstabs return from Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, but while some may complain that this is a negative, I see it as a positive. In Dark Souls II, the backstab mechanic was very convoluted and made backstabs almost unplayable. Not only this, but it actually encouraged players to “fish” for backstabs, as when they did connect, it locked the opposing player into the animation, regardless of how far they’d moved since their enemy performed the attack. The new backstab mechanic seems to fix this issue, which is a nice fix. The rest of the combat is mostly the same as the original Dark Souls too; parry animations, the kick animation, etc, though the ability to two hand your left hand weapon returns from Dark Souls II.
However, they added the weapon arts; a new mechanic that changes the combat in some way. This is activated by two handing your weapon and pressing the left trigger button, which can do bonuses from weapon buffs to changing the move set of your weapon while holding it down. This uses FP points, which leads me onto the next new thing. FP points are essentially mana points, and are used to cast spells/miracles/pyromancies. Unlike stamina, this doesn’t regenerate over time, and so to gain FP back you must either rest at a bonfire, or use your Ashen Estus Flasks. But the more Ashen Flasks you have, the less regular Estus Flasks you can have, and so requires balancing with which you plan on using more. The combat has definitely improved and feels amazing, and every swing feels fluent and strong.
Onto the graphics, and these are absolutely beautiful. The game engine has had a massive overhaul, and it really shows; each area looks stunning, with amazing views and detailed enemies and characters. Environments contain the usual dark and dreary atmosphere that makes the games so pretty to look at, and the horrific monstrosities we face strike fear into even the most steeled players. There seem to be a lack of graphical bugs, which were prominent in its predecessors, and so this only speaks better about the game. Some players are reporting the occasional frame rate drop, which can lag the game and sometimes result in death, but otherwise, there are very few issues with the graphics.
Many areas are inspired by the earlier games. Firelink Shrine, returning from Dark Souls, has a striking similarity to the Nexus from Demon’s Souls, as well as the return of every fan’s favourite blacksmith, Andre. This can be argued for and against the game; while it’s great to see many throwbacks to their previous games and the designs that were so beautiful the first time around, it can be said that it shows laziness on their part to create new areas/designs. Personally, I’m glad to see these throwback and Andre’s rightful return as the beloved blacksmith, but it can argued against it too.
The story of the game is told in a similar way to the original games. A (very) simple version of the background story is told by a narrator in the introduction video, an NPC tells you where to go and what to do, and then off you go. The item descriptions hide the stories of the game and its characters, and requires you to read each one to find the detailed and complete lore. Despite being the same mechanic for each Souls game so far (including Bloodborne), it’s still an interesting concept, and definitely one that is best suited to the Souls series. It encourages you to actually think and look deeper, rather than blindly running through the game. You can do that of course, but you’d miss out on a massive chunk of the story. The game has you hunting down the Lords of Cinder to return them to their thrones and rekindle the flame, in order to keep the world from falling into darkness. This has been a theme for every Souls game so far (except Demon’s), and is presented to us in a well executed manner; you really feel like this is the final battle between light and dark, and fits the final Dark Souls game well.
It’d be crazy to review a Souls game and NOT discuss the difficulty, and oh boy does this one deliver. One of the reasons it has such a large fanbase is due to its harsh challenges and difficulty. Dark Souls III is no exception. Now, as a Souls veteran, I already have experience with how to play the series and so have an advantage immediately. But this game had even me struggling and getting angry. It took me a total of two hours to beat Vordt of the Boreal Valley; the first boss we encounter outside of the tutorial. The bosses, similar to Bloodborne, have different “stages” as you lower their health, and it can catch you off-guard and punish you quickly. Vordt went from being a slow-moving behemoth to a Sonic the Hedgehog-speed behemoth that will wipe the floor with you before you can react. It was incredibly challenging, but rewarding; the sense of victory and adrenaline pumping through your body as you defeat a hard boss is why so many players love this series, and Dark Souls III delivers this feeling perfectly.
The online component of the game has definitely improved from the previous installments. Similarly to its predecessors, there are two sides to it; co-op and PvP. Co-op is done through players placing their “summon signs” on the ground via white sign soapstones, which players can then bring into their game to help. PvP is done through the use of red-eye orbs, forcing yourself into a player’s world with the intent of killing them and halting their progress. What’s different this time though, is that you don’t need to be in “ember form” (DSIII’s version of the human form from the previous games) to invade, and killing the host rewards you with an ember. Ember form gives you a big increase in health, but also pretty rare, and so these will be sought after desperately by players. But don’t worry; you can’t be invaded unless you’re in ember form, so you can either run an area in hollow form or summon players to help when an invader comes knocking your door down.
Where the previous games suffered though, this one shines. In my experience with PvP from before, there were connectivity issues and broken hitboxes (those who played DSII will know), but these seem to be gone with the wind in DSIII. I have easily connected to both co-op and PvP, and the hitboxes appear to be fixed. However, many players are reporting issues with connecting to online sessions, so while some are unaffected, the issue seems to be there. However, it has only been out a short time, so will hopefully be fixed soon.
Our other writer, Cody, also played the game, and had this to say:
“Being introduced to such gripping elements such as desolation and death leaves an impression that keeps you coming back. Against the staggering difficultly that ultimately lies with your character selection and play style and grows finer with detail by the second.. especially well if you’re a glutton for pain and suffering. The combat system is a true work of art, providing unforgiving conditions for a wrong side step or roll and better yet enemies all have unique patterns and it’s not outside of the norm for them to chase you when you start running for your life. The fluid mixture between cinematic beauty and organic elements of the game really drive you to explore and examine every part of the map, and as you delve deeper into the game your tactics and how you approach enemies are constantly put to the test. With a drive to test the player at any given chance, this action role-playing game by FromSoftware continues to push the limits of player punishment and eagerness for achievement”
Overall, Dark Souls III took all the best parts of the Souls series, and improved on both them and the negative parts. With amazing gameplay, fun PvP, an engaging story and beautiful graphics, the good really trumps the bad, getting this game a score of 94%.
Gamer’s Pantheon Score – 94%
– Great gameplay
– Beautiful graphics and environments
– Engaging and in-depth story and lore
– Intense and fun PvP
– Challenging difficulty that forces both strategy and improvising
– Throwbacks to the previous installments that please the fans
– Online connectivity issues
– Occasional frame rate drops
– Returning characters can be seen as laziness