Many Glorious Deaths Await
A new chapter arises in a series that developer From Software never anticipated would include multiple entries. Thankfully Dark Souls III treads lightly with regards to shaking up the formula and upsetting the balance that has appealed to a challenge-hungry audience since its inception. The minority who have found the difficulty too punishing in past Souls games will find a slightly more gentle curve to begin, with plenty of opportunities to reinforce their Unkindled hero to tackle obstacles when the slope of that curve angles sharply south.
Your journey through the kingdom of Lothric is a tenuous trek from bonfire to bonfire – the game’s checkpoints – with anxiety compounding as you enter new corridors, turn down uncertain corners, and move further away from the sanctuary of your lit flame. Navigating the heights and depths of the imposing yet visually stunning walled-in city and the massive keep casting the town below in perpetual shadow tests your patience and tactical prowess as much as engaging the game’s deadly monsters in combat. It’s a thoroughly satisfying endeavor to set your goals with each pilgrimage away from the bonfire, deciding on whether to brave uncharted territories, retrace discovered sections to grind your currency of souls and hope for a rare loot drop, or move gingerly around lesser enemies to conserve health, magic, and rejuvenating Estus flasks against a formidable foe barring your passage.
The basic controls are presented via scratch marks on the ground, the same as the custom made ones you can leave as guidance for other players in their single-player struggle. Take heed of the text on these scrawls, as they can warn of impending doom, as well as give simple tactics that could spare your life. The fleetness of your movements has lightened from past Souls game, allowing you to react more quickly to enemy strikes, making dodges and rolls as much an asset as blocking to mitigate damage. Timing is still a critical factor, and memorizing the speed of each weapon attack, as well as their statistical strengths against an enemy’s particular resistances and vulnerabilities will determine whether you die ten times or fifty times trying to slay your opponent.
Yes, you will die, often, but though Dark Souls III presents a difficulty that borders on torturous, it is never impossible, and the level of frustration is replaced by an equal level of elation when the final strike downs your foe. There are likely to be fervent arguments that the game is unfair, but the blame for each death falls almost entirely on the player. I say “almost” because here, like in past Souls, the game’s most frustrating enemy is the camera. It’s hard to find solace and pick yourself up after the camera gets stuck in a wall or mysteriously loses its lock on the enemy, followed by a mortal blow at an inopportune time. It is the nature of the beast called a three-dimensional setting, though it stings more painfully in a game like this.
Dark Souls III plays a little with character classes, but don’t feel like your choice chains you down. Yes, you’re given options such as a knight, cleric, and pyromancer, but these are merely introductory templates to get a flavor on your taste buds. As you progress and spend souls to level up and increase attributes, you’ll discover that your starting class transforms into an original creation fitted around your changing preferences. Perhaps you’ll begin as a sorcerer, but fancy crafting a mighty greataxe from the soul of Yhorm the Giant, dedicating further level increase points to your Strength score in order to wield it properly. Or maybe as a assassin you come across a Lightning Storm miracle spell, and find yourself tempted to focus on increasing your Faith score to cast it. The pliancy of the class system keeps you from being bound to a rigid skill set, a breath of relief in a game that demands a heavy investment of patience and effort.
Other role-playing elements are drizzled around the kingdom, though most are condensed in the Firelink Shrine, the morbid social hub of the game. Along with leveling up, your precious supply of souls can be used to purchase new weapons, gear, and consumables from a rather disturbing crone, and the rippling blacksmith Andre is always available to enhance your equipment and offer a positive conversation that seems almost unbefitting to the hopeless pessimism that permeates the rest of the game. As you defeat the Lords of Cinder and introduce yourself to some odd and unique non-player characters, the Firelink Shrine will bustle with life, in a manner of speaking, echoing conversations through the hallowed halls and piecing together the lore of a once mighty kingdom.
Though typically grim, listening to the uninflected dialogue is a welcome salve to the unsettling silence that pervades the air in the haunting and treacherous slums. Yet the silence is a masterful design choice. Every pebble that crumbles off a wall and causes you to whip the camera around in haste, every footstep heard in a room beyond your vision calls your valor into question. Dark Souls III may not be a game designed around jump scares, but when the sight and sound of being struck by a concealed assailant jerks your heart, you’ll appreciate what powerful tools shadows and silence are in creating atmosphere.
Devout followers of the Souls series will immediately discover that Dark Souls III is in many respects more of the same, and the majority of them couldn’t be happier with that judgment. It is a challenging adventure unlike any other in the field, with the personal gratification after overcoming arduous obstacles second to none. The environment, though lacking much of a color palette, is an intricately detailed necropolis filled with terrors and rewards alike. The loose class system invites you to follow your own path, and the slightly relaxed introduction and accessible sanctuary of the Firelink Shrine beckons newcomers to give it a try. It is a stout and exceptionally formed entry in a series that keeps a steady course in the heart of its fans.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
From grotesque monsters to a highly detailed backdrop and fluid animations, it is both gorgeous and unsettling. The player character models are a tad underwhelming, and just bit more color used as an accent would have been nice. 4.4 Control
Movement is not as burdened as in the past, giving combat a little more zip but forcing you to be more careful as you travel. The camera can at times be the most frustrating enemy, and the menu screens are not very user-friendly. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The silence accentuates every subtle sound effect. The echoing clashes in combat are equally impressive, as are the vocally booming orchestrations. 4.4 Play Value
It’s a new adventure but in the same vein as past Souls games, which most will find to be a welcome prospect. There are hundreds of hours to spend dying here, so enjoy! 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best