Review: Dark Souls III 

For the third time, prepare to die

****1/2
dark_souls.jpg


Dark Souls III
feels like a culmination of everything that’s come before.

By combining the defensive combat and heavily equipment bases stats of the original Dark Souls, and a dash of the fast and furious combat of Bloodborne, From Software have managed to make what is easily their best game, and a perfect capstone to Souls series. 


In preparation for this review I replayed the first section of the original Dark Souls. While I was the enjoying the atmosphere and the lore I was slowly starting to understand, what the playthrough really did was remind me why I enjoyed Bloodborne so much more.

To me, while enjoyable, the original felt unwieldy. There always seemed to be a slight disconnect between my inputted commands and the actions my character took. Bloodborne fixed all these problems, making the controls far smoother, and sped things up significantly by putting and emphasis on offense rather than defense.
Souls III pulls back towards defense, but not entirely. Aggressive offense is a much more viable option than it was in previous Souls games, though only within reason. The monsters this time around, particular the bosses, seem designed with a balance of attack and defense in mind, and let me tell you, these are some of the most spectacular looking boss fights I’ve ever seen.

The level design feels sort of like a hybrid of previous games. Each individual area is a sprawling interconnected maze full of shortcuts, back doors and hidden secrets, though largely self contained. These levels are strung likes beads on a necklace along a largely linear road, which is navigated via a hub world reminiscent of the franchise progenitor, Demons Souls.

This may disappoint diehard fans of the original, whose entire map was basically one big puzzle box stacked vertically, I found the level design here well laid out, fun to explore and visually breathtaking.

The story, as it is, picks up a few thousand years after the events of the previous games, and the world is once again in the throws of its cyclical stumble towards oblivion. The player takes the role of an Ashen One, an undead warrior chosen to bring together the Lords of Cinder, which will do….something.

The narrative of the Souls franchise is known for being vague, labyrinthine, and incredibly difficult to follow. Like with previous entries in the series, most of the story is dished out through the item descriptions and a few vague lines of dialogue uttered by mostly insane NPC’s.

You could probably take a semester or two worth of classes on the timeline, terminology and thematic elements and still not be entirely sure what’s going on, though Souls veterans will at least have a slight leg up on newcomers.

Dark Soul’s III, however, actually manages to weave an excellent story from the series mythology (even if you’ll have to watch a YouTube video or two to put all its disparate pieces together) that genuinely feels like a finale. From Software has said this will be the finale entry in the series, and that’s probably a good thing. Now they can move on to new pastures, and leave the series and universe un-milked and untainted.

If the game has one major problem, it’s balancing. I was playing as the standard knight class, and for the first five or so boss battles, I never once found a piece of equipment that was better than my starting sword, shield and armor set.
Right from the beginning, there was a shop where I could buy weapons, upgrade materials, and even sell unwanted goods.

And on top of that, enemies dropped Titanite, upgrade material, far more frequently than in previous entries.

All of this was clearly done to make the game more accessible to newcomers, something I’m more than open too. But what it ends up accomplishing is making the early levels far too easy for anyone already familiar with the game's systems.

Dark Souls III is a fantastic, if not perfect entry in an already great series, and well worth checking out for anyone who wants a good challenge, even if they’ve never tried a Souls game before.

As for series fans, well, they’ve probably beaten the game twice by now, and are trying for a third run with no weapons or check points.

What a lovely, crazy fanbase. 

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