Dark Souls 3 review from a Souls veteran

Ever since I got my hands on Dark Souls 3 I was simply transfixed. All of my waking hours have been spent in an endless pursuit of souls to feed my boundless hunger for fancy new armor sets, and despite praising the Sun I don't remember the last time I've seen it. I have become something alike the hollows that roam the land, utterly consumed by Dark Souls 3.

At this point its fairly well known that Dark Souls 3 is good, but I don't think simply 'good' does it justice given that I am currently thinking long and hard on whether Dark Souls 1 is still my favorite game of all time. So what exactly makes Dark Souls 3 so compelling, and how does it match up against the entirety of the extended Souls family?

 

The first thing one will notice with Dark Souls 3 is that its an evolution of all the concepts found in previous games, with the biggest influence coming from Bloodborne, what with the numerous dilapidated hamlets, dirty villagers driven mad by things far beyond their understanding, and a constant oppressive aura that spreads throughout the majority of locations. The combat is another good example as Dark Souls 3 is much, much faster than Dark Souls 1 and 2, especially when it comes to dodge-rolling and enemy attacks.

In a bit of a controversial, but to me very welcome change, you can now achieve the fastest level of dodge-rolling at 70% equipment load, which means you are able to sport whatever look you want to, and still have actual mobility in combat. Its not very realistic, but then again neither is equipping two rings alongside the heaviest, bulkiest armor you can find, and then flipping around like a ninja as you could in Dark Souls 1 and 2.

Dark Souls 3 lets you dress like a badass

Ragged flowing cape and a giant sword? Badass status confirmed!

On the other hand, there should be very little controversy about the combat itself as it has been sped up in all the right areas, while still retaining that slow, methodical feeling we've all come to love about Dark Souls. You might feel invincible with your speedy dodge-roll, improved character handling, and overall better combat mechanics, but when it comes to the enemies, these are the finest monstrosities Lothric could produce, each one capable of ending your overenthusiastic life at the flick of a knife.

The enemies are much faster than in previous games, and for the most part a lot smarter as well, though they still seem to have issues with grasping the concept of doors and will often get stuck jogging in place for a couple of seconds. Its not actually a big problem given that you don't tend to fight in corridors all that often, but its strange seeing enemies that are able to maneuver quite well around the battlefield get stuck on such simple objects.

As for the encounter design, I believe Dark Souls 2's catch phrase fits here rather well: Prepare to die! After seeing players stomp all over their games for a couple of years now, FromSoftware have stopped pulling punches, and have designed enemies and locations in such a way that they will often punish the unwary traveler, while simultaneously greatly rewarding those that think outside of the box.

Dark Souls 3 features the Black Knights

Backstabbing Black Knights... its like I never left Dark Souls 1

Dark Souls 3 may be a brutal mistress, but it does love you, so almost every time it horrifically murders you, throws you off a cliff, or has rats gnaw on your kneecaps, it also gives you a bonfire shortly afterwards, both as an apology, and as a reward for a battle well fought. The end result of this sort of level design is that I never felt pissed off after dying, instead I would keep all of my anger bottled up within me for the 30 seconds it took to run back to where I was, promptly go medieval on whoever killed me, die again because I was reckless, and then finally decide to try and approach the situation like a sane person.

The same mentality applies to the bosses as well. Approach them with caution, analyze their movement, attack only when the opportunity presents itself, and you can beat the entire fight without taking even a single sliver of damage. If you instead decide to go in to the fight and attack the boss with reckless abandon, you will find yourself dying rapidly against even the easiest of foes, as I've humbly learned from the first tutorial boss despite being a ~400 hour veteran of Souls games.

Dark Souls 3 Uchigatana wielding boss is tough

Now this is just embarrassing, he beat me without even wearing pants!

But perhaps the best boss-related feature of Dark Souls 3 is that the dreaded puzzle bosses, ie. bosses that require you to deal with secondary mechanics besides simply fighting them, are for once interactive, and most importantly, fun to do. My favorite example of this is a boss fight that occurs relatively early in the game against a Wizard that is weak on his own, but is capable of spawning powerful illusions from the crystals he throws around everywhere.

Instead of simply smashing his face in like you would with Pinwheel from Dark Souls 1, you will need to actually deal with the crystals by choosing on the fly which ones to destroy, and which ones to ignore as you endlessly pursue a boss that likes to run away and laugh at you. Its a simple concept that you will grasp almost instantly, but the execution can be quite tricky as you will end up in a world of hurt if you allow illusions to encircle you due to poor crystal management.

Dark Souls 3 Crystal Sage boss is a nasty fight

Great dodge! Its just a shame I got hit in the face by that bolt on the left...

After you finally defeat the boss and fumble through the gesture system in search of "Jump for Joy" you'll probably want to head back home and spend all of those delicious souls, and maybe even relax in the cool darkness of Firelink Shrine. You can explore the rooftops in search of secrets and loot, head over to good ol' Andre and upgrade your equipment, or just engage in a spot of jolly conversation with the various characters that now inhabit the place.

Much like the characters in Demons Souls, the Souls game that started this trend, the people you meet in the Shrine have their own issues to deal with, losses to mourn and objectives to complete, some of which are potentially lethal depending on the decisions you make, though I obviously won't tell you more than this, because where's the fun in that! What I will tell you is that everybody's favorite rat-bastard "Trusty" Patches returns once again with his ill-fated attempts at murdering you, and equally pathetic excuses once caught. Despite hating his guts, it was nice seeing a familiar face, alongside one other bulbous knight I will leave for you to discover.

Dark Souls 3 Crestfallen bro is back!

Its not Dark Souls without the Crestfallen Knight dissing your efforts

While in the Shrine you'll be able to grab yourself a couple of items that enable multiplayer, both the co-operative and stab-people-in-the-face kind. While the multiplayer remains largely the same as in the previous incarnations of the Souls series, there has been one major update in the form of various Network Connection options that allow you to restrict multiplayer only to people within your region, play exclusively with your friend, and even mess around with summon-sign visibility in case you want to play as independently as possible, a route I always chose for my first playthrough.

While only slightly related to true PvP, the NPC invaders you'll meet during your travels through Lothric have been learning from that one douchebag in Dark Souls 2's Ivory King DLC, and are far more cunning than the rabble you might meet in Dark Souls 1. My favorite example is the mage that invades you during your travels through the forest, an NPC so spell-happy and cowardly that I genuinely thought he was a real person until the very end. Not all of them are like this, thank goodness, but the ones that are will make your exploration just a bit more interesting.

Dark Souls 3 features some nasty NPC invaders

Trees, a spell-spammer's worst enemy!

Speaking of exploration, the open-ended levels from Dark Souls 1 and Bloodborne are back with a vengeance. There are secrets and side-areas almost everywhere, so much so that despite considering myself an obsessively thorough explorer I managed to completely miss one boss, a fact that a friend who never even touched Dark Souls 3 pointed out to me when he noticed a hillside path I managed to completely gloss over. Worst of all for my sanity, I've found exactly one secret wall, which is just enough to let me know that they exist, and that I've probably missed dozens!

The only real critique I can level against Dark Souls 3 in regards to exploration is that it does the whole interconnected-world business slightly worse than Dark Souls 1. There's still shortcuts that lead you back to bonfires you've visited hours ago which is always an excellent "oooh, I'm here!" moment, but there are scarcely few ways to tackle areas out of order, one of my favorite features of Dark Souls 1.

Dark Souls 3 zombies/hollows are a dangerous bunch

One of my favorite areas, the zombie infested graveyard where the only option is to run

The final thing I wanted to point out is that Dark Souls 3 is an absolutely gorgeous game. Ever since the Souls series rid itself the shackles of ancient consoles, the visuals have soared: there's more wide-open areas, textures are cleaner, character and armor models are far more detailed, and the lighting system from Dark Souls 2 is back and better than ever, though I still haven't discovered an area that absolutely requires a torch.

To top it all off, the PC performance is also excellent across the board, details on which you can read in my PC analysis. Long story short, if you have a mid-ranged gaming PC you should have no trouble playing Dark Souls 3 on high with FPS still hovering around 60. Bear in mind, however, that some areas are quite taxing on the CPU, so if you're running an old model you might run in to some FPS drops during the busier sections, but should otherwise be OK. If you're worried about not being able to run Dark Souls 3, make sure to use the fact that you can demo a game on Steam for 2 hours in order to test it out. The tutorial sports some lovely vistas with lots of things going on at once, so it should be a good way of testing your rig.

Verdict

Dark Souls 3 is a masterpiece, and I don't use those words lightly, especially since its currently fighting with my darling Dark Souls 1 for the lofty position of "my favorite game". It sports an impressive variety of weapons, an equally baffling amount of enemies, brilliant atmosphere and passive world-building, excellent level design, and most importantly, it manages to do all of that while still being absolutely massive in size.

I'm not exaggerating that last part, I've spent over 20 hours with Dark Souls 3 this week, and yet I still don't feel like I'm nearing the end, the challenges and bosses just keep piling on. So rather than give you a generic recommendation, allow me to simply say this: As soon as I edit this review I'm going to go back and beat the living daylight out of the bloody knight that has managed to best me over a dozen times now, because as everyone knows, if you don't beat someone at first, you keep throwing bodies at them until you do.

If you're interested in some pure gameplay footage that shows off the above mentioned zombie infested graveyard, have a look at the most recent Gameplay Showcase I've done:

 

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