STAFF REVIEW of Dark Souls III (Xbox One)

Sunday, April 17, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Dark Souls III Box art When you ask someone about the Dark Souls games it’s almost a guarantee that the game’s difficulty is one of the first talking points, as it should be, because it simply wouldn’t be the same game without the brutal challenge. Now in its third iteration, Dark Souls looks to bring fans back to an unforgiving world, playing into its strengths and attempting to improve what many disliked about the previous installment.

Dark Souls places you in a world and allows you to explore and learn about it all on your own, with little to no help at all. You’re given no clues on what to do, where to go, or how to do it. Oddly enough, this is what Dark Souls does best, as you’re rewarded for your perseverance, determination, and sticking with it regardless of the frustration it causes.

Truth be told, I’m absolutely terrible at the Dark Souls games. I barely got a few bosses into the first game before giving up, which caused me to essentially skip part 2 all together. I simply didn’t have the patience for the game at the time and became frustrated very easily with the numerous deaths. I understood what I was getting into, I just didn’t give it the time needed to understand it very well or to become better.

I remedied this while playing Dark Souls III. I’m still not that great, but I’m much better than I previously was, as I spent the time necessary to learn the small intricacies that makes Dark Souls stand out against the competition. I’ve gone from blaming the game of being ‘cheap’ and ‘unfair’ to realizing that every death was completely my fault. It’s quite liberating to be honest, to go from being ‘scared’ of the game mechanics and fearing death, to accepting the challenge and learning what I did wrong. Eventually I was able to take down bosses after a few attempts without being hit and this instills great pride and accomplishment. It really is how Dark Souls III succeeds if you let it and endure.

You are the Ashen One, tasked with freeing the Realm of Lothric from a looming destruction, but the only way to do this is to destroy the Lords of Cinder. Normally I would go into more depth about the plot and narrative, but a problem the series has had since the beginning is its weakness in storytelling. Sure it has a great backdrop and memorable characters, but from a narrative standpoint, much of it is lost in weak dialogue and item descriptions, rather than telling the narrative in a grand fashion through cinematics. Other than a few minor points, it’s difficult to grasp what’s going on and why. I was hoping Dark Souls III would remedy this ongoing shortcoming, but it still focuses on tone rather than storytelling.

It would have been quite easy for FromSoftware to simply add some new enemies, bosses, areas, and call it a day, but they’ve taken the time to address fan complaints from the previous game while also adding new and welcome gameplay changes. Don’t fret longtime fans, as it’s still a Souls game that you’ve come to love over the years.

You’ll still need to be cautious, as death can come from any enemy should you let your guard down. You’re able to cater to your playstyle, allowing sword, shield, and staff combinations. There’s even a new skill system that allows you to use an alternative attack with your weapons and magic, allowing for further battle strategies and new ways to play. This weapon skill is the equivalent to an ‘ultra-ability’ and can even give you a buff. Of course the core gameplay itself is vastly unchanged, but the new classes and small tweaks are a welcome addition for returning players and newcomers to the series.

The games environments are absolutely gorgeous, which is an odd sentiment considering how darkly and grim the setting is. Level design is brilliant in some areas, as there are multiple pathways that branch out, always leaving you unsure of which way you should go. Some areas are very wide in scope, while others are more vertical in nature, though almost every area seems to have intricate secrets hidden within and interlinking pathways that allow for easy access should you take the time to discover them.

Bonfires still act as checkpoints and teleport locations. Here is where you rest, refilling your Estus Flasks and recovering your health, but if you do you 'rest' here you also respawn all the enemies. The ease of fast travel allows you to return to any specific area once uncovered and you’ll be making use of this quite often to return back to the Firelink Shrine to level up, upgrade your gear and more; your home base if you will.

Aside from the world itself, the bosses are the shining star of Dark Souls III. These usually monstrous beasts range in design and mechanics from simple (even for someone with my skill set) to incredibly huge and unrelenting. Some bosses are simply about learning their attack patterns, which sometimes takes a few deaths to figure out to best them, while others are much more intricate and unique. Most bosses usually have two phases in some way, as to keep you on your toes and constantly challenge you while keeping the situation tense.

Dark Souls III is great at letting you learn an enemy type just enough so that you feel confident battling them in any situation, but then it pulls the rug out from under you by changing things up in unexpected ways, always forcing you to stay alert and expect anything. Many of my deaths were from underestimating a simple enemy I’ve fought numerous times before. Patience and uncertainty is required to progress no matter how confident you feel.

While for the most part I found the overall difficulty to be slightly easier than previous Souls games, that doesn’t mean it’s simple by any means. The game's lock-on system is meant to help you, which at times it does to be fair, but many times it was also more of a hindrance and caused me many lost souls. Numerous times it will lock onto the wrong intended target, refuse to lock, or unlock for whatever reason. When locked on, be weary of close quarter areas and corners though, as the camera doesn’t always play nice and can easily cause a death that really wasn’t “your” fault. These issues didn’t happen frequently, but just enough to cause unneeded frustration.

It’s near impossible to discuss Dark Souls III without delving into its difficulty. You’re going to die a lot, and you simply need to accept that. As I mentioned earlier, it feels as though the difficulty curve is slightly more forgiving than its predecessors, which makes Dark Souls III a good entry point for new-comers to the series. Regardless, you’re going to struggle in certain areas, but once you understand that the game itself isn’t unfair (for the most part) and you take the time to learn and understand what it has to offer, you’ll start to enjoy it much more for what it is and not hate it for what it does.

Many mechanics and items aren’t explained in some lengthy tutorial for you to slog through, meaning you need to take the time and experiment to figure out what certain items do or even how to use them. Case in point, I spent an hour trying to figure out how to correctly use the Embers that bosses dropped and a few NPC’s sold, since it’s not explained anywhere within the game itself. Embers are comparable to the original game’s Humanity, boosting your HP, but also playing a vital role for the online features. Embers are used for the multiplayer component, allowing you to play with random people or friends by allowing password-only games. Be prepared though, as doing so also opens your world up to invading players as well.

While the world is built with incredible detail and precision, taking on a tone of its own, it’s accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack. The mood is set by faint music that’s fitting to your current setting, even more so during boss battles when it blares something more appropriate to your current situation.

Dark Souls III isn’t without its flaws, as it still lacks great storytelling and not teaching you its intricacies seems more of an arbitrary way to ‘up’ its difficulty. I by no means would like an easy mode included, but there’s no harm in at least explaining items and mechanics in more detail if it’s wanted by the player.

Risk vs reward is the delicate balance that’s in constant sway. You risk by going to new areas and fighting unseen enemies, and the reward is more than simple loot, as you not only progress further into the game, but in skill as well. I’m feel like I am still learning what it has to offer, as I’m still constantly put out of my comfort zone, but I’m accepting of that and slowly becoming better because of it. If you’re new to the series, begin here, as the opening areas aren’t nearly as brutal and confusing as previous games, and if you’re a returning fan, know that FromSoftware still has the magic touch at creating an incredibly atmospheric game.

Praise the Sun!

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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