Dark Souls 3 is a game from the series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki, who also recently created the well received PS4 exclusive Bloodborne. Dark Souls 3 is not only a game that fans of the series will love but will also give new players a great experience.
I have to say that over the years I have played the Souls series a bit, with short experiences with the original Dark Souls and even a bit of Demon Souls. It wasn’t really until Bloodborne, which quickly became my favourite game of last year and in my opinion PlayStation’s best exclusive that I began to love the series. Since then I have gone back and played through Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 and it has now become one of my favourite series in gaming.
This time around the story sees you seeking out the last remaining Lords of Cinder, with plenty of references, call backs and nods to past areas and events in the previous games. Dark Souls 3 is a terrifying journey that sees you cautiously make your way through some horrifically harrowing environments whilst confronting nightmarish enemies and beasts. Despite the dark and gruesome tone, the world around you is quite simply stunning, with beautifully designed scenery and gorgeous visuals.
Being a Souls game you are going to die, a lot. The game doesn’t hold back and everything around you more often than not is intent on killing you. Dark Souls 3 can be seen as a reintroduction that does link to previous games but also offers new players to jump in and discover what the series has to offer. Bloodborne was a much faster paced and frenzied experience than past Souls game, which focused on quick combat, the ability to dash sideways and you even have a gun to stagger enemies. Bloodborne very much encouraged an aggressive approach to combat with its regenerative health bar, whereas Dark Souls 3 is much more like the previous Souls games whilst taking some inspiration from Bloodborne. Instead of using your gun and dash like in Bloodborne, you have to rely on rolling, strafing and parrying to confront enemies. The combat here is still fast but it feels more rhythmic and heavily focuses on timing and precision.
The enemies are varied, beautifully gruesome and even more awe-inspiring than ever. Whether you’re hacking your way through hordes of crumbling skeletons, evading gigantic dragons or backstabbing nightmarish beasts there are always jaw dropping moments and new surprises around every corner.
The game starts out like you would expect, with you creating a character, which has a lot of depth and requires you to take some time in doing so. This is also where you will be choosing your class ranging from Knights to Assassins and Warriors. When starting out I actually spent some time experimenting in the first area with a few of the different classes to see which I preferred the most. I decided to personally go with the warrior class, that being said once you start collecting souls and upgrading your character it doesn’t really matter what class you go with. Defeating enemies in the world grants you souls which are used to purchase equipment and upgrade your character’s stats at Firelink Shine (your base bonfire). These souls are carried around with you as you kill more enemies, and if you die, you will drop the souls in that area. It’s possible to head back after respawning to regain them but be aware that if you die on your way back to retrieve them they will be lost forever. This is where the “risk and reward” gameplay mechanic comes in, which means you have to choose whether to venture forward with depleting health resources or limp back to the last bonfire (checkpoint) to cash in your precious souls. If you decide to return to the last bonfire though its important to understand that every enemy in the game will reset meaning you have to fight your way through them all over again.
With such punishingly difficult enemies and harrowing environments means that the controls need to feel responsive and thankfully they feel fantastic. Movement is fluid, quick and the ability to switch between items and weapons feels great. You can quickly switch between sword and shield to double handing a weapon on even have the option to dual wield weapons to slash away at enemies. There are many weapons to choose from and find in the world that range from deadly swords, powerful axes, and ranged weapons like bow and arrows. Each consumes FP, which is also used up by magical spells. FP, like HP, can be restored using flasks – Estus for health, Ash Estus for FP. These flasks are topped up when you rest at a bonfire and become a critical factor in your survival, especially against boss encounters. You can also choose the ratio of HP and FP flasks. The depth and level of detail in weapon mastery and equipment is vast and deep meaning you have to spend time experimenting and exploring your options before venturing out into the world. The Firelink Shine is your base and I strongly recommend spending time there exploring your options. Weapons and items can be infused and upgraded to strengthen or add abilities to items.
As always, online play is a big part of the Dark Souls experience. I have to admit that I found myself seeking the help of others at various points to fight alongside me in difficult situations. I always tried to beat everything myself first time around but once I got stuck it was nice to have the option to summon another player to my world. The game allows you to use “Embers” to summon players to your game and on the flip side you can use the “Soap Stone” to lay down your own summon sign to join another players game. If you join another players game and help defeat a boss you will gain an Ember, which are very useful in your own progress. There is also a competitive version that sees players invading each others worlds as a phantom to try and kill each other and reap the rewards.
The main times you will be using your Embers to summon others will be for boss battles that you encounter throughout the environments you explore. The game sees you exploring tumultuously twisted pathways and wonderfully designed labyrinths that occasionally open up into larger open areas where you face off against hulking bosses. These bosses offer real moments of nerve shredding tension, careful movement and perfect timing. These moments are absolutely awesome and the bosses are wonderfully designed and wowed me every time. These bosses are punishing and will kill you many times. It’s very rare to beat a boss first time and it requires you to take time to master each encounter before successfully slaying each beast. The sense of satisfaction and elation after beating a boss is unlike any other experience I have had in gaming. The only thing I can compare it to is when you perfect a run in a platforming game or reach a high score. What I love about the design of these encounters is that the first time you face a boss, and it inevitably kills you, it feels like you are never ever going to beat it, but you go back, try again and see that you make a bit more progress. Eventually you will beat the boss you thought you would never defeat and that feels great.
Like the past Souls games and Bloodborne the presentation is fantastic. Lothric is a gorgeous world full of detail and takes inspiration from previous titles. Dark Souls 3 is a perfect blend of Souls games and Bloodborne in both visuals and gameplay. Dark Souls has plenty of references and nods to past moments, environments and characters seen in previous games that fans will enjoy. Environments are wonderfully interlinked in a spider web like labyrinth structure, which sees you discovering various strategically placed shortcuts that can be unlocked to make things easier moving forward. The game also does a good job at always offering you more than one option moving forward, with multiple bosses or routes to choose from.
The world is brilliantly designed and I only really experienced this type of experience in gaming when I first jumped into Bloodborne. Dark Souls 3 encourages exploration through dark and twisting pathways that open up to reveal majestic vistas. The Souls games are known for their fantastically designed environments that slowly unfurl themselves as you journey through the world. You can return to bonfires and warp between them to quickly jump between areas and finding shortcuts and alternative routes become essential.
I did have a few issues with framerate drops on the PS4 when entering larger environments or facing multiple enemies, but in all honesty it never really impacted my experience. Being the third Dark Souls game and already having next generation Bloodborne under its belt the game feels better than ever and looks good on whatever platform you choose to play it on.
Dark Souls 3 doesn’t try to introduce new ideas but it does make the most of being the first Souls game on the newest generation of consoles, with stunning visuals and impressive graphics. There is a fantastic level of detail and texture quality and character models look better than ever. The environments you explore look absolutely amazing at times and I was blown away at moments when the world opens up to reveal beautiful views. I found myself stopping at times to simply take in the view. The sound design is also great with sweeping orchestral scores to the sound design of the creatures you face all adds to the experience.
Dark Souls is a deep game that has so much to experience and explore and I still feel like I have only scratched the surface despite putting in multiple hours. The sense of progression and advancement is unmatched in any other gaming experience and I recommend that anyone who loves gaming gives it a try.
Bloodborne was my favourite game of last year and now Dark Souls 3 is already shaping up to be the best I’ve played this year so far. The game simply surprises and completely absorbs me every time I jump back in and I love that the game encourages you to explore and venture just that little bit further. The sense of risk and reward is great and the satisfaction the game can offer is unlike any other video game experience. I strongly recommend this game even if you’re new to the franchise or a long time fan as it defines what makes the series so great. If this is to be the last in the series, it’s quite frankly a fantastic send off.
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