From Software released Dark Souls III (DS3) last week and I was in line at midnight ready for it to hit store shelves. It’s arguably the series I’ve spent the most time with in terms of total hours and I couldn’t put it down except to go to work and sleep. These games have a reputation of difficulty to uphold and let’s just say that this was a Souls game, through and through. Many moments I held the controller angrily in my hand as a I died and others with it victoriously in the air. The roller coaster of emotions goes from curiosity, to suspense, to relief, to anger, to accomplishment, and finally to pleading.
As I embarked on another epic journey through the bleak, undead world of Dark Souls, I couldn’t help but feel a little giddy. It had been a while since Dark Souls 2 and Bloodbourne didn’t scratch quite the same itch. I load up the same janky character creator and decide what class to choose. I land on pyromancer (an old love) after weighing my options as a sorcerer, cleric, or melee fighter. I spawn in and take care of the first couple enemies like the good ole days and then gaze at a rather large crystal lizard in the corner. The sign on the ground says to turn back but I decide that I can handle it, I’m a Souls player tried and true.
I love Dark Souls because by the end you feel like you’re the king. I went back to that lizard after exploring the first couple of areas and defeating the first couple bosses and guess what. I rekt that sucka. The beginning is nothing compared to the end and you only get better as time goes on. And I don’t just mean your character (which you do of course), I mean YOU as a player get so much better at the game and understanding the flow of battle. This game is like no other in terms of its punishment but it’s all balanced with its fairness. You know what you need to do, if only you could just do it! Once it clicks, there’s no going back. You’re a true Souls masochist.
In terms of the series, this game meets all the criteria it has to. The areas and bosses are VERY hard. There were several new areas that I had to try over and over just to make it about 100 yards. As you go through each, there are either bonfires (checkpoints) around each corner or like 10 miles away. Regardless it leads to a tough choice of do I keep pressing forward or do I return and try to do better next time since I’m out of healing items? The areas are varied enough to keep it interesting though and go through some of the classic tropes. I knew eventually I would hit a forest, fire area, castle, and poison (ugh). You can see the inspiration from previous games all around you as well, even Bloodbourne. Some of the areas feel Victorian and some bosses are throwbacks to Demon Souls. Plenty of the items are from the previous games as well. One of the areas is even copy pasted from Dark Souls 1 with different enemies and a different boss.
Once again, I am a filthy casual and I enjoy jolly cooperation so I summoned some friends for every boss fight except like 2 or 3. This makes the game fun for me and the boss variety was good! There are gimmicky bosses and just straight up fights but almost all of them had a 2 stage structure. The part that frustrated me (besides dying a bunch) was when I would defeat a boss (or so I thought) and a cutscene would play only to reveal stage 2. However, the bosses were creative, interesting, and intense to say the least (especially the final one). It definitely felt as if the story should end where it did.
The weapon, spell, and class variety is just about the same as the previous games. There are a few new additions, mostly making there way into the game via boss souls. What IS new and interesting, however, is how you use the weapons. There is a new ability that hails from the land of Bloodborne called weapon skills that give you more options to attack with different classes of weapons. You can use them to change your move set, buff your weapon, buff yourself, and do special attacks when two handing your weapon of choice. It creates a mix up that keeps that same halberd you’ve been using since Demon Souls fun and interesting.
The other new addition is the types of healing items you have from the start. In previous games you have only had a certain number estus flasks which heal you that were replenished at the bonfire. And when you are casting spells, you only had a certain number of casts to use between bonfire rests. In DS3 you start with the ashen estus flasks as well which replenish your new FP bar (focus points). You use your FP bar to cast spells and use weapon skills so there becomes an interesting balance of how many estus to make ashen and how many to keep regular. Some melee fighters may opt to use all of theirs to heal and some sorcerers and may use all ashen and have a healing spell. It is all determined with your play style. You can change the amount of ashen versus regular at any time and its a welcome change especially for casters because you don’t have to worry about stocking up on spells if you’ve found your favorite two or three.
“What about the story?” you may ask. My answer is…I don’t know what the story is. Something about the flame and linking yourself to it and there’s some dudes that stand in the way of you doing that. When these games come out I decide to simply take a journey through the land on an epic quest to defeat all who stand in my way. If you care about story, which I usually do, (but have made an exception) then you can try and decipher the vague and mysterious link between characters and item descriptions but the easiest way is to watch a YouTube video about it. The lore in this universe is deep and some people really engage with it but personally I have chosen not to.
Overall, the game is what I was looking for. Another beautiful trek through a downtrodden world of sorrow and pain. It scratched every itch I was hoping it could and I’ve already begun a second play through as a different class. The new mechanics are very smart and help the game with a sense of balance (not to mention the weapon skills are just rad AF). My few complaints are that I just kind of want a new game honestly. This feels like a greatest hits of Souls with all of the self referential moments and I just want all new items to find and all new areas to explore. I’d play these games yearly if they came out that often though and over my 40 hours, I enjoyed every second that I wasn’t dying (so like 35 of them). In the end I give it 4.5 enraged curse words out of 5.