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Dark Souls III review

The king of the flame is dead; long live the king

As the very first words spoken in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lor San Tekka hands Poe Dameron a piece of the map to Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts and says, “This will begin to make things right.” For the movie, it was the line that helped kicked off a whole new generation of adventures; for fans, it was a nod to the disappointment over the prequel trilogy and the hope of a brighter future.

If Dark Souls was the original Star Wars trilogy and Dark Souls II the prequels, then Dark Souls III clearly stands as our Episode VII. Now, opinions on the previous chapters of the Souls series are far kinder than those concerning the antics of Anakin and Obi-wan, but some fans—including myself—still see it as the low point in what has otherwise been a stellar lineage. Here, however, instead of wanting the original creator to step out of the way for fresh blood, we wanted the father of Souls—FromSoftware’s Hidetaka Miyazaki—to make a return and bring things back to glory.

In another Episode VII-esque aspect, you’ll come across numerous moments here that feel hugely familiar to what you’ve seen before. While it’s easy for that kind of strategy to end up coming across like a cheap “best of” mash-up, Dark Souls III instead feels like a love letter to both its predecessors and its fans. Once you’ve passed the game’s starting area, your unkindled self pushes open the doors to Firelink Shrine, a location of respite that quickly comes to resemble Demon’s Souls’ Nexus as you invite in new people who can help you along your journey. As Firelink Shrine itself leads nowhere, you’ll need to use its main bonfire to warp to the game’s first main location, the High Wall of Lothric.

Here, one of the game’s most heartwarming reassurances wraps itself around longtime fans like a comforting blanket: this will be a game of lands complex in design and breathtaking in style. Gone are Dark Souls II’s awkward, straightforward areas, as the creativity and world-building of the older Souls games returns—along with, you’ll swear, a bit of extra inspiration that Miyazaki and crew no doubt brought with them from their time working on Bloodborne.

For some, it may be weird for me to start my breakdown of Dark Souls III with its world, but those worlds have been just as much a character in From’s recent games as their Fire Keepers or fallen heroes. However, though the lands of Lothric do return to that more complex design, they don’t bring back Lordran’s completely inter-connected nature. Instead, your journey here will oftentimes be far more linear, as one location opens up to another, and so on, as you make progress toward distant goals. I’ll admit, I wasn’t keen on the idea at first.

I wanted to go back to the Dark Souls school of world building, and that’s what I thought I was getting at first. The further along I got, though, the more okay I was with the game’s way of doing things. What helps is that so many of the places you’ll visit are downright huge compared to previous games, and as you unlock shortcut gates, discover secret passages, or finally reach the top of that particular crumbling tower, you’ll have spent enough time in each spot to have it grow on you. Yes, again, you’re going to swear some of these locations were straight-up ripped out of previous Souls games—but even when that happens, you’ll still marvel at how great everything looks. Even if the team at From aren’t always the best at the technical side of their visuals, they’ve absolutely got the artistry aspect nailed down.

No, I’m not going to forget the technical question. This is without a doubt a Souls game–a statement I’m sure a lot of fans instantly understand. While you’ll supposedly be treated to 60 glorious frames per second on the PC version of Dark Souls III, the console versions can see some unstable framerates at times, and you’re also bound to encounter an unexpected glitch or get stuck in a horrible camera angle now and then. I know some people will knock the game for those things, but to me, they’re just part of the territory when playing a Souls title.

Something that’s not lacking in stability or satisfaction is the gameplay side of Dark Souls III, a fact that should surprise no one at this point. If Demon’s Souls left cracks in my certainties of what it took to make a good game, Dark Souls smashed them to bits, rebuilding gameplay desires and demands in me that many other games have now struggled to satisfy. I know some have fallen in love with Bloodborne’s faster-paced, offense-oriented attitude, but my heart will always be here. There’s just nothing like the tense attack-block-counterattack back-and-forths you can get into in this game, which I was reminded of beautifully during one of my PvP encounters with another player after I was pulled into their game through my covenant of choice. I’m still not sure how the folks at From came up with such a magical combat system the first time around, but four entries later, and it’s still as great as ever.

Supporting ideas introduced in previous games see more polish here, while a few new additions come along for the ride. Weapon Arts give every sword, spear, or bow a special attack that can be used if you’ve got enough Focus Points, the new concept in place to replace MP. Drained either by those bonus skills or your classic spells, your FP can be recovered by the new Ashen Estus Flask. In an interesting twist, you can allocate how many of the game’s normal Estus Flasks you have versus the Ashen kind, letting you stock up on healing, greatly buff the amount of pyromancies and miracles you can cast, or set yourself up with a nice balance of both.

How you come at combat and what type of character you build is still a very personal choice, and no matter your individual style, you’ll be challenged by everything that awaits you in Lothric. But—and you can tell this is something tough for me to say, because I hate starting sentences with “but”—my journey was easier than I was expecting it to be. Don’t get me wrong, there were still times when I wanted to dropkick my DualShock 4 across the room in frustration. However, that utter fear, that terror to walk down a corridor I’ve never traveled or stay far away from where I knew a boss was waiting for me, it’s wasn’t here to the degree that it was before. Even in my original Dark Souls review, I said that the game wasn’t hard, but instead demanding and challenging. I still stand by that statement, and Dark Souls III may indeed be proof that, given enough experience with games like these, we dedicated players just get too good for our own, well, good. Thankfully, while they might not all be as infuriating (in a good way) as those we’ve faced previously, there are some stellar bosses here when it comes to fun, unique encounters, and regular enemies also return to a far more interesting sense of design. Dark Souls II, this is not.

I feel like, in a way, this has turned out to be a very clinical review—which is funny given how much soul Dark Souls III contains. I felt so many emotions playing this game, most of them hard to put down into words. Like Silent Hill, or Phantasy Star, or Persona, or a handful of other franchises, I’ve come to have so much mental and emotional attachment to the Souls games, and they’ve come to shape me on a level deeper than just someone who enjoys a series as a hobby. At once, I fear the idea that this could actually be the final Souls game we get, but I also see Dark Souls III as the perfect end should that be the case. It is an homage to the series as a whole and its own separate entity at the same time. A reminder of why we’ve loved these games wrapped in a package we don’t know the contents of. It’s the perfect entry point for new players, but it’s a sprawling labyrinth of nostalgia for those present since the beginning. It’s a little too polished and user-friendly, yet you appreciate both those facts greatly as you play.

Dark Souls III is a fascinating, engrossing, and thoroughly enjoyable new beginning of sorts for one of gaming’s bravest and boldest legacies—arriving just in time to say goodbye.

★★★★★

While it’s still impossible on a personal level for me to admit that any of Dark Souls’ siblings could better it, when taken as a whole, complete experience, Dark Souls III may be the best chapter of the Souls series that FromSoftware has crafted. A fitting way to end, if that will indeed be the fate of the franchise.

Developer
FromSoftware
Publisher
Bandai Namco
ESRB
M - Mature
Release Date
04.12.2016
Dark Souls III is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.

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