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Review : Dark Souls 3

I wrote an article recently expressing my uncertainty towards From Software's latest offering in the Souls series, Dark Souls 3. I ended the article by explaining that the previous two games from the Japanese developers have left me feeling underwhelmed and with a complete lack of hype towards Dark Souls 3. The tone of that article gave the appearance that I wouldn't buy a copy if my life depended on it. So it was quite fortunate that a copy was provided to me by a family member who desired my opinion on it. So, without further ado, is it a classic "Dark Souls" game, or does it fail to capture the essence of the original masterpiece?

If you're familiar with the Souls series then you can probably skip this paragraph, but for those of you looking to get into the series after 4 games; keep reading. Dark Souls is a third person JRPG series that prides itself on it's insane level of difficulty and alternative approaches to story telling. It has an innate focus on Player Versus Player interactions and is obsessed with ambush tactics. Players take control of a nameless character to which the player can, at their choosing, deform the avatar's appearance in a manner of grotesque and wonderful ways. The player gets to choose a class and then is thrust out upon the world with only barely legible scratch marks on the ground for guidance. Just like every other Souls game, a chance encounter with a boss is to be expected. Every boss has some trick to being defeated but tends to catch most newbies off guard. From that point on it's aimless discovery and venerable frustration. There is no dialogue to be found from the player character, only the scattered disenfranchised NPCs who provide the protagonist with idle chatter and tantalizing jigsaw information. Lore throughout the world is broken up into many pieces that's presented to the player in various mediums throughout the game world. It really makes the world feel alive, which is ironic considering that the realm itself is dying.

Image courtesy of Namco Bandai

What makes a Souls game stand out over other typical RPG fare is that they focus primarily on the interactions between the player and the game environment, whether it's the combat or the exploration. The lack of heavy dialogue and cutscenes really puts an emphasis on the players' actions. Collecting souls, dying and collecting your souls again is the routine that most players fall into. There is a sort of morbid satisfaction overcoming obstacles that were seemingly insurmountable; however Dark Souls 3 seems to have an over abundance of these speedbumps.

Lets begin with the starter area. It's your standard "ghoul with a broken sword" fare, you trudge through with your bottom tier starting weapon and enemies take a few hits before dropping a couple of souls. After getting to your first bonfire you get to take on the Ludex Gundyr, the first asshole of the game that you have to pull a sword out of then stick a different one back in. It also introduces us to one of the games many enemy types, the tapeworm...I mean the Snake demon that can infest certain enemies. It's a pain, it has massive reach, long combos and good damage which a lot of players will find annoying but he is beatable. You make your way through to the initial Firelink shrine, which is a replica of the hub from Demon's Souls. Eventually you'll fill out the empty cavern's five thrones with NPCs you meet along the way. There are a few NPCs that are already inside the hub including your merchant, the blacksmith and the maiden who allows the player to level up with the use of souls. What's left is the standard in offerings for the Souls series; explore the world, kill the bosses and die a lot. At first it was great, familiar concepts abounded that would enable me to slip back into the gameplay coma that I was used to, but somewhere down the track it happened to me: I got bored.

Image courtesy of Namco Bandai

After five games with the same design themes it all just gets so utterly tiring and tedious. From's obsession with setting up an ambush at every damn corner goes from being familiar to mildly annoying, until it just ends up frustrating. Whether it's enemies hanging off ledges while on the other side a couple of hooded Gollum rejects wait to ambush you just after another ambush, it all comes off as astonishingly lazy rather than tense. It wouldn't be so bad if some of them weren't almost impossible to spot the first or second time around. You know the ambush is going to happen and hope for some other gameplay tactic to keep you on your toes. It's kind of like From have dug themselves into a hole they know they can't dig themselves out of, because no one wanted them to.

If that wasn't bad enough, the game is still a janky mess when it comes to actual combat. It's possible to circle an enemy and somehow get locked into the back stab animation while actually missing the critical back stab itself, leaving you open to get gang banged by leather skinned mummies with sharp sticks. This becomes more apparent when you attempt a parry or back stab on stairs or down a hill, you'll just miss sometimes and it leaves you completely open. This is clearly a bug within the game itself but it's still completely fucking annoying. For some "fun" demonstration: try backstabbing the cleric lass with the giant morningstar. If you manage to get the back stab and land a powered up strong attack in succession, she will knock you down as if she fell from a height. I don't understand how mechanical failures such as these pass bug testing. I wasn't using some obscure method for fighting my enemies that caused these problems to occur, this is how I and countless others have played all the souls games, and it just seems to get worse.

Image courtesy of Namco Bandai

So let's address the boring part because, quite frankly, this game wallows in it. The starting area is beautiful and vibrant. You emerge from your grave site and emerge through the crags in the mountain to a glaring sun that illuminates the world, but the game steadily becomes dull as you progress. It was like this for Dark Souls 2, game starts off with the majestic sun and ends up dreary and washed with grey. Thing is, after four games it just feels tired and underwhelming. Titanite is a pain to find, and the upgrades for each item feel weaker overall. Most weapons are honestly quite dull to play with. Most of them lack any punch, it isn't until later in the game that you get some of the more enjoyable weapons to play with, but it felt like it was too little too late for my tastes.

To their credit, I feel that From have really improved a lot of the boss fights in this iteration. The themes for each boss are far more varied and interesting than their predecessors, and contain some of the most difficult fights the series has seen. The Dancer of the Boreal Valley really makes it difficult for a player to make reads on the attacks because of the fluid movements of this boss. Some attacks even come out when it looks like the Dancer is simply moving normally. It can really catch you off guard which makes for an intense boss fight. The Soul of Cinder fight is also an improvement over the first Souls game's Lord of Cinder fight, this time being a much better representation of what an endgame boss fight should be. It must be said however that some of the earlier boss fights are pretty much lifted straight from other games. Vordt is clearly a BloodBorne boss in a suit of armour, running around on all fours like one of the wolf bosses from the game and being hyper aggresive and stunlock happy.

Image courtesy of Namco Bandai

Speaking of rehashes, a lot of the environments and concepts are clearly just taken from Dark Souls 2 and BloodBorne without much thought or improvement. The Undead Village greatly resembles the Unseen Village arc of BloodBorne. It even appears as though they've reused assets from the chalice dungeons in certain areas past the first phantom NPC you encounter. Dark Souls 3 feels more like the combined collective of it's two predecessors instead of outright being a fresh, new game. This does allow for the world to be a lot more varied in environmental design, with a greater degree of themes being applied to each area. From sunken cathedrals to the Kiln of the First Flame resembling a battlefield, you do get a greater variety of scenery. The issue is that you've already seen most of these before in previous games in not much different forms.

Souls games are known for their PvP content, and it is back in full force for Dark Souls 3. It was probably one of the better experiences I had during my play through. It's not just about going mano y mano with every phantom you encounter, there are some truly enjoyable ways to go about interacting with other players. One encounter I had turned into a literal fist fight with other phantoms spamming gestures, in a gladiator style event that was completely designed and enacted by the players themselves. A different encounter involved a player throwing dung at me while attempting to lead me to different traps, until he accidentally fell down and met a fiery death. The PvP has enough variety that most players will actually find some use out of it. While it's tied to the covenant system that exists in the Souls games, it's more fun to just dick around and throw shit at each other. Until you have to get back to actually playing the game solo.

Image courtesy of Namco Bandai

Before I continue on though, I have to say that once again the soundtrack is absolutely superb. While Matoi Sakuraba returns for another game, he's joined by multiple composers including Nobayoshi Suzuki and Yuka Kitamura. The atmosphere in Firelink Shrine really comes to life as a result of Kitamura's well crafted composition. I even left my game running in the background so I could listen to it when I wasn't playing. The choir intro to the Dragon Slayer Armour fight sends a shiver down your spine, suitably setting the stage for an epic fight. If there is one thing that you can count on for a game in the Souls series, it's that the music will always be awesome and will probably end up on your media player's playlist.

At the end of the day, this is just a Souls game. It plays pretty much as you would expect; it's difficult, it has it's throwbacks to previous games, it's dark and it ends in fire. It's just that, after five games it's beginning to feel tired and overdone. People constantly complain about how Call of Duty keeps using the same boring formula and I'm kind of feeling the same about Dark Souls 3. If you've played the Souls series before you'll most likely fare much, much better than anyone just joining the series half way through. If you liked Dark Souls 2 and BloodBorne then I'm sure you will like Dark Souls 3, it has everything you're familiar with and then some. I wasn't too big on either game, but I absolutely adored Demon's and Dark Souls. In this case I think I'm just fatigued by playing basically the same game every time, although it does have its moments. You may feel I'm being overly critical, but this game comes with a lot of history, and it should come with a greater level of scrutiny to match. With news that From are working on a new series, it honestly couldn't have come at a better time.

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Wannabe writer. Plays video games and has opinions about them. eSports fan and long time DOTA/CS player.
Australia