As one of the most anticipated video games of 2016, Dark Souls III is finally available. After exploring its massive world filled with sinister demons, does it do enough to distinguish itself from previous installments?
The Souls series has been around since 2009 so you'd expect every new entry to expand on the existing formula in order to create unique and memorable sequels. Thankfully, Dark Souls III accomplishes this in many ways although it's also a very familiar experience. This is great news for fans who just want more Souls yet some may be slightly put off by how similar it is to the previous games. Either way you look at it, anyone who craves brutally challenging RPG action set in a dark and mysterious world will not be disappointed with the epic adventure ahead. For now, let's focus on the positives. One of the biggest improvements is the combat. It's basically the same as what fans are used to yet the refined fluidity makes it feel almost as visceral as Bloodborne. Because of this, I can safely say that Dark Souls III makes slaughtering evil forces more enjoyable than ever.
Visually, Dark Souls III is one gorgeous game. Even after playing through Bloodborne, there were moments here where I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. Some enemies made my jaw drop at how cool they looked while every detail in the expansive environments is nothing short of astounding. As someone who usually doesn't care about graphics, consider me impressed. Also, the featured music is up there with the best in the series. The slowly building orchestral masterpiece that plays during the title screen alone will stay with you for a long time. I'm glad I got the Day One Edition with CD soundtrack included. Anyway, the gratifying sound effects and talented voice cast are simply spot-on (as usual). Overall, this is one fantastic looking and sounding adventure.
If you've been playing Souls since the beginning then you'll be interested to know that the blue magic bar from Demon's Souls makes a return. Now known as focus points, you spend these upon using magic or weapon-specific abilities. Equipping a variety of weapons while playing around with their special moves is great fun, especially when you discover a skill that is unexpectedly effective. With tons of weapons and spells to uncover, the amount of possibilities when it comes to optimizing your character is astronomical.
Of course, Dark Souls III boasts many multiplayer options. You can summon phantoms to battle against or cooperate with, get invaded, leave messages on the ground, and watch how other players died by touching their bloodstains. One new mechanic is mad phantoms who you can summon via purple signs. These fellows have the potential to make you very nervous due to the fact that they can cooperate with you and attack you. It's pretty ridiculous and not many gamers will embrace it but there's no denying how much more interesting the gameplay dynamic becomes upon inviting one or two into your world.
Dark Souls III's hub area (the Firelink Shrine) is one of its best features. Whereas other Souls games have NPCs scattered around the enormous world thus forcing you to jump between bonfires so you can purchase new items; here, each NPC conveniently warps to this central location. Whether you want to buy or sell items, upgrade equipment, trade boss souls for powerful items, level up, or just talk; you can do it all in this hub. An aspect that I enjoyed immensely is when you offer certain key items to shop owners so their stock expands to include new stuff. This is an excellent added incentive to explore the world. The only downside is that you can't upgrade armour at all. You can argue that doing so will make the difficulty more imbalanced, but I miss walking around in all +10 gear.
As I've previously touched upon, Dark Souls III is a mostly familiar experience. Many environments are much too similar to ones featured in previous games while a few even feel like they're direct copies. For example, the Firelink Shrine is almost exactly like the hub in Demon's Souls. You'll explore areas such as castle walls, poisonous swamps, medieval prisons, dilapidated villages, massive cathedrals, and a haunted library. You've seen it all before. Also, these locations aren't the most unique offerings. It makes me wonder why they didn't make new versions of the Shaded Woods, Blighttown, or Crystal Cave. The only two places that stood out to me are a wintery city and a dragon-inhabited mountain (which gives off a vibe similar to Dark Souls II's Dragon Aerie). Not only did I find the locations to be uninspired, the bosses are quite generic as well. You'll fight hordes, giants, and swift sword-wielding foes yet no one is as unique as Great Grey Wolf Sif, Executioner's Chariot, or the Old Iron King. Only one boss battle blew me away which was one that made it seem like I was having a nightmare. In other words, I find Dark Souls III to be the least memorable of the series due to the familiarity of it all.
On top of not feeling unique enough, a couple of other downsides are quite disappointing. Previous Souls games feature many side quests that can be tricky to master yet the ones in Dark Souls III are simply too convoluted and frustrating to keep track of. For example, a character may leave if you give her a certain key item while another will go away if you don't give him key items regularly enough. One NPC never showed up at all throughout my playthrough and I still have no idea why after doing a lot of research and asking around. Therefore, those who try to maximize their first playthrough will probably be annoyed by the end. Finally, Dark Souls III is a much shorter game than the previous two. It took me a couple dozen hours to accomplish everything with the exception of fighting one optional boss and missing a covenant. For some perspective, the first two Dark Souls took me about two to three times as long to complete.
Dark Souls III continues the tradition of providing tough action RPG gameplay within a complex world quite well. Although it has its flaws, fans like me will get a thrill for every second they spend linking bonfires and dispatching demons.
- + Same awesome Dark Souls gameplay with a refined and more visceral combat system
- + Absolutely stunning presentation
- + Fantastically implemented hub
- - Most of the game world feels far too familiar to be particularly memorable
- - Side quests are more convoluted than ever
- - Much shorter than previous installments