Dark Souls III Review
After a divisive second installment in the Souls series, many questions are swirling around Dark Souls III. Will players continue to be surprised as they move through beautiful environments that are as imaginative as they are deadly, or will franchise fatigue set in? Can the massive, grotesque, and intimidating bosses continue to drive fear into the hearts of players and inspire them to overcome seemingly impossible challenges through perseverance and sheer force of will? Can From Software do it again? The answer is yes, From Software and Hidetaka Miyazaki have created yet another masterful and challenging action RPG experience.
Combat depends greatly on the playstyle you choose. Whether you’re playing with a heavy shield designed to take blows or dashing about and rolling, knowing your opponent’s abilities and moves is as important as knowing your own. Deliberate, precise attacks – coupled with judicious defense – are the only way to victory. Failure to abide by these rules, like recklessly charging around as you would in a typical action game, invariably ends in a crushing defeat that sends you back to a bonfire – minus your payload of collected souls. Death remains a valuable learning experience for new players and veterans alike. New to Dark Souls III are weapon arts or skills, and while many weapons share the same abilities, some weapons have unique skills that are a lot of fun to play with. They don’t change the core game formula much, but offer a nice new accent of flavor to combat, and are especially interesting with weapon types that didn’t get as much love in prior Souls games, like bows.
Hundreds of weapons, armors, accessories, and spells are available, so you have the tools to get the job done regardless of your playstyle. You can be an archer, caster, shielded tank, two-handed brute, dual-wielding mercenary, speedy Bloodborne-style hunter (complete with items tailored to and referencing the archetype), and more. Respeccing your stat points is available from one of the NPCs you meet about a quarter through the game, so don’t worry too much about making a mistake. This is a great boon if you accidentally mess up a few stat points or completely change your loadout after finding heavy armor or that perfect weapon you always wanted later on in the game.
Keeping your eyes peeled for every possible hidden wall, elevator drop, and NPC questline is great fun, and the content is incredibly dense in terms of the secrets and shortcuts to be found inside each area, possibly the densest of any Souls title. Discovering something small that leads to something so huge later on feels great, and you become addicted to this meticulous curiosity/reward loop.
Players new to the series will enjoy a rather mild ramp up in difficulty over the first few areas in the game, and then a chance for players to take multiple paths as things get harder and more complex. The game features some of the hardest and most dramatic bosses in the entire series, though they may be tucked away in secret areas. Unexpectedly, a few gimmick bosses also show up, and you have to put your head to work to defeat them. However, among the superior set piece boss battles there’s an unfortunate undertone of sameness that begins to set in, especially later in the game – too many similar humanoids with swords and juggling techniques.
The world shares some environments, characters, and items from previous games in the series, and while some of it feels like unabashed fanservice, there’s no shortage of nostalgia-laden thrills for returning fans. If you’re new to the series, don’t worry – you don’t need to know anything from previous titles. You could probably blaze through Dark Souls III as a franchise veteran in 25 hours or so, but you’d be missing quite a bit of content. Expect to be around for 30-40 hours if you plan on discovering many essential secrets, so bring your inquisitive mind to get the most out of the experience.
Dark Souls III successfully replicates the winning formula of the Souls series, a wondrous combination of majestic boss battles, incredible layered environments full of secrets, and precise combat that can make other action RPGs difficult to play once you’ve mastered the art. If you’ve never played the series, this is a great place to begin, offering a bit more direction in the early game before opening up. If you’ve already played the series, you can feel confident that From Software hasn’t lost its touch.
This review pertains to Dark Souls III on PS4.