Returning with its popular sword, shield and spell-wielding gameplay, Dark Souls III is the satisfying culmination of each Souls game before it.
Developed by FromSoftware, Dark Souls III and its predecessors are infamously known for their degree of controller-tossing difficulty. Beginning as more of a cult hit with Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, the series has crept into popularity as more players delve into the head-scratching lore.
While exploring the crumbling, ever-changing environments of Lothric, including gothic castles, a poison swamp and some old locations so dear to Souls players that they shouldn’t be spoiled, it’s evident by the abuse our Ashen protagonist takes that we’re not on the top of the food chain. There’s giants, gargoyles, sages and every imaginable manner of creature just waiting to send the Chosen Ashen One back to his/her bonfire to respawn and try again. While these mythological behemoths are certainly cause for concern, the lesser enemies—if those even exist in these games—are more than happy to dish out punishment with nothing but a broken sword and some erratic flailing. Towards the end of the game, players will likely notice themselves instinctively holding down the shield button while exploring, knowing that nothing is to be trusted, and everything is deadly.
Despite being centered around roll-and-stab combat, exploring the once-proud kingdom of Lothric is one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of the game. Every cathedral and fortress in the distance will eventually be accessible, and shortcuts abound to reward players who traverse the treacherous terrain. The locale is impressive, but being able to warp from bonfire to bonfire from the get-go does take away from the experience. Though some may have found it tedious, obtaining the Lordvessel in Dark Souls in order to fast-travel was challenging and rewarding, especially given that it was guarded by the most iconic and exciting boss fight of the series, Ornstein and Smough.
Even though the bosses of this game don’t quite stack up to the cinematic appeal and challenge of those in Dark Souls (but maybe that’s just nostalgia talking) there are definitely some creative designs and diverse bosses to tackle. One of my favorite fights of the game occurs early on where we duke it out with the Abyss Watchers, a legion of undead fighters who seek out and contain any signs of the Abyss in Lothric. After besting them and delving into their lore, it’s made clear these fighters are followers of the fan-favorite and ever-vigilant Artorias of the Abyss. The best boss fight in the game, and also the most rewarding, would have to go to the Nameless King. This fight answers a hotly-debated question that’s been around since Dark Souls, and it’s the most frustrating, controller-gripping, cinematic and just plain cool fight the game has to offer. But once you down the dragon-riding, lightning-throwing king and don his crown, it makes the hours spent on a completely optional boss entirely justified.
Throwbacks to previous games don’t always work as fluidly as the Nameless King though, and FromSoftware’s decision to include some elements in the game are just plain confusing. While finding the silent-but-deadly Havel the Rock atop a tower as he stands over a dragon he singlehandedly slayed may be fun, it seems somewhat thrown together. There’s numerous reasons he may have been there, such as his proximity to the Nameless King coupled with his beef with the ancient gods, but it would’ve been nice if there’d been more explanation and less “here’s Havel for you.” Explanation is not something FromSoftware strives for, though, so it’s best to accept it at face value.
If players choose to take a break from the storyline and delve into PvP, there’s no guarantee how long they’ll stay there before returning to whomping on lesser foes. As seen in the release of each Souls game, PvP is riddled with flaws and players abusing certain weapons or strategies. The most outrageous issue so far concerns the stat known as poise. Poise, granted from heavy armor and special items, allows players to take a few hits before being staggered, an essential strategy to big-weapon-wielding tank builds. Curiously enough, in this game, poise is present as a statistic, but some data mining by PC players has found poise to be turned off. Not lessened, not glitched; it’s purely just off. There’s no telling why FromSoftware would choose to release the game like this. Some speculate they wanted to do further research on the poise mechanic but had to meet their deadline, but others suggest they actively chose not to give players poise. Whatever the reason, PvP has been boiled down to a very hit-and-run style instead of allowing players to fully customize their fighting style.
Covenants, a core element of the series, have also taken a hit from recent games. Dark Souls III incorporates some interesting new covenants to mix up gameplay, but some of them just flat out don’t work right now. The issue with them has been attributed to a net coding problem, but the result is at least two covenants are completely useless to some players who will never be summoned to fulfil the covenants’ purposes. The ever-popular covenant revolving around invading another player’s world and killing them has also taken a hit, though it isn’t quite as bad as in Dark Souls II. The reward system is exponentially better, but many invaders will claim the odds are unfair given that the hosts they’re attempting to kill can now summon up to three other players known as phantoms to assist them in their combat. A 4v1 scenario doesn’t sound too fair, but then again, prospect of invading another player’s world to kill them mostly for fun isn’t exactly a fair concept to begin with. This was likely a conscious decision by FromSoftware to promote playing with friends given the recent bump in popularity the series has received. I personally don’t see an issue with it, but with enough complaints from the community, it’ll be interesting to see how FromSoftware responds to the “issue.”
Though this may or may not be the final installment in the Souls series, Dark Souls III is the perfect way to end a legacy. Lots of questions were answered, some stories came full circle and the game improved leaps and bounds from Dark Souls II. If any additional Dark Souls-esque games come from FromSoftware, it would likely be best to model them after Bloodborne; games with similar fighting styles and progressions, but unrelated to the beloved and innovative series that is Dark Souls.