Dark Souls IIIApril 12th, 2016
PlatformPC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One ($59.99)
PublisherBandai Namco Entertainment
From Software’s Souls series has achieved the kind of cult status many game franchises can only dream of. The release of a new Souls game is a cultural moment that reverberates throughout the gaming industry – Internet message boards and comment sections are already filled with a mix of spoilers, speculation and intense anticipation. And after playing Dark Souls III, I can safely say the excitement is well deserved.
Dark Souls III is brooding, moody, at times intensely depressing, but a glimmer of hope always remains. You will feel helpless, hopeless, lost and alone, but you will always strive to find a solution, and if you persevere, you will find it.
Often heralded as one of the most difficult games of the modern era, it’s a series that frightens away as many players as it enraptures. It is easy to see why; the first boss of the game may not be difficult by usual Souls standards, but it is more than enough to put new players in their place. Wide swings of a long weapon teach you to keep distance, whilst always inching towards your opponent, patiently waiting for your moment. This is essentially how all fights in Dark Souls unfold, with heedless swings of your weapon ending in an untimely death more often than not.
Dark Souls is not about instant gratification. It doesn’t reward you for holding the control stick forward and moving through a linear path, it only rewards you when you deserve it. You must crawl through hell in order to understand heaven, and you must suffer in pain from Dark Souls’ relentless punishment before you may experience the elation and pleasure derived from victory.
The monstrous creatures that have become a staple of the franchise are here in force – perhaps not necessarily as grotesque as those seen in Bloodborne, but certainly much more imposing and hideous than many enemies in the series’ black sheep, Dark Souls II. Even enemies that at first appear to be just a variation of the armored Knight foes may surprise you with a disgusting modification of their own.
The gameplay tweaks in the series since Demon’s Souls have been small but meaningful, and that’s no different here. Estus Flasks are now accompanied by Ashen Estus Flasks, the former to restore health and the latter to restore FP, which is used for magic and special abilities, such as a Greatshield Shield Bash. The two flasks can be assigned by the returning blacksmith Andre, who now lives at Firelink Shrine, your central hub. The lock and visceral sound of a backstab feels much more like Bloodborne than other Dark Souls games, making it easier than ever to perform them, and all the more satisfying.
The Bloodborne influences don’t end there, with an early area acting as an undead village feeling somewhat reminiscent of Yarnham, less so in the architecture, but more in the atmosphere of the environment. It feels like a place where abstract horror is the norm, and the inhabitants have learnt to live with and deal with it, much like Bloodborne.
Where the two differ in style is that Bloodborne feels like a place that was inhabitable not long ago, just before chaos enveloped Yarnham, while many of Dark Souls III’s areas feel completely abandoned for millennia, uninhabited by any living being.
The Lords of Cinder are your target in Dark Souls III, ancient monolithic Kings that have risen and refuse to return to their thrones in Firelink Shrine; which is where you come in, of course. The areas you struggle through in your mission will feel familiar to fans of the series, with crypts, poison swamps, dank castles and even ancient coliseums all becoming fitting backdrops to your own personal tale of struggling against adversity.
On PC, the performance of Dark Souls III is locked at 60FPS and is very similar to what we saw with Dark Souls II’s port. All areas in the game ran effortlessly for me at 60FPS at 1080p with Max settings, save for a single area – a poison swamp – where the frame rate was dragged down to a consistent 45-55 FPS for no obvious reason. Also, the initial class select screen you have when creating your character seemed to tank the game’s FPS all the way down to 10FPS (!). Luckily performance that shockingly awful never happens again, though it did mean that, at least on the initial load, the game assumed my frame rate was too low to support online play and put me in offline mode. Good news for warriors who like to play the invasion game and hate losing to lag. Textures pop in frequently and obviously, and the game isn’t afraid to display some lower quality model geometry until you get close – though I never felt either of these points greatly impacted my experience.
Overall, the graphics are certainly an improvement over previous Dark Souls games but not by that much. The PC version obviously looks best, particularly if you can bump the resolution up to 4K, while the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One ports are rendered at 1080P and 900P, respectively.
My journey through Lothric to meet with the Lords of Cinder took me through unforgettable vistas and resulted in more than a few sleepless nights where all I could think about was pushing through another corridor, seeking out another bonfire. It’s an experience that the established Souls fans already know they can’t miss, while for those curious about Dark Souls, eager to discover what all the hype is about, this is the perfect starting point.
It might not be everyone’s favorite Souls game, but it just might be mine and I can guarantee that Dark Souls III will dominate more than a few Game of the Year lists in 2016.
Dark Souls III is beautiful and terrifying all in one. Intense, atmospheric and so cruel. An essential game for RPG fans and one of the very best games of 2016 thus far.
- Still the most challenging AAA game
- Incredible atmosphere
- Graphics improved....
- ...but not by much
- Still quite frustrating on occasion