From its humble beginnings, From Software's Souls IP has grown into something that nobody could have fathomed when it first released under the guise of Demon's Souls. Dark Souls, the spiritual successor, has since gone on to carve an impressive niche for itself, to the point that we are now seeing the release of the third instalment and it has been eagerly anticipated as the first Dark Souls game to launch on this new generation of gaming systems.
Dark Souls 3 has a rather familiar beginning. After enticing you with small bits of exposition to introduce the game's lore and the standard character creation, you venture into a new world unsure about what perils you are about to face.
It's an approach that has served the Souls series well so far. There has always been a great deal of restraint when it comes to bringing the story forward, which is perfect for those who are just in it for the pure challenge. However, there is also plenty of lore available for players who wish to delve into should they wish.
Irrespective of the lore, Dark Souls 3 just oozes character and atmosphere. Each of the various locations offers just as much personality as any of the individual characters featured throughout the game, with intricate design nuances and plenty of different elements to keep you guessing. The landscapes are also breath-taking, something that you will find as soon as you reach the High Wall of Lothric. It's an area where everything pulls together to create an amazing set piece. You have plenty of environmental challenges, carefully crafted level design, solid visuals and stunning audio. It's easy to just get swept away by all of this and forgo any serious progression, just so you can explore and soak it all in.
Progression is the name of the game though and it's pleasing to see that the Firelink mechanic, complete with fast travel, makes a return for Dark Souls 3. Everything beyond the Firelink Shrine is interconnected, but the bonfires make very handy checkpoints that you can skip between at a moment's notice. It also means you can choose to tackle different routes at different times, you aren't restricted to linear progression. If one particular boss or path is causing you some serious grief, you can always just go down another route and attempt it later once you have more experience or better items.
True to the Souls experience, gameplay is much more of what we've become accustomed to over the years. You are able to equip offensive or defensive items in either hand and the shoulder buttons denote whether you perform the primary or secondary action with them. The beauty of the experience is that it's all deceptively simplistic.
Timing and strategy are important parts of progression, but there are tons of different ways you can play. For example, you could choose to be a classic sword and shield guy who prefers agility over pure defensive capabilities or you could choose to be a mage who wants to wear a ton of armour at the cost of mobility. It is all down to the player to choose which approach they feel is best and with Dark Souls 3 you also have the option to re-spec your character (albeit only five times per playthrough). It means that even if you feel you've gone down the wrong route, you have the option to switch things up and try another way.
Boss design, as we have come to expect, is stellar. From Software are able to still come up with fresh encounters that don't feel stale or even similar to what we have seen in previous games. The uniqueness of the settings, routines and even the scenarios in which you encounter these fearsome foes should be commended.
Likewise, special praise should also be given for how well Dark Souls 3 has made the visual transition. The same fantasy style has been retained, all with a nice sheen. It's just a shame that the frame rate couldn't have remained more stable. There are certain parts where the drops in frame rate are pretty noticeable and it can sour things a little, especially for a game like this where smooth gameplay is essential. It's one of the only true blemishes on Dark Souls 3.
Dark Souls 3 is a pretty familiar experience, but that's not a bad thing. We have got used to the quality of games that From Software produces, but they are able to continue building on each experience, creating a strong product at the end of it. Dark Souls 3 has some spectacular environments and encounters and refuses to relent, offering another strong challenge to those who want their fill. There are some technical issues that creep in, but it doesn't detract from what is another fine addition into the Dark Souls series.
|Combat is as strong as ever.|
|The sheer atmosphere.|
|Still offers a significant challenge.|
|Frame rate issues.|
|Those moments where you die to the weakest enemies through laziness.|