Thank the Sunbros that the wait is over. Just the thought of dying over and over while overcoming nasty beasts, treacherous locations filled with death, and of course that sweet music that lets you know what game you’re playing, I’m happy that Dark Souls III is here. Sadly, this is also a bitter-sweet moment as it’s to be believed this is also the end of the series, which started with Demon’s Souls, which progressed into Dark Souls, a new chapter with BloodBorne to where we find ourselves at now. Has all of the hype for Dark Souls III been worth it?
Well, that’s what I’m here to find out, so take my hand as we take this journey together. I swear I won’t push you over that ledge… go head, just a little closer. Muhahahaha… Clerics.
And yes, this review is as spoiler-free as I could make it. Don’t get mad at me if something does get spoiled; this is a review after all.
Game Name: Dark Souls III
Platform(s): Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
Publisher(s): Bandai Namco
Release Date: April 12, 2016
Price: $59.99 (Standard) , $129.99 (Collector’s Edition)
As a long-time fan of the Dark Souls series, you should have seen the giant smile that came over my face as I pressed the power button on my Xbox One, and after all this time, I started my adventure into the land of Lothric.
Before I start, I wanted to address something that is bothering me and likely you as well. Throughout Dark Souls III, we see characters and enemies that had made appearances in the first Dark Souls but were absent in Dark Souls II. While not the same as Lordran, the environment that we play in feels and looks very familiar. From a very familiar blacksmith making his return to numerous enemies that we haven’t battled against in a few, to even many iconic weapons and armor sets. I even found a version of a former keeper of a certain jail midway into the game. Is Dark Souls III actually a sequel? Are we playing a prequel? What exactly is going on here lore-wise?
Either way, there’s a lot of Dark Souls fan service going on in this game. Yes, and it’s so good!
While Dark Souls III is the new entry into the series, Fromsoftware has taken the best parts of the previous titles and then improved. For example, in Dark Souls, you were able to warp to, and from any bonfires you previously lit but only after receiving a certain item that didn’t come until later. In Dark Souls II, all you had to do was lit a bonfire, and you were instantly able to warp to and from in a similar fashion. In Dark Souls III, you will be able to warp from bonfires as soon as you find them, much to the dismay of many Dark Souls fans. And while I enjoyed the ability to warp from location to location, I also feel that the traveling aspect feels like a mixture of prior Dark Souls titles.
In another odd twist, dying doesn’t have any penalties this time around. Previously if you died, you would turn hollow and use an item to revert to your human form. Dying works the same way; you still drop your souls; however, you don’t turn hollow this time around unless you do something specific, which I won’t go over as it spoils part of the game. However, you aren’t without a penalty. This is where the embers come into effect. When you first start the game, you’ll notice that your gear looks similar to a piece of singed wood. That, my friends, is the power of the Lord of Cinder, which you’ll find your connection with later on.
When you die, you lose that power though you just don’t hollow anymore. To get that power back, you must use what is called an ember, which restores that power. This also has its benefits as it also boosts your health by a small percentage, and you’re able to summons other players. So while the original hallowing process is gone, I like this new change, especially since if you use the embers correctly, you can also get an advantage going into a boss fight. They can even be used as a replacement for an Estus flask as well. The downside, however, is that they are limited. They don’t refill like the Estus flask, and while you can find some in the world and eventually buy some, they are still constrained. And once they are gone, that’s it, so watch out for how you utilize them. And no, that won’t stop people from invading your game if you decide not to use an ember. Nice try, though.
Fans of the previous two entries in the series who wasn’t a fan of the slow and clunky combat, especially after playing Bloodborne, will be happy with the changes that have been made in this game. The combat is fluid and fast, execution is a bit easier, although I was having issues with parrying at times due to the timing changing slightly. That also extends over to dodging, which is also faster in Dark Souls III. It would seem that Fromsoftware learned a thing or two while they developed Bloodborne. If you were to compare the combat found in Bloodborne and pitted it against what’s going on in Dark Souls III, you’ll notice that the combat is pretty much the same thing with a few minor changes. This also extends into shield blocking, swapping into a dual-handed stance, and even plunging attacks. I was really impressed by how much the combat has evolved, though if you enjoyed the combat from the previous Dark Souls titles and found that the combat in Bloodborne was too fast, you may be disappointed. Despite the changes, it did seem at times that no matter how decent you were, there was always an enemy of two that just seemed to be that badass you couldn’t easily defeat. I’m mainly talking about heavily armored characters that handle their huge sheets as if they were pieces of paper, easily able to slam your face into their shield, over and over.
Thankfully the enemy variation was plentiful in Dark Souls III. There definitely shouldn’t be any more complaints about just having humanoid enemies or bosses, for that matter. From armored knights, demons, harpy creatures, dragonkin’s, some sort of goblin hybrids, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Some fast, some slow; however, they have a very detailed appearance and are fun to fight. Truth be told, it felt that I was playing a game heavily inspired by Bloodborne instead of a Dark Souls game. That’s not a bad thing, though; it shows where the thought process was and fret not as it eventually becomes more Dark Souls-ish very shortly into the game.
That said, I did have an issue with several bosses in the game that were more gimmicks than actual boss fights. In those instances, you were forced to look for clues or hints on how to defeat the boss, which was easy to miss especially since you’ve been trained to do nothing more than attacking a boss until it’s downed. Thankfully there are few and far of those, while the rest of the bosses will require some thought and fast reflexes to get them to give up their souls. And for the truly devoted, there is one particular boss that will give you a run for your money, one that took me more than a few tries to get him down. So if the boss fights feel a tad easy, don’t worry, as they’ll soon ramp up for you. Just be mindful not to toss your controller across the room or at your TV or monitor.
The level design seems to be a mixture of things both tried and true and things that were learned from not just Dark Souls but also Bloodborne. This may or may not be the game’s weakest point, and while some may disagree, it is pretty hard to say that it’s not apparent. Levels change up fairly often from wide and open areas ripe for exploration, some with shortcuts and branching paths while others are confined and straightforward. There’s also a vast amount of horizontal exploration, which is clearly heavily present in Dark Souls II. While I don’t want to say it as I know what sort of debate this will start, it seems like two different teams or minds designed the areas in Dark Souls III. They aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, though; it just varies, and when it does, you can tell. No matter how you slice it, however, it all works out very well in the end.
Another return to Dark Souls III is the exploration that was sorely missing in Dark Souls II. Now you can stop following the main storyline and go pretty much anywhere. Certain levels are huge and offer a nice payout for those who decide to see what’s out there, from items to new shortcuts and even a boss. Yes, the game is so open-ended that you will miss out on several optional bosses if you choose not to explore. A bit misdirected at times, sure. That said, there’s nothing more exciting to decide to climb the side of a mountain and suddenly get involved in a boss battle. I’ve stumbled in a few cool things doing my exploration in Dark Souls III, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen everything yet. Thankfully that’s what New Game is for, something I love taking advantage of.
Is this the best rendition of Dark Souls yet? This is the question I’ve seen asked many times, and while I didn’t really have an answer, I did ponder that question as well. While I can’t speak for everyone, from what I’ve experienced from start to finish, I can safely say that this game is definitely better than I expected, especially after the release of Dark Souls II. While I’m not going to get involved in the best entry to date, I can say that it is one of the most enjoyable ones. Enjoyable but perhaps the easier Dark Souls title as well. How can a Dark Souls title be easy, you may be asking? From someone who has played every title in the series multiple times, including several new game sessions and all of the DLC, I felt that the challenge wasn’t always there. Of course, there are exceptions to this, as you’ll find out when you finally get your hands on the game.
I’m not saying that the game is a cakewalk, but the fear of wandering through the world didn’t feel as apparent as it once previously was. Sure, that could be due to myself being versed with the game-play of the series already; I do play these sorts of games entirely too much. There just were too many bosses that took one or two tries, and that really bothered me. However, for every one of those bosses I encountered and blasted past, several others would have me banging my head against the wall, that is until I finally beat them. In any event, have fun being slaughtered over and over again. That is the Dark Souls way, after all.
Despite everything I touched on so far, I would be crazy, not to mention the music. That eerie yet heart-pounding music that makes or breaks the atmosphere of the Souls series is ever so present. After listening to the soundtrack that accompanies the game, it’s fairly easy for me to say that Dark Souls III has perhaps the best soundtrack in the entire series. Music has always been a milestone for the Dark Souls game, and it simply doesn’t disappoint in what may very well be our last go. And while I won’t spoil anything for anyone thinking about picking up the game, be ready to have your mind blown. The music during the first 5 hours of the game is good. However, towards the end, it gets really epic.
Update: Shortly after this review dropped, Bandai Namco released the 1.01 update for the North American version of Dark Souls III. Introduced with the patch were several balance updates as well as upping the difficulty. This put the game on par with the PS4 and Xbox One Japanese versions — I didn’t find that the challenge was that much harder than previously. Mostly, I found that enemies were doing more damage to me than previously, but it wasn’t anything too drastic. That said, it didn’t stop me from running through the game two more times with New Game. It did make one particular boss fight a super pain in the ass.
No online testing in this review
I know that many fans of the series love their PVP, and so do I. Due to the North American version of Dark Souls III not officially being released until April 12, 2016, the servers aren’t online, and Bandai Namco is keeping a day one patch hostage. Oddly enough, I didn’t hear anyone about a day one patch for the Japanese release nor the PC English version of Dark Souls III. Either way, it means we cannot do any online co-op, PVP, or even NPC summons.
The biggest issue with the servers not being able to leave a message. I enjoyed leaving helpful messages to other would-be travelers, while others like to have a little fun and leave false messages. False messages have sent many players jumping off cliffs or running head-on into danger because they believed that a jester left. I looked and looked throughout my gameplay, only to remind myself that it will just be all alone until the official release. While I don’t think it is right to review a title with a major component missing, I can say that unless Fromsoftware did something drastically silly, then the online component should work similarly to how it did in the past titles.
Update: Since the game is officially released, I attempted to test out the online ability of Dark Souls 3 multiple times. Sadly I was still unable to join other people’s games either via friendly co-op or invasions. Every time I attempted to do so, it would act like it was working and telling me I was joining someone’s sessions and then fail. I’ve tried about 20 times since, and they all ended the same way. Still, it is a bit early. I suspect there may be a bug or two in the mix that will be fixed quickly.
The beautiful and the ugly
Since the copy I’ve been playing is the Xbox One version, I can not speak for either the PlayStation 4 or PC versions though I fully expect to play those as well. That said, the Xbox One version isn’t without its faults; I’m sure that was expected by many. Dark Souls III runs at a 900p resolution and sadly does not run at a consistent 30 frames per second. While that may seem to be an issue, it doesn’t make the game unplayable by any means. Everything I’ve encountered, from my character to the enemies in the game and even the backgrounds, is beautiful. With plenty of special effects that make the game pop, as the fire spewed from a Dragon, the frost effects show off a certain weapon, or even during a boss battle.
There is also the issue of the game slowing down at times though it doesn’t prevent the game from being playable. That said, you will notice it, and when you do, it will be apparent. When I noticed it, it wasn’t when I encountered a large number of enemies on-screen but more so when an enemy made an attack that was so expansive that the game likely crawled to a halt. Sadly this happened on not only boss battles but also normal progression in-game, such as running past several enemies. It is a shame that the issues that occur do though fans of the series will enjoy Dark Souls 3 on the Xbox One just fine.
Update: The recently released 1.01 patch for the North American version of Dark Souls III addressed the lower frame rate issues. While it does improve on what was originally seen, the game still does drop under 30 frames per second in certain areas and fights. It is vastly better than before, however.
Update 2: The 1.03 patch was released quietly before the official release; I noticed that while the performance did improve and the frame rate was more consistent, it still dropped during certain segments. It’s definitely an improvement, however.
Thankfully Bandai Namco has stated a day one patch for Dark Souls III, which will be released on April 12, 2016. Supposedly this will help with frame-rate issues as well as bump up the difficulty and address balancing issues. I, for one, truly hope this is the truth, as there’s way too much slowdown for a current-generation title. Loading between levels or when dying also isn’t very fun as you’ll have to deal with 10-15 seconds of load time, where heading back to Firelink Shrine can take anywhere from 15-20 seconds. If you’ve ever played Bloodborne on the PlayStation 4, then you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Finally, I’ve heard some complaints or worries that the game would be too short, similar to Dark Souls II. This is definitely not the case, not at all. It took me about 34 hours to get through most of the content, not including several option bosses. After the final boss was taken down, a fight that I add was truly epic; I set out to finally get those optional bosses down, which added another 5 hours to my game time. Just under 40 hours to tackle most of the content seems like a decent time to complete the game. There are still two other endings and other NPC’s that I failed to find the first time around. Thankfully that’s exactly what New Game is for. Though I may wait for the PC version to tackle this masterpiece again, that’s just the type of Dark Souls fan I am.
Highlight for spoiler: Dark Souls 1 = Dark Souls 3 > Bloodborne > Dark Souls 2. There I said it. Happy now?
Editor’s Note: This review is based on the English-Language version of Dark Souls III on the Xbox One. A Day-One patch is scheduled for release with the Worldwide Version on April 12th, and the review will be updated to reflect the changes. Since we were not provided a copy by Bandai Namco, we are not under the existing embargo.
All in all, if Dark Souls III is indeed the final chapter in the Dark Soul series then at the very least the game will go out with a supernova sized bang. Multiple endings, hidden paths for the adventurous, optional bosses and levels, tons of items to find and despite the forward linear progression this is perhaps the game in the Dark Souls series. While this review does cover the Xbox One version, nothing else will be any different on either the PlayStation 4 or PC versions as well. That said you can’t do wrong regardless of which system to you decide to play Dark Souls III on, just make sure that you do play it.
- Easy the best looking Dark Souls title to-date
- The combat is more fluid and flows better than previous entries
- The music is hands down the best in any of the Souls-related titles
- Tons secrets to find for those who like to explore
- Lots of Dark Souls fan service
- Will last you 35-40 hours if you do everything
- Game runs at 900p
- Doesn’t run at a consistent 30 frames per second
- It eventually does end
- I could die over and over yet never get enough of this game