Gorgeously dark and atmospheric world
Retains the wonderful, tactical combat system
Sometimes feels cheap and obtuse
It’s all somewhat familiar now
Release date: 12 April
Developer: From Software
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
“The fire fades…” the opening cutscene of Dark Souls 3 stays with you as you stab, slash, dodge, thrust and parry through its bleak and hostile land. As the Ashen One, Ember increases your daily life – signified by smouldering armour – with death extinguishing you. Rather than restoring humanity, Dark Souls 3 asks you to kindle an ever-dying flame. Ironically, the image of a fading fire encapsulates Dark Souls 3 as a casino game.
As the third entry in From Software’s dark fantasy RPG series retains the same brilliant core – deep, thoughtful combat, an oppressive but striking world and a rewarding sense of discovery – it’s dampened by familiarity; never achieving the heights of what has come before and feels as though a sharp regression from PS4-exclusive Bloodborne. It’s a mishmash of the studio’s previous work, filled with fan service and nods, leaving it somewhat diluted. Dark Souls 3 remains a triumph, but there’s no escaping how derivative it really is.
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Dark Souls 3 takes a few of Bloodborne’s speed (albeit without the PS4 exclusive’s brilliantly nippy dash-dodge), the playstyle selection of Dark Souls, and enables you to loose across a global that’s a combo of the former’s gothic streets and the latter’s medieval embankments. You’ll fight undead soldiers atop a castle while avoiding dragon’s breath in a single section, plus some hours later be rolling beneath the claws of a huge beast, its crimson blood spattering on moonlit cobbles with each swipe of your sword.
The setting, Lothric, is a stunning world filled with detail, but evidently wears its influences on its engraved gauntlets, even revisiting old Souls haunts. It’s essentially a greatest hits collection, taking the very best of the studio’s back catalogue and wrapping it in a fresh, slightly chaotic package.
Instead of imitating the initial Dark Souls’ labyrinthine connection of distinct areas leading back again to a central hub, Lothric is a spider’s web, each new section its standalone environmental puzzle. There’s some rhythm to the world, with generally two different routes – and two bosses – offered by any time.
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Gorgeous vistas welcome new zones, your destination a stark landmark in the length. There’s an excellent sense of discovery, with seemingly innocuous routes often revealing themselves to be pathways to massive undiscovered locations. Purists could be disappointed that the layout of the world means warping between bonfires can be an absolute necessity – particularly as you will need to come back to a hub disconnected from all of those other world to upgrade your character and equipment, like in Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne – but it’s a concession designed to accommodate the scale of the sprawling landscape.
It’s a trade-off I don’t mind when the areas themselves, however disparate, are so exquisitely detailed and interesting to explore. Take among the first zones: the High Wall of Lothric. You enter this area – in series tradition – by slowly pushing open a couple of large double doors, light seeping in as the entranceway cracks, slowly but surely revealing the distant, gothic spires against an orange sky. Then there are your immediate surroundings: dominated by grotesque, twisted corpses impaled through wooden spikes, their hands contorted and their fingers pointing towards that same skyline. Regardless of the glorious sunshine, you can’t ever escape the overwhelming darkness of the setting, and it’s uncomfortable.
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It’s a casino game that doesn’t want you to feel relaxed, but if you’re a string veteran, you will. Whether armour-clad, wielding a greatsword and tower-shield, or draped in cloth while holding a katana and buckler, Dark Souls 3 feels as though home. The first twenty hours roughly feel just like strapping on a comfy couple of old greaves. It plays almost accurately as you remember the series, although aggressive playstyles are a lot more viable. There were small attempts to increase the formula, nonetheless they feel mostly superfluous.
Take weapon arts, which enable you to do powerful, weapon-specific attacks: the katana, for instance, makes make use of its scabbard as you possess it sheathed with you, swiping out in an easy arc; the battleaxe enables you to perform a warcry and boost your attack power; and greatswords enable you to swing your sword up, taking normal-sized enemies off their feet. Weapon arts can be handy for crowd control, but almost all of the time you’ll adhere to your normal tactics. In the end, weapon arts use FP – Dark Souls 3’s undertake mana – along with stamina, and FP can only just be reliably topped up by replacing a few of your health-replenishing Estus Flasks for a different flask, and health recuperation always takes precedence.
Bloodborne’s give attention to speedy dodging and parrying attacks proves From Software knows how exactly to innovate, but Dark Souls 3’s additions make it seem to be as if japan studio has gone out of ideas because of this series specifically. You can realize why series director Hidetaka Miyazaki really wants to move from Dark Souls following this one. Dark Souls 3 continues to be much better than most games, but stands in the shadow of the initial.
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Dark Souls is a string that’s regarded as hardcore and unforgiving. Its “prepare to die” marketing slogan aims for players who see completing tough games as a badge of honour. Many long-time fans prefer to say Dark Souls is difficult, but fair. In Dark Souls 3, Personally i think even the most militant series apologists will battle to develop excuses at times. Instead of increasing the issue by introducing interesting enemy types, Dark Souls 3 all too often resorts to dirty tricks.
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It’s immediately apparent in the treasure chests dotted around. Right now, you will likely swipe these together with your sword as an instinct, tapping at them together with your weapon to see if indeed they sprout limbs and attack you as a mimic. In Lothric, nearly every chest will. Since mimics will kill you outright if indeed they grab your hands on you, fighting them gets old fast. It’s really overdone.
There’s also an enemy that may decrease your max health temporarily simply by looking at you, reducing it to the main point where a good blocked hit will kill you. So when your wellbeing does recharge, you nevertheless still need to drink Estus to top it right back up again. The only method to stop that is to strike them down quickly before they get chance, but they’re often grouped together in numbers, meaning it’s near impossible never to take damage. In a string known for fairness, it just feels off.
It’s the same for later boss battles, with homing one-shot kills, bosses who can duplicate themselves, bosses who could be revived, therefore many with multiple forms. Instead of that Dark Souls feeling of triumph that originates from winning a hardcore duel, Dark Souls 3 often enables you to feel like you have lucky, victory bringing only relief.
Dark Souls is a string about pushing through the unknown, pressing forward together with your shield raised, probing the darkness, and looking for the flicker of another bonfire. When the fire is lit, the prior area loses its mystique. It really is conquered. This same sense of familiarity permeates Dark Souls 3, and it only ever gets you out of your safe place by resorting to cheap tricks. Yet not surprisingly, it’s still a beautifully bleak adventure with among the finest combat systems in videogames – it just falls short of the magic of the initial. Just like the opening cutscene says: the fire fades.