A famous philosopher once said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – a poignant and thought provoking quote that I can’t help but wonder if developers “From Software” absorbed during the last 10 years. Whether they intended to or not is immaterial through, as the development and release of the Souls series of games the studio has demonstrated an attitude through gameplay that rewards users for learning from and considering their actions.
The reputation of the Dark Souls series is formidable, almost as much as the blood dripping two word sentence that accompanies every failed parry and every over aggressive stance that leads to your protagonists latest demise. It’s one that may seem puzzling, frustrating or downright the opposite of what some would consider a fun video game experience, yet gamers keep coming back.
I must confess prior to this review my experience of the Dark Souls series has been limited, restricted to frustrating snapshots at the hands of friend’s gaming consoles trying to understand what made the series so beloved. Only by sitting down and embracing the game’s underlying controller smashing mechanics did it finally click. Dark Souls 3 is like a parent providing tough love – it may seem cruel and unfairly harsh, but when it finally clicks and you understand the lesson being taught the rewards are lofty.
The gameplay puts as much focus on the defensive nature as springing an attack on your opponent. Learning to avoid a hit is as, if not more, important than springing one of your own; it is the antithesis of what you have been taught over your previous gaming experience and rewiring your brain to its mentality can be a daunting experience to the new player. However when you understand these mechanics the variety of choice and customisation provided allows you to find a play style that will suit many the different palettes. Different class types allow different weapon combinations based on your statistical attributes and the range and style of weapons on offer will give you something new to play with when you find them.
A big feature of Dark Souls III is the new battle art attributes, where each two handed weapon will lead to a different attack approach from your protagonist, effectively extending and further widening your move sets. Elsewhere, changes to the availability of mana, via the addition of a new flask reserved for magical ability, gives the player greater agency on how to split their resources. Do you pump all your resources into protecting HP or do you keep your magical resources high to allow for more distance attacks on enemies? Experimenting with these was very much trial and error but it is a nice touch, an evolution not revelation of the mechanics and ones that I believe fans of the series will appreciate in this latest iteration.
Key characters that offer important skill branches such as learning magic can be easily missed. It’s a pity, because as you learn this system and progress forward you can feel your character evolving – areas that once took an age to traverse before can be smashed through in seconds. The game is very good at building you up to feel like a god before knocking you back down to size at the next challenge but it makes you come back more determined than ever. Those who get overwhelmed early on may miss out on these experiences and it’s a real shame.
It’s not just in its battle system that Dark Souls 3 is very much a next-gen evolution of the series. From the opening moments you can see this game has been designed with a strong visual aesthetic helping to build up a sense of the world you find yourself in as the Kingdom of Lothric is realised around you. You get a real feel for just how much consideration and detail its creators have put into the details of the World of Lothric, from the architecture of its castles and rooftops to the details on shields where weapons have been rebuffed.
With the game running capped at 30 frames per second on the PS4 some might have concerns over this really being a true next gen looking game but they shouldn’t. It really is a very pretty sight to behold with some of the boss battles providing plenty of spectacle on the screen. Director Hidetaka Miyazaki has made a credible world that despite not being sparsely populated with characters still is capable of fulfilling the lore that the games narrative provides.
The Immersion is only heightened by the careful use of sound scape throughout the campaign. Going by an approach of ‘less is more.’ the game reserves its audible queues for key moments. Switching from quiet stringed numbers to quite literally drumming up a cauldron of noise for boss battles through loud monk-like chanting escalates the sense of tension for these bigger encounters. The contrasting, more reserved moments where the game allows you to simply be left with nothing more than the sounds of your environment, and perhaps a sombre chant quietly in the background, works well, but it is as you step forward into a enemy’s domain, determined that this will finally be the time where you beat them that the soundtrack really adds to your experience.
I say your experience because that’s exactly what Dark Souls is trying to offer its players. While the main story beats will be the same (although depending on your actions the end results may differ slightly) the game offers you a huge variety of customisation. Want to be a strong weapon orientated heavy hitting knight? You got it. Fancy taking a more ranged weapon approach with a stealthy angle? Not a problem. Even the sheer look and design of your character can be truly crafted to suit your individual preference. You want to be a green skinned ginger bearded chunky man. You can be.
Dark Souls III offers players a fantastic gaming experience in a beautifully stylised and well developed kingdom. While it is not a game for everyone, those who are willing to persist with its mantra will find a tantalising challenge with a world which can be revisited multiples times thanks to a broad class options and variety of equipment which gives each play-through a unique feel. It’s a frustrating, tantrum inducing, blood curdling mountain to climb at times, but when you reach the peaks its beauty is revealed.
Dark Souls III offers players a fantastic gaming experience in a beautifully stylised and well-developed kingdom. While it is not a game for everyone, those who are willing to persist with its mantra will find a tantalising challenge with a world which can be revisited multiples times thanks to a broad class options and variety of equipment which gives each play-through a unique feel. It’s a frustrating, tantrum inducing, blood curdling mountain to climb at times, but when you reach the peaks its beauty is revealed.