Ah, Dark Souls. The game series notoriously known to be one of the hardest ever released. And of course it can be at first but after a while you start to understand the world you are given. But each time FromSoftware gives us another go at it, you typically have to relearn and ‘git gud’, as the kids say, and struggle against it once more. At least until you’ve got that one down pat too. Or at least that’s been my experience with the Dark Souls series. I’ve found them really really difficult for the first little bit then I find them pretty smooth sailing. The same can be said for the third one in this series– to a point. However, with Dark Souls 2 having a poor reception, and indeed the creative director of the original Dark Souls, Hidetaka Miyazaki, didn’t even work on the second installment into the series, it’s good to have him back for Dark Souls 3. Indeed, Bloodborne, which was a exclusive to the Playstation 4, was well received and also directed Miyazaki, so it’s clear this man knows what he’s doing.
Gametype/Genre: Rogue-lite, Action RPG
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Reviewing: Steam and Xbox One versions
You’re an Unkindled, a being that was brought back to life as the First Flame begins to fade. You’re tasked with returning the 5 Lords of Cinder to their thrones so that the fire can be re-linked and continue burning for ages to come. And that’s about all the game gives you to go on. The opening cinematic of the game says: “Yes, indeed, it is called Lothric, Where the transitory lands of the Lords of Cinder converge. In venturing north, pilgrims discover the truth of the old words. The fire fades and the lords go without thrones. When the link of fire is threatened, the bell tolls, Unearthing the old Lords of Cinder from their graves: Aldrich Saint of the Deep, Farron’s Undead Legion, The Abyss Watchers, and the reclusive lord of the profaned capital, Yhorm The Giant. Only in truth the lords will abandon their thrones and the Unkindled will rise. Nameless accursed undead, Unfit even to be cinder. And so it is, That ash seeketh embers.” Metaphors explained; you’re a being of ash and the Lords of Cinder are embers so “Ash seeketh embers”, just as I said. An NPC known as the Fire Keeper who resides inside the Firelink shrine, your hub area for the game where you will return to level up your character and buy new gear, will confirm as much by telling you to return the Lords of Cinder to their thrones. This of course means killing them and bringing back their remains, which will fall into ashen piles upon their death.
Characters and Visuals
There are a number of important characters and important story lines for several different characters. There is also plenty of lore for characters and enemies you will face within the game along with characters that were seen or even briefly mentioned in the previous entries to the Dark Souls series. However, there isn’t really character development with your character or your friendly characters. Unlike previous Dark Souls entries, you don’t see characters begin to go through a process known as hollowing, as in this entry most of the NPCs you meet are Unkindled just as you are and Unkindled don’t hollow. In previous entries, characters were Undead beings who would slowly lose their humanity and begin to hollow, losing who they were and growing insane. This created an interesting path for characters as you’d interact with characters throughout the course of the game who would be slowly changing into someone even they didn’t recognize. That’s not so in this game, though characters have many hidden and interesting agendas, allegiances, backstories and personalities. I do want to note again that your character has no development as a character. They are a vessel for you to play the game and insert yourself into the game, as most silent protagonists.
Visually this is our best looking Souls game yet. The environments are rich and detailed and if you stand at the top of certain vantage points within the game, you can look around and see other places you will go to or have gone to throughout the course of the game. Every area is connected to each other in same way with some places looping back to places you’ve been to or to places that you could see from previous areas. Your character can consume an item known as an Ember to become kindled in this game, which is this games version of consuming humanities. In previous titles, your character would hollow as you died and you’d have to use a Humanity to reverse hollowing. In Dark Souls 3, your character doesn’t hollow but when you die your health is reduced a portion and you lose a visual effect of fire burning at the edges of your clothing. I really like this visual effect and wanted to mention it somewhere in here.
The game runs at 60 frames per second and at varying resolutions up to 4k resolution and at a varying 30 frames per second, dropping to 25 fairly often or even down to 20 in intensive areas, and 900p resolution on Xbox One. On Playstation 4, I’ve researched to find that it runs at a nearly locked 30 frames per second and 1080p resolution. I did notice on my PC, which I should mention is solid and powerful but not overly powerful, that I’m running the game at max settings for Dark Souls 3 and throughout the game, from intensive to not so intensive areas I’m getting sudden drops to anywhere from 20 to 55 frames per second, but it instantly shoots back up to max again. It’s practically unnoticeable and I probably wouldn’t notice if it weren’t for my FPS counter. The controls are on point, too, as this is the most fluidly controlled Dark Souls game up to this point.
The music in Dark Souls games have always been a very orchestral and choral type of music. It feels dark and gloomy, moody and spooky; it’s very dark fantasy. And it’s good. It fits the mood the game wants you to have with how dark and foreboding the world seems. But that’s mostly the title music, Firelink Shrine central hub zone, and boss fights. Aside from that, the game world while exploring has no music and this is entirely deliberate. Instead you have ambient sounds such as winds blow, trees swaying and buildings creaking and enemies groaning in the distance. This sets the game mood as well, making the world feel empty and full of scary monsters that bump in the night, making for a very eerie aesthetic. When you run into a boss an orchestral choral type of music fitting the boss begins to play and you know that you’re in for quite a rough time. I’ll go ahead and mention that the sound effects all feel fitting, such as the creaks and moans and groans I mentioned earlier but also the sounds of weapons swinging or clashing against objects and footsteps upon the ground. NPCs all have voice acting as well and the voice work is probably the best it’s ever been for a Souls game, and it’s honestly not been terrible in previous titles either.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Dark Souls has always been a Rogue-lite and an action RPG. When you kill enemies, you gain souls. You use souls to buy items, to buy armor and weapons or upgrade weapons, and you use it with the Fire Keeper to gain levels. Also if you die you lose all the souls you have on you. You can regain your souls by getting back to where you previously died and touching your blood stain, but if you die again before reaching them, they are lost forever. That’s where the Rogue-lite portion of the game begins and sorta ends. Another portion of that is that each area has bonfires, or checkpoints, set up throughout them. If you die you return to your previously used bonfire. This is another element that adds to a rogue-lite as you have to go through all enemies between you and where you previously died all over again. This forces you to not only learn your enemies and your own fighting capabilities but also teaches you to get better at the game with managing other item usage too all so that you can overcome what you previously couldn’t. Each area has their own unique set of enemies with some enemies returning in later parts but in stronger forms. Each enemy is varied from each other in different ways with fast and nimble enemies and large healthy enemies that take a while to beat or weak enemies that have sturdy shields that are hard to get past and sniper enemies that can shoot you from a long ways away.
However, the game also rewards you for exploring and pushing onward as there are a number of goodies off the beaten path that you won’t find if you don’t look for them and a number of shortcuts that will lead you from a path much further into the area back to a previous bonfire. No cheating to get the shortcut from the bonfire if you know where it is as you must open it from the other side; you’ll have to have gone through and faces your foes to be rewarded with a shortcut. There are sometimes multiple shortcuts that you’ll encounter further and further back to the same bonfire or multiple different bonfires, but they are rewards for defeating your foes and exploring, they are never handed to you. There is also typically a shortcut nearby the boss room so that you can get back to the boss as soon as possible. The fighting style is slow and deliberate. You have to know how your abilities work and know how your enemies each attack and defend if you want to overcome the challenges that come. If you just go in swinging, you’ll run out of stamina and not be able to block, dodge or even swing your weapon so you want to watch your stamina and know when to stay your hand and begin preparing to block or dodge. A new thing they have introduced for their third installment is weapon artes. Every weapon has an ability that can be used with the L2/LT Button while two-handing the weapon that will be unique to that particular weapon. There are many within the game to learn and play with and find what you like the most, so I won’t get into that, but they use power from a new gauge that is known as your FP gauge. This gauge is also used when casting spells and miracles and can be replenished with a new flask item known as an ashen flask, while health recovery flasks are known as estus flasks.
At the blacksmith you can give flask shards, which you’ll find throughout the course of the game, to increase the number of flasks you have and divide them between flasks estus and ashen flasks, or even max out whichever gauge you want to use with all your flasks. The flask has a limited number of uses between bonfires but refill once you rest at a bonfire so if you find you’ve run out before reaching the next bonfire, be sure to return to get some more. But keep in mind that all enemies between you and your next checkpoint will respawn. Weapon durability and your current health and FP gauge will also refill upon resting at a bonfire. If a weapon’s durability does run out then you have to take it to the blacksmith and have him repair it before you can use it again. I never had this happen to me throughout my time with the game, so I wouldn’t worry about it too terribly much. Throughout the game you’ll find sublime bone dust and titanite shards which can be used to upgrade the strength of the health recovery for each swig of your estus flask and upgrade the strength of your weapons respectively. Titanite shards only can be used to upgrade the most basic of weapons and only to a certain amount before you must use something stronger such as a titanite chunk or titanite slab and so on as you continue to upgrade your weapons, up to a total of +10, which would be 10 total upgrades. More powerful weapons will use things such a twinkling titanite or other such items to upgrade them. These of course also cost an increasing amount of souls too.
Weapons also can have special status effects or elements attached to them. They could burn enemies or electrocute or even freeze enemies. Some curse, poison or cause bleeding effects. Keep in mind enemies or other players can inflict these upon you too. There are a number of things you can use to recover from special effects, such as following to put out fire or using an antidote to stop poison so it’s a good idea to keep status recovery items on you to deal with the rare status effect. Something else to note; though it’s not a status effect, walking through water or other liquids that are about knee deep will slow down your character and make them walk instead of run, and you can’t sprint or do a speedy roll while in the water. You’ll instead do the roll you do when you’re equipped with gear that is too heavy, which is slow and takes a long time for your character to stand back up. Speaking of which, rings, armor, and weapons all have weight and if your character’s equip load is over 75% they will not be able to roll as easily, as stated above. You can solve this by investing stat points into Vitality, which also increases poison resistance. You can also equip 1 of 2 equipment load increasing rings are equipped.
When you level up you get 1 stat point which you can invest into Vigor for increased Health. Attunement for increase spell slots as well as for increasing your FP gauge. Endurance for increasing your Stamina. Vitality for equipment load and poison resistance. Strength will increase damage output for strength based weapons and also required to wield weapons that need a certain number of strength and also increases fire resistance. Dexterity increases damage for advanced weapons and is required to wield certain weapons at certain requirements and also increases spell casting speed and reduces fall damage. Intelligence increases damage output of sorceries and pyromancies and magic defense and is required for pyromancies and sorceries. Faith increases the strength of miracles and pyromancies and dark defense and is required for miracles and pyromancies. Luck increases the drop rate of items from enemies and also increases how much poison and bleed you inflict as well as giving curse resistance.
Miscellaneous: Multiplayer and Replayability
Dark Souls 3, just like all previous titles in the series, is set up largely for multiplayer: coop and pvp. If your character is Kindled then that sets you up to be invaded by other players. Using an item found within game, players can enter into other players worlds to kill them. A message will appear on your screen stating that a “Dark Spirit ‘name of player here’ has invaded your world.” and it’s your problem to deal with. If you beat them, congrats enjoy this little token showing you beat an invader. Otherwise, it’s just like losing to any ol’ enemy, except they’ll probably emote at your corpse and make you feel humiliated with that stupid shrug they’re giving you right now. As an invader, depending on the covenant you join within game, as there are many covenants that have varying effects, you’ll gain certain tokens from killing players in their world. These items can be turned in to your covenant leader and after a certain number of them are turned in, valuable items can be earned such as weapons or consumables. Covenants can be anything from a group that lets you automatically call in a player from a completely different covenant that is set up to protect players from invaders to help you. Or to a covenant that will have you automatically summoned to the world of a player going into an area that your covenant wants to keep people out of. Or even to covenants that just want you to invade lots of people and get lots of things cause that’s what they do. Some covenants have quirks such as making your summon sign a different color for fun or changing not only the color of your sign but how it works.
Speaking of summon signs, that’s a perfect lead in to cooperative play. You can buy a summon sign from the Shrine Maiden, a npc that sells various items within the Firelink Shrine. Once you have a sign, you can place it upon the ground to be summoned to the world of other players. It’s worth noting a few things here that must be applied to make summoning a friend to your world work. First, you must be Kindled, meaning that you have to make sure you have consumed an ember and have that cool fiery visual effect on your clothes; the summoned player doesn’t need to worry about this though. Second, the boss of the area you are trying to summon a player to has to still be alive; again this doesn’t need to apply for the summoned player. Third, but also sorta related to the last, if an area has no boss then they can’t be summoned and you’ll know this cause you won’t be able to put a sign down in that area; but there are only a few areas that do not have bosses. And finally, when you open the menu and go to settings there is a network tab and inside of this area you can set a password. Using the password you can make it where only players with the same password as you can see your sign, which obviously would apply for your friend as well. This means that if you want to play with specific people, you’d want to use this method. Otherwise, you can leave this alone. There is a fifth thing to keep in mind while trying to do coop. If you are trying to be summoned somewhere and you are invaded, your sign will disappear or you won’t be able to place it at all. But you don’t need to be Kindled to place a summon sign, so that will only happen sometimes or even less than that. If you aren’t kindled at the time of being summoned, then when you beat the boss with the person who summoned you, then you will become kindled upon returning to your world.
Upon beating this game you will go into new game plus. And this can happen even when you beat the game in new game plus, putting you into new game plus plus (or NG++ as it’s noted by players online). This can happen several times and with each new game plus you retain all your levels and equipment and upgrades and enemies become stronger and will begin to drop stronger or better items that are only dropped in new game plus modes. In other words, Dark Souls is almost infinitely replayable.
Dark Souls 3 has made many improvements upon the second installment and even the first installment, a game people still play to this day. By adding the FP gauge and weapon artes, it gives a whole new aspect to the game that didn’t exist before and making weapons that used to be very similar stand out against each other because of having a special attack that only it has. The visuals have definitely been much improved upon, with this game looking the best out of the bunch and the performance, at least on pc, has been the best the series has ever gotten to this point with the game running very solidly on PC and not quite so bad on Playstation 4 and nearly abysmally on Xbox One (unfortunately). This is quite good as the reverse was the case for the first game with no graphical options, a locked 30 fps, and jagged controls for mouse and keyboard. Though I don’t use mouse and keyboard for Dark Souls 3, the game definitely feels smoother with your character moving in a more fluid way in every aspect; it just feels nice to control. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes and the bosses are very distinct and different from each other.
Summoning a friend to play has never been easier with the introduction of the password system and the fact that there is no longer a level cap on summoning your friends. And the game continues the tradition of becoming more difficult and letting you continue to play after you’ve beaten it into new game plus or even new game plus 8. The atmosphere is super dark and foreboding and the little music that exists helps to permeate that feeling whilst the eerie ambiance throughout the rest of the game solidifies that feeling. Also this is probably the hardest game in the series, at least when you start out or get to a new area. After you learn the ins and outs, just like previous titles, it’s not so bad though. Even so, make sure to go into areas prepared even if you know how things work because ambushes and tough enemies can and will kill you at a moments notice. This is by far my favorite Dark Souls game, and I’ll definitely be returning to it even years from now.
Game: Dark Souls 3
Genre: Rogue-lite, Action RPG
Platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed: Steam and Xbox One versions
Released: World Wide April 5th, 2016
Size: 17-19 GB depending upon platform
Retail: $60.00 or regional equivalent
Dark Souls 3 was reviewed with a retail copy of the game purchased through Steam and on the Xbox One Store.
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