Before I begin my review, I need to ask. Do you like the Dark Souls games?
If you answered “no,” this is your getting off point.
Dark Souls III is the latest in the Dark Souls series, starting with Dark Souls in 2011 (Or Demon’s Souls in 2009, depending on who you ask), and has become a notorious franchise for its often-overstated difficulty and cryptic lore over the years. And now, five years later, we have Dark Souls III, a fantastic title that still feels a bit like it’s just more of the same. More of the same enemies, more of the same locations, more of the same characters. Basically, if Bloodborne was the American Super Mario Bros 2, Dark Souls III is the Lost Levels.
Dark Souls III opens in a way that should be instantly familiar to series fans. An old woman giving exposition before letting you loose into a tutorial area populated by developer messages. The entire game is packed full of Souls mainstays—from big guys in armor serving as bosses to the return of everyone’s favorite shifty merchant Patches—but while it was mostly retreading old ground, it never felt too rehashed. Sure, a few characters and areas from the previous titles show up, but the majority of challenges in your way are all original.
Along with familiar concepts comes familiar gameplay, and there are very few new additions to the core mechanics. You’ll still be balancing stamina and health, still watching enemy patterns so you can deliver punishment with light and heavy attacks, and still resting up at bonfires. Thankfully, the life gems of Dark Souls II have been removed, and having to rely on solely estus once more makes everything feel all the more tense. Estus can be allotted between two flasks at the blacksmith, allowing you to either drink to consume energy (managing your special attacks) or to restore life. Personally, I rarely used the special attacks, but I can certainly appreciate the new wrinkle of strategy added to the estus.
Of course, what would a Dark Souls game be without hordes of enemies? During my journey through Lothric I’ve slain all manner of hunched-over goblins, massive gargoyles, and writhing piles of maggots that take form into giant beasts. As customary with the Souls franchise, each enemy has a vastly different moveset, making every place you visit come with new and terrifying challenges. And for good measure, Dark Souls III throws in some old “favorites,” such as the Bonewheel Skeletons or the Mimics, ensuring plenty of traumatic flashbacks to be triggered at every step of the way.
The boss fights are the main attraction, however. From Software seemed to have learned their lesson from Dark Souls II, because every encounter in Dark Souls III feels wonderful and unique. One level you may be fighting off demonic bishops, and the next you’ll be taking on a giant, screen-consuming skeleton lord. As to be expected, each boss plays dramatically differently, and no two bosses fall victim to the same tactics.
And while Dark Souls II was a step down difficulty wise, Dark Souls III is a noticeably harder game. You can expect tons of dastardly ambushes when you least expect them, and frustratingly enough, I found that nearly every single chest I came across sprouted into a mimic. Combat wise, some later game enemies will really give you a run for your money with swift and punishing movesets, and there were a few times where I threw my hands up in the air and just closed the game. But no matter how many times I did so, I’d find myself crawling back just a few hours later, thirsting for more souls.
While the combat was as on-point as ever, I was honestly a bit burned by the level design. The original Dark Souls did a brilliant job of making the vast world interconnect through shortcuts and multiple entrances to an area, but much of Dark Souls III felt like a straight path with very little deviation. While there are some neat shortcuts you can unlock, there’s nothing as drastic or mind blowing as riding that elevator from the Undead Parish to Firelink Shrine in the first game.
Like its predecessors, the basic plot is easy enough to understand, but the more interesting in Dark Souls III is rather cryptic. If you really want to discover just what’s going on, the finer details must be deciphered through NPC dialogue, item descriptions, and contextual information. Perhaps my favorite touch was the many times I noticed characters, locations, and enemies from the first two Dark Souls games dead and decaying, really hammering in that times are changing in the world of Dark Souls. All in all, Lothric is a very convincing locale, and I grew to appreciate the cast of NPCs I met throughout my adventure.
Of course, the art helps out quite a bit. As to be expected from a Souls game, the dark fantasy aesthetic is absolutely breathtaking. Areas are littered with graves and corpses, yet there’s still beauty in the intricate architecture and gorgeous landscapes. But of course, the art really shines through with the enemy designs. I admit, one of the enemies I lovingly dubbed “spider b***” may be one of the scariest enemy designs I’ve ever encountered, and there’s a horde of other nightmares just waiting to take a piece out of the Unkindled One at every chance they get.
Really, Dark Souls III is everything you’d expect from a Dark Souls game. It’s dark, it’s rather difficult, and it’s got everything a dark fantasy fan could hope for. Still, despite everything, I couldn’t help but feel slightly annoyed, as while Dark Souls III is great, it can’t escape the feeling of being “just another Dark Souls game.” But still, I’d take just another Dark Souls over most games any day of the week.
Dark Souls III was reviewed on Steam with a copy and soundtrack provided by the developer.
Dark Souls III isn't revolutionary, but it's taken me on a ride I won't be forgetting anytime soon.