From Software have had a funny old history recently, thanks in no small part to a little trend-setting game called Demon’s Souls. When Sony finally made the decision to bring it to the West, fans leapt at the challenge, only to discover the pain that awaited them. Dark Souls carried on the mantle for a long time, but some consider Dark Souls II to be the black sheep of the franchise, partly down to series director Hidetaka Miyazaki only taking a supervisory role.
With Hidetaka Miyazaki back in the director’s seat, having successfully delivered the absolutely stellar Bloodborne, it’s time to ignite the bonfires and delve back into the dark fantasy world of Dark Souls III; a desolate place full of scum and tyranny that means to murder all intruders again, and again, and again.
As the fires die away, you are the Ashen One, tasked with rekindling the fires by seeking out the Lords of Cinder. The lore isn’t spoon fed to you, with a lot of the lore is depicted in the text accompanying the items and conversations with some of the locals, just as the other Souls games do. For those that want to uncover it, there’s plenty story to sink your teeth into should you so desire.
But really the gameplay is what you came here for. You’re looking for a challenge so hard that each agonising defeat only stokes your determination to finally overcome your foes. It’s surprising to see that the gameplay of Dark Souls III has largely unchanged. Perhaps it’s a tiny bit more aggressive, but in my playthrough as a primarily melee orientated character, hiding behind shields and parrying still works wonderfully.
Weapon Arts are the major new mechanic that’s being introduced in the third part of the Dark Souls trilogy. The general idea is that if you hold a weapon with two hands, you can perform a designated action depending on the weapon. Some attacks are more useful than others, so mileage varies depending on the weapon equipped, but it’s another element to consider when exploring the weapons at your disposal.
The other big change is that a lot of the magic users now use FP rather than numbered stocks that are refilled. A new Ashen Flash will recover FP and you can choose how many FP charges and how many healing charges you carry, with a combined limit to the Estus Flask. Since recovery items are almost non-existent, the ability to choose the number of charges throughout is hugely welcome.
Some of the conventions in Dark Souls III have changed somewhat, such as Humanity being replaced by the Embers which give your character a smouldering look. It largely does the same thing though, buffing your character until you die and your ember is extinguished. A lot of this is familiar ground, but there are noticeable additions such as the enemies using cold attacks to give you frostbite, which restricts your ability to recover stamina and can be truly fatal during combat.
If you were looking for an intricately designed world akin to the original Dark Souls, you’re sadly not going to find it here, as the world of Dark Souls III takes more of a leaf out of Bloodborne and Dark Souls II. That isn’t to say that the design of the world is bad, as there are a wide variety of environments to explore and they’re absolutely stunning to look at, it’s just not of the same calibre.
One slight blemish on the PlayStation 4 version of the game is that unlike its PC cousin, it is capped to 30 frames per second. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, as Bloodborne was similarly capped, but it’s also not consistent and stable at 30fps. The occasional frame dip in certain areas hinder reaction times and make for some tricky moments as you struggle to dodge incoming attacks, but you can rarely blame this for your untimely deaths. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less annoying.
Sound design has always been great for setting the atmosphere, acting as keys for threats around the corner, and Dark Souls III retains this quality. While music is seldom used in Souls games, reserved for epic boss encounters, it usually packs a great punch. Dark Souls III has incredibly diverse and tense scores, ranging from sombre chants to overwhelming overtures. Not all are winners on their own, but they work wonders with the battles they feature in.
Some boss battles in the Souls franchise have regularly been cited as the crème de la crème of game design. While Ornstein and Smough certainly spring to mind, a lot of the encounters in Dark Souls III are equally, if not more memorable for their various twists and turns. Even at an early stage in the game, those twists can come in the form of how you defeat them, which adds a wonderful level of strategy to each encounter that is very welcome for diehard Souls fans.
With so much hidden within the many halls, caverns, and even graveyards of Dark Souls III, it’s a wonder that From Software is able to cram so much into an intensely difficult experience. While I was unable to experience the online portion of the game at this time, the amount of covenants you are able to join indicates that a lot of the kinds of multiplayer shenanigans that usually happens when other players get involved.
Dark Souls III offers more of the same intensely difficult combat, ambiguous overarching story, and some striking locales and bosses in the franchises’ history. The only real objective criticism on the PS4 version is that the combat doesn’t feel responsive enough thanks to the 30FPS cap and frame drops. Dying in Dark Souls III is part of the territory and if that doesn’t faze you, then this is an easy recommendation for those with the patience of a saint.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4