After a long, long wait, it is finally here. FromSoftware President Hidetaka Miyazaki is back in the director’s chair for Dark Souls III, and has created a gem that I was personally lucky to enjoy from start to finish. As fires fade and only embers remain, journey once more into a world beautifully interconnected and filled with sweet looking and colossal bosses.
Dark Souls III
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows (tested)
The Souls series is all about death and sadness, and Dark Souls III might be taking all of that doom to a natural conclusion. You rise from the dead in a land called Lothric, a place where “the transitory lands of the Lords of Cinder converge.” The First Flame is weakening again, as it was in the last two games, and the Lords of Cinder have been summoned to link the First Flame and make sure it doesn’t go out. But they don’t want any business with it and flee to their respective lands. Our task is easy enough: finding, beating, and dragging them back to the Firelink Shrine so they are forced to do their duty.
Dark Souls is a franchise known for being ridiculously difficult. Dark Souls I was a really challenging game with unique bosses, an interconnected huge world and a really solid combat system. Miyazaki wasn’t involved in Dark Souls II, a game that wasn’t so well received and was catalogued as unfair instead of challenging. It was easily the least creative Souls game in terms of bosses too, most of them being regular dragons or big boys in bigger armor. Dark Souls III seems to echo everything we loved about Dark Souls I.
The Flame has been at risk in the Souls series before. That is not new. The difference is that here, everything has the “end of days” feel. Humanity has been replaced with Embers, giving the impression that you are using the last viable sparks out of the world. A new stat to guard against Darkness has been implemented, and you even use Ashen Estus, which is a strong hit about getting energy from ash instead of the fire it used to be.
This time around you are also Unkindled. The game is not particularly helpful in explaining what an Unkindled is, or at least not directly. I’m sure a lore fan will be able to find out exactly what it is by simply exploring the world and reading item descriptions, a signature of the Souls series to deliver lore to its fans, but the NPCs describe an Unkindled as “Nameless, accursed Undead, unfit even to be cinder”. It doesn’t look good for us, but nothing in the Souls’ games happens by accident. It is clear that a no end corridor will have a hidden door somewhere, and it is also clear that our connection to the Flame will end up playing a big part in the overall story, but spoiling it would be doing a disservice to the community.
As for class choices, we have 10 of them. It is a given we would have the balanced Knight and Mercenary. The Thief and the fiery Pyromancer are also classics at this point. Then we have the magical Sorcerer and Cleric, for those not so keen about melee combat. We also have the Deprived for hardcore veterans of the series, and then we have 2 brand new classes. The first one is the Assassin, he starts with a sword and a sorcery, and it obviously focuses on offensive. On the other hand, we have the Herald, which features a healer vibe with focus in defensive. Oh, he uses a Spear. The new classes are there for players who prefer the jack-of-all-trades approach, since they don’t shine at anything specific, but can do pretty much everything at the same time.
The combat itself is also enhanced. The first and most obvious tweak is the speed. Just like in Bloodborne, even the slowest knight is quicker than they were in previous games. But the caution and patience of Dark Souls is still the most important aspect of the battle, so don’t expect to regain health by attacking. I’ve seen a ring in my playthrough that does something similar, but it is not by default. Rolling and backstepping is also way faster than it used to be, which makes these moves more reliable, and shields are not as important as before. I personally beat the game by wielding a double handed Spear, a Butchers Knife and amazing Fume Ultra Greatsword. Yes, it is back and better than ever. I just kept switching weapons because all of them have something interesting to offer. Backstabbing is still a big deal in any combat, and I’ve done a few visceral attacks as well.
Weapons have also been improved. Now they feature Battle Arts. Weapons have unique abilities to use in combat. For example, a longsword can perform a sweeping strike that bypasses an opponent’s shield. A scimitar can be duel-wielded to unleash a spinning attack that hits multiple opponents. I personally had lots of fun with my butcher’s knife. It doesn’t do anything fancy, but it is effective: you can sharpen the blade for a small amount of time to deal extra damage. Some weapons can be put on a ready stance, where you can quickly deliver a hit or two without swinging them. Battle Arts certainly give players more variety in combat, as well as to make the less-popular weapons more attractive to players.
Leaving the battle aspect behind, next thing in the agenda is the world and the environments. It is important to note that Dark Souls III environments borrow heavily from all corners of the series, allowing fans to walk thru old and important locations all over again. Do you remember being knocked out of Anor Londo’s roofs by Knights and their Dragonslayer Greatbows? Well, that is back. Do you have strong feelings about the Stray Demon? Because you get to fight him in a really important location: the bridge where we fought the Taurus Demon in Dark Souls 1. Yes. That bridge. Now sadly destroyed and abandoned. The Firelink Shrine represents an obvious return, pulling in that well-known Dark Souls locale, and the towering High Wall of Lothric bears many medieval fantasy characteristics consistent with Dark Souls overall look. I was very happy to be able to fight again in the same room I was stomped several times by Ornstein and Smough.
Bosses are also amazing, creative and unique. You all have seen the Dancer of the Boreal Valley already, but there are many, many interesting and cool fights through the game, both obligatory and optional. The first one that comes to mind is the Old Demon King, a fiery beast that will make you jump and for the wrong reasons. He is able to summon rings of fire in the floor where your only option is to run and jump over them. That sounds easy, but it gets harder when he is also spitting you fire, making fire rain, and trying to hit you with a ridiculously long mace. Also, every single boss has at the very least a second form and set of attacks. You won’t be able to drain their health by using the same tactics, because it is simply not possible. Pontiff Sullyvahn, for instance, uses two swords (one of fire, one of ice). You can fight him pretty much like any other warrior, but when he reaches 50% of hp, he summons a ghost. Now, the interesting part is that the ghost doesn’t mimic his attacks, but the other way around. This makes you think about what to dodge and when to run. Some of their attacks need at the very least 5 dodges if you want to remain at melee range, but then the real boss does the same attack, and he only needs to land 2 or 3 hits to get you down.
As a final note, the optimization is really good. I was able to keep a solid 60 fps throughout the entire game with a GTX 970 and an I7 4770k. It is not an entry level PC, but it is not a state of the art rig either, and it was enough to pull out dense areas full of secrets and enemies, with some minor hiccups here and there.
Dark Souls III will have a worldwide release on April 12th 2016 and will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Go get it. Seriously. It is amazing game that does pretty much everything right, you will need at the very least 20 hours if and only if you are seasoned Souls player, and you can almost double that if you decide to explore every single corner and are new to the franchise. And I didn’t even mention NG+, NPC quests and coop.