Dark Souls 3 is a harrowing adventure. One that’s filled with intrigue, tension, frustration, and, of course, reward. Through dark, cavernous dungeons to hazy, overgrown swamps, death and treasures await around every corner. Even though cracks in the tried and true formula are beginning to show, Dark Souls 3 builds on its foundation and proves to be a worthy addition to one of the most punishing RPG series out there.
You take up the role as an unkindled warrior cursed to wander a world nearing its end. The story in Dark Souls 3 is obscure by design. The complex narrative is buried in item descriptions, the environment, and the sparse dialogue friendly characters are willing to share with you. It’s there if you’re willing to seek it out, but it’s supplemental to the overall experience.
Dark Souls 3 is all about the combat. Taking cues from Bloodborne, the combat has been sped up. Your character feels lighter and more agile and the same can be said for the wide array of enemies you’ll face-off against during your adventure. Timing your rolls and parries are more crucial than ever, but veterans of the series shouldn’t have much trouble adjusting because the core mechanics remain the same. Monitoring your stamina bar, timing your attacks, and studying an enemy’s movements are just as important as leveling up your character and reinforcing your weapons.
One of Dark Souls 3’s biggest improvements is character building. Unlike Bloodborne, Dark Souls caters to many different playstyles. You can be a cunning thief that wields daggers, a wizard that dons a robe and a staff, or a knight in shining armor. You could run with any of these playstyles in the Dark Souls series, but Dark Souls 3 feels like the first in the series where one playstyle isn’t favored over another. Carrying a shield has just as many benefits as not carrying one, and using a smaller, precise rapier felt just as useful as a heavy axe.
And in case you’re worried, Dark Souls 3 is hard. While it might not be as challenging as Demon Souls or Dark Souls, it will put your patience to the test.
Dark Souls 3 also features some of the most profound settings yet. The moody, dilapidated castles show the remnants of a once powerful kingdom, and some of the tallest peaks rise above the gloom and leave the player with a breathtaking view. Dozens of times throughout my thirty hour playthrough I found myself taking a breather just to admire the gorgeous skyboxes. After dozens of deaths, the view waiting for you at the end of a dungeon felt just as rewarding as lighting a bonfire.
The level design varies as much as the settings. Some areas intricately overlap while others give the player a wide open area to explore. Each heightens the challenge, and forces you to learn from your mistakes and press on. An area might seem insurmountable at first glance, but as you gain a better understanding of your environment and its denizens the tables start to turn. An enemy that once took you out handedly is now the hunted, but that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. When you do that same enemy will capitalize on it.
But all of this shouldn’t come as surprise. Since Dark Souls, these aspects have become staples of the series. Weapon artes and the new mana bar add another layer to the complexity, but the fundamentals are nearly identical. You grind through an area, find a shortcut, die, and try again. Despite my overall enjoyment, I couldn’t help but feel jaded when I hit the halfway mark. After three years in a row of From Software games this feels like an early sign of fatigue. After awhile, I knew what to expect: An inconspicuous cubby off to the side probably housed a monster, a locked door was probably a shortcut I’d stumble upon later, this enemy will probably have a transformation, and so on.
Its cracks become more visible during some late game bosses. A few bosses in particular felt like reskinned versions of previous ones. After some experimentation I found myself using the same exact tactics I used ten or so hours ago. This isn’t to say that all late game bosses felt recycled. One of the later bosses pits you against two siblings that force you to dance between close range combat and defensive tactics from afar. Another boss puts you in the middle of an undead clash while you try to pick away at the boss’s health all while avoiding friendly and hostile monsters. And even though some of these bosses feel all-too-familiar, their character design is top-notch.
Despite these issues, there’s no denying that Dark Souls 3 is built on a solid, yet complex, foundation that beckoned me to trudge on, and explore every nook and cranny that I came across. The oppressive tone of the world may be taxing for some and the sharp difficulty spikes may put off others, but those who choose to endure it will be rewarded with more than rare armor sets, powerful weapons, and souls. Those who survive will awarded with an unparalleled sense of an accomplishment that cannot be found in many games today.
+Excellent Level and World Design
-First Signs of Fatigue
-Repetitive Late Game Bosses
Dark Souls 3 is not for the faint of heart, but those who choose to embark on this adventure will be pushed to their absolute limits and greatly rewarded for their struggle.
Jake Dekker completed his first playthrough Dark Souls 3 in under 30 hours on an early Steam copy. You can follow him on Twitter if you want to hear how excited he is to see Radiohead this summer.