Coming back to the Souls series feels different than last time I was here, back when the original Demon’s Souls was released in 2010. It wasn’t really for me, but Bloodborne convinced me to give the series another look just in time for what may be the final entry.
Don’t get me wrong, Bloodborne’s an asshole of a game, but I slowly came to appreciate the intricacies of the combat system, respect even the lowliest of enemies and became enchanted by the deep design of the game world which required genuine exploration compared to simply following a map or plodding along from A to B. But would I enjoy these things as much away from Yharnam and its reddening blood moon?
As I mentioned in my impressions of the game’s opening hours, Dark Souls III gets off to a relatively easy start compared to From Software’s usual opening beatdowns. With the series more popular than ever, this was a nice touch to ease newcomers in and it does provide a chance to at least learn how to swing a sword and roll about before the tears and pain arrive.
Hardcore fans needn’t worry; Dark Souls III tightens the screws before long and gets back to business as usual. Well almost. Bloodborne has clearly had an influence as combat is a bit faster than before and dodge rolling is vitally responsive – it feels worlds away from Demon’s Souls all those years ago.
The parry system is much more difficult to time than I found in Bloodborne. Using an armoured Knight character with a shield, the animation to perform a parry lasts an eternity and the sweet spot to time it against enemy attacks feels too vague compared to the pistol of Bloodborne’s hunters. Sure, it’s a case of skill and timing, but I found myself not wanting to risk it most of the time as it would usually end with me getting a sword to the face. A shame, as I’d become quite a fan of unleashing Visceral attacks.
Naturally, I really miss the Regain system too, where I could steal back health when retaliating fast enough. Dark Souls is a much more defensive game though and has a proper blocking system instead, although you’ll need a shield if you want to get the most out of it. Rolling is usually a better option as blocking repeated blows can empty the stamina bar in no time, leaving you defenceless to block, roll or fight back. Bloodborners, be prepared to feel on the back foot a lot and really grind out the days to boost your stats.
The combat’s not what keeps you going in Dark Souls III though; it’s yet another brilliantly designed world from the From Software team. Climbing up high will often give you views of a huge world in every direction, inspiring you to try and make it over to that castle or forest in the distance, if only you can find the way through. When you do discover a hidden passageway, or open up a shortcut back to the refuge of a bonfire, it’s almost as good as defeating one of the game’s many difficult bosses.
The further into the game you get the more the paths start to branch out, giving you multiple routes to explore. At one point my options were fight the giant crab in the swamp, grind for XP with the huge stick carrying bastards that keep gang-stabbing me to death, take on the two stupidly fast knights across the swamp or plough through the ruins and their Asian-esque lightning throwers to get to a boss that repeatedly kills me with pink crystal homing lasers before I even get close. Fun! And to think it started so ‘easily’.
I won’t go into much detail about the bosses as they play such a key role in the game’s challenging appeal and ‘Holy Shit!’ moments of terror. From Software are the only studio though that actually make you fear boss fights, they really are the most daunting challenges in games today. These monstrous creations defy expectations and often change tactics mid-battle or shift the entire landscape in dramatic fashion. It can feel enormously cheap when they unleash a new move that kills you in one hit, but it’s all about the learning experience and just hoping to get that little bit further with each attempt. Once you unlock the shortcuts or work out a way to sprint past enemies in order to get back for another attempt, the frustration gives way to ambition and confidence.
There are some elements of Dark Souls III that prove a little too irritating though. My first bone of contention is the seriously uninspiring loot. Weapons can be upgraded, but I rarely found anything that I wanted to use beyond a katana blade I stole outside the Firelink Shrine. Same deal with the armour as I rarely found anything better, unless it was another set of rags with fantastic poison defence but not much for getting stabbed, bitten, skewered and other typical mishaps of your average commute in Dark Souls III.
I can live with having to save levelling up until I reach a bonfire, but having to then travel back to the Firelink Shrine too feels like needless, loading screen-infested busywork. So I’d often try to wait until I had enough Souls (XP levelling currency) to level up at least three times between trips, which as you know in this series, can go horribly wrong if you get killed before cashing them in. At least you get one chance to make your way back to where you died to reclaim them, although it truly blows when you bite the dust after accidentally stumbling into a boss fight that you won’t be able to win for ages yet. Little tip for you: go back in, grab the souls, then quit to the menu and when you reload you’ll be outside the boss fight gate with your souls intact. Hey, you’ve gotta take what you can get in these parts.
- A fantastic world to explore
- Combat has improved so much since Demon’s Souls
- Rewarding accomplishments…
- …But are they? I mean, really?
- Parry system too vague to rely upon
- Loot pickups are rarely helpful
The Short Version: As a post-Bloodborne convert to the series, I found the world of Dark Souls III a truly engrossing one. Sure, it’s maniacally harsh at times, and still a little bit stiff in combat, but it manages to just about feel like the hellish tasks are achievable if you’re patient enough.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One | PC
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco