The Dark Souls franchise has seen a meteoric rise in the last few years, somewhat unlike anything else I've ever seen. From Software were by no means a small company in 2011, but they became one of the most revered seemingly overnight with the release of Dark Souls, an iteration on the developer's Demon Souls. It's only been five years since then, and we are already deep into the franchise with sister property Bloodborne to go alongside.
With the first in the series considered the best game ever made by some, Dark Souls 3 has a hell of a reputation to live up to. And you know what? It might just do it.
Dark Souls 3 takes you on a beautifully macabre journey through the crumbling Kingdom of Lothric. One of the most immediately striking things about the game is its absolutely stunning art direction. To be fair, the Souls series has always had that, but, especially in the first game, it could be a little crude looking in the graphics department. That isn't the case with Dark Souls 3. This series has really hit an all time peak with how stunning this franchise has looked. The vistas, the environments, the monstrosities you will face are all beautiful in their desolation and depravity. The trip to Lothric is well worth it if even just to gape at the Gothic surroundings and environmental storytelling.
However, I know that isn't the main attraction that you are here for. Yes. The game is hard. But to sell it as just that, is to do this entire series, and in particular, this game, a disservice. Dark Souls is about challenge. Any game can be hard, but Dark Souls 3 walks a tight rope between fairness and kicking you in the rear end. It's a delicate walk and it is one that Dark Souls 3 mostly (more on that later) treads successfully. There is a real beauty in the design of how the game skirts this relationship between the two factors that really make it a rather stunning achievement. Always tiptoeing between dying and getting better is what makes this game so incredibly compelling and hard to put down.
If you are a veteran of the souls series, the game largely works in the way you know. You are constantly on a search for bosses and bonfires, spending time cutting through all kinds of nasty wanderers of the dying land. As you explore the depraved depths, you will meet new horrors to figure out and conquer along the way, consuming their souls to fuel your journey and bonfires that work as checkpoints to catch when you inevitably die. Dark Souls 3 doesn't do a lot to overthrow the franchise's old mechanics, which depending on if you love the games or are feeling a little fatigued on them, should tell you if Dark Souls 3 is for you.
As you work your way through all the areas of this twisted landscaped, you will find the bosses who preside over each. This is obviously the defining trait of Dark Souls, which is why it is really good that Dark Souls 3 really does hit a home run in most cases in this aspect. The game features 19 bosses and the thing that really stands out for me when looking at them as a whole is the variety on display here. The game obviously has its dodge, roll hit, repeat bosses, but in quite a few of them there are puzzles to solve in order to succeed. It's not always about the struggle to just hit an enemy a lot of times, but figuring out the secret of an area, and unlocking the puzzle of how to hit them for massive damage. Even then, those ones that are all about rolling around and waiting for a hit, there is still lots of variation to the flow of a battle. Some are all about being aggressive, others about holding off, some about dealing a ton of damage at any one time, others about slowly chipping away at an enemy. No two truly feel alike to each other, and that is a testament to their design.
To spice things up, what Dark Souls 3 does bring to the table is transforming bosses. This is a hold over from Bloodborne where once a boss is down to half health or beaten once, it will transform into something, be physically or not, always bringing a more aggressive and dangerous foe to fell. Since so much of Souls is about seeing something new, and after the initial fear of having no idea what to expect, in figuring out what it's bringing to the table this adds a two staged gut punch to a boss fight. None of this is to say anything of the absolutely gorgeous character design on display, with demonic, bestial, twisted and dark creations all trying to rip you asunder. It means that the Dark Soul's 3 rogue gallery remained a delight to discover throughout. The same can't be said for how incredibly hard some of them can actually be, but again, that is all part of the game, no? If a boss is proving to be a little too much for you (like some likely will), you could always call in a phantom buddy in the game to help you out, with the game's really neat and rewarding multiplayer. This is a nice option for those of you really struggling in an area, or are if you are completely new.
One of the things that does keep the game fresh as well is it's rather deep level of weapon customisation. There is a lot to explore here with so many options, you will be able to find the weapon that is just right for you. Whips, Axes, Spears, Crossbows, Greatswords, Long Swords, Katanas, Twin Blades, Mauls, Fist Weapons and more are all available to dish out your own pain. There is so much to dig into here. If you grow fond of something, you can keep upgrading it too to keep it at par with all the awesome new weapons you will find along the way. For example, my simple axe, which I started with, came with me all the way to the death of the game. On top of all this, you can apply special gems that make your weapons scale differently, with different elemental powers or focuses. It really means, that besides the rather cool special weapons you can pick up off bosses, you can create your own specialised weapons to keep things fresh and adapt to your build.
If I did have a problem with the game, it is that at times the challenge can fall a little on the unfair side. Being able to be one shot killed by a boss is never fun, as it means that no matter how well you are doing, you can always be murdered in the blink of an eye. There are certain bosses and areas that are just straight up evil, and difficult to manage all on your own. With the multiplayer, this becomes an easier proposition, but if you refuse to call in help, or are only playing the game offline, there are going to be bosses that you are swearing at and possibly stuck on for a long time, killing your momentum. As I said earlier, most of the game is finely balanced, and it is tight rope walk, so perhaps unsurprisingly the game stumbles in that push and pull a little here and there. Still, I could see it ending some player's forward thrust if they get monumentally stuck.
All said though, Dark Souls 3 is a remarkable game by my account. I really enjoyed almost all of my time with it, even if I was shouting at it from time to time. There is real beauty on display in all areas for all the ash and soot the game wants to force upon you. Both in mechanics and the way the game looks, there is so much that is hard to not admire. I've completed the game now, and despite all the punishment and torture, I'm considering jumping straight back in. That is so rare in a game saturated market, especially for myself. This really is a wonderful little achievement, and amazing that after this many games in the franchise in such quick succession, there's lots I still find interesting and fresh. It remains a unique franchise, and unmatched in the quality it is producing in its genre. Dark Souls 3 is a fantastic outting from From Software, and well worth journeying into its rancid fantasy to pillage your fortune.
Buy it if: You are a big fan of the series and want to play some of the best it has to offer.
Avoid it if: You don't like these games or will refuse to use online features, but don't want to get stuck for long periods of time.