Written by Jessie Seilhan
It is hard to believe that less than a decade ago a game made by FromSoftware would come out that would change the gaming landscape quite as much as Demon’s Souls did. An obscure title from Japan, it was followed up two years later by Dark Souls, and since then the Souls franchise has been firmly established. Even if you don’t play the games, everyone seems to use Dark Souls as a term for difficult and obtuse design in games. With the newest release, Dark Souls 3, FromSoftware has decided to put a ribbon on the Dark Souls series, even as its popularity seems to be the highest it has ever been. By doing this, they have the challenging task of trying to make a game that iterates on the previous ones while still retaining the magic of the first.
One of the core features of a Souls game is the way in which they tell their story. “Does Dark Souls even have a story?” is the famous question asked by gamers looking at it from a distance, and that is a valid question at the first look. The Souls games tell stories in indirect ways, with few cutscenes and murky dialogue from NPCs. Most of the story is found in item descriptions and the environment. Dark Souls 3 is no different. If you don’t care about story, you are given just enough plot to keep moving. The setting is that the fire that keeps the world going is starting to fade, and you need to get five ancient lords back on their thrones, dead or alive. For the Souls fan, and for people wanting to go deeper, Dark Souls 3 recontextualizes some of the lore from previous games, and answers some old questions from the beginning of the series. The narrative in Dark Souls 3 is the best in the series since the first game.
As for the combat, it is arguably the best it has ever been as well. Taking huge amounts of refinement from both Dark Souls 2 and series offshoot Bloodborne, the combat is faster than before, with a large amount of weapon variety and ways to build your character. It has been streamlined without really being simplified, with core concepts of stamina, weight, and item management all being present but better explained. Dark Souls 3 also introduces the concept of Battle Arts, which are weapon specific skills the player can use to do new and exciting moves in combat. Some skills are designed to help break through an enemy’s defense, others allow for a buff to add damage or a status effect. Because this is different on each weapon, the player is encouraged to try different arms in battle, and allows for weapons to fit a playstyle more directly. This has also helped make some traditional bad weapons in the series viable, as the battle art may be something you can’t get elsewhere.
Visually, Dark Souls 3 is superior to all games in the series, with the exception of perhaps Bloodborne. FromSoftware used the same engine from Bloodborne here, and sometimes you will even recognize assets from that Playstation exclusive. However, the art direction in Dark Souls 3 is very different from Bloodborne, with less of the gothic horror and more dark fantasy. The lighting is fantastic, with rays of sunlight poking through forested areas, and the use of particle effects like fog allow for devious ambushes to seemingly come from nowhere. On PC the game can run smoothly at 60 frames per second, with consoles hitting a fairly consistent 30 fps. However, the console versions do an incredible job of keeping up visually with the PC version, with settings and graphics that seem to mirror the “High” settings on PC. This all works beautifully with the stunning art direction and environmental storytelling that FromSoftware is so good at doing. In all, it is a fantastic looking game.
While some may be sad that this seems to be the last Dark Souls game in the series (for now, anyways), fans should be happy with this final chapter. The combat feels fast and responsive, the bosses are some of the best to date, and the story and lore add enough new information while still adding plenty of references and fan service to the series. With DLC hinted for later this year, Dark Souls 3 should wrap up the series nicely, and make any fan excited about what FromSoftware does next.
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