Dark Souls III Review – More Dreary Magnificence

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Dark Souls III
Bandai Namco

The Dark Souls series has a singularly Japanese identity, which is lost on many foreign gamers. Although it features knights, ghouls, and demons, which all look very European, aesthetically, the combat, pacing, and unforgiving environs found in the Souls games are uniquely Japanese. Specifically, from the days of feudal Japan, where conflicts of interest which escalated into combat were usually swift and efficient affairs, with combatants dying in a matter of seconds. Indeed, the samurai of that era all came from certain martial schools, where each specialized in particular movements, stances, and killing techniques.

In this regard, the Dark Souls games, to me at least, have a direct correlation to the two, brilliantly-conceived, Bushido Blade titles from the 90s. Bushido Blade 1 & 2 featured a crafty, highly-nuanced combat system where a player had to study their opponent’s stance and movements carefully and adjust to subtleties in both, in order to have a better chance of survival. There were no flashy life bars, time limits, or any other sort of clutter, just you and your weapon and your opponent. Oh, and a single hit usually caused death. This unforgiving system punished impatience and rewarded careful, tactical considerations on a more methodical level. In essence, if you ran in half-cocked, more often than not you’d meet a swift and bloody end.

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The original Dark Souls game, helmed by out-of-the-box thinker and game director Hidetaka Miyazaki, had a very similar vibe. Swapping out a feudal Japanese backdrop for a highly stylized medieval-esque Western European one, Dark Souls was a Darwinian meat grinder of a game that quickly developed a reputation as being mercilessly difficult. For me it was everything a game should be, combat-wise. It was un-hand-holdy and also a much more cerebral experience, where careful tactics won the day rather than hurried button-mashing.

This divided American audiences, many of whom have become increasingly impatient and uncaring about a game’s lore or storyline. This petulant attitude of “now, now, now” combined with Dark Soul’s insistence on patience and planning in order to defeat foes, rubbed many gamers the wrong way. Thankfully, many of us gamers whom are into exercising our gray matter a tad bit more lapped up what Dark Souls had to offer, and then some. We knew that in spite of the difficulty, if we studied our enemies correctly (while probably dying quite a few times) we’d find a weak point somewhere which we could then exploit. The euphoric feelings upon overcoming such daunting obstacles were almost palpable, and a far cry from the “go here, whack that monster, collect treasure, go there…” rinse and repeat-type gameplay seen in similar titles.

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Hidetaka Miyazaki left the series briefly to go and direct the Lovecraftian-themed spinoff title, Bloodborne, leaving fellow director Yui Tanimura to take the reins for Dark Souls II. To his credit, I felt that Tanimura-san did an excellent job with the second installment, although I do see why many decried the game’s poor level design and rather uninspired bosses. When I first heard that Mr. Miyazaki would return to helm Dark Souls III I was elated, and I’m happy to report that my excitement and anticipation was well worth it.

Dark Souls III starts out macabre enough, as your avatar wakes up from his slumbers in an ancient grave. From there, you learn that the game takes place long after the first two Dark Souls games. Once familiar areas such as Majula and Anor Londo have crumbled into dust, replaced by a powerful and empire known as Lothric, ruled by the mysterious Lords of Cinder.

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Though the plotline is sometimes vague and even indecipherable at points, the gist of it is that similar to the previous Dark Souls games, the First Flame is once again in danger of being extinguished forever. The player once again takes the role of a champion and savior of the lands who has been tasked with ensuring that that doesn’t come to pass. Just as in the previous titles I learned much about the storyline through careful scrutinization of the dialogue with the few NPCs that I encountered, as well as the subtle lore that is presented for those who are curious enough to look for it. For many of the ravenous button-masher types out there though, these narrative considerations will be ignored or “buttoned-through” in favor of advancing to the next level or area or enemy. And that’s fine, there is truly something for everyone in Dark Souls III.

Those who are veterans of the Dark Souls series’ sophisticated, yet-simple combat system will be quite at home with Dark Souls III. Besides being noticeably faster, it’s still all about gathering intelligence on your enemy’s movements and attack patterns, then devising a dastardly plan of dispatching said foe. I still felt the same incredible feelings of accomplishment upon finding a way to kill strong enemies, usually after dying a time or ten. Just as in the first two games, the combat is so nuanced and downright fun, that being slain multiple times just doesn’t make one rage-quit (at least for me), but rather opens up a new opportunities to meet your foe in combat once again, this time armed with more knowledge about how to defeat them.

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Dark Soul III’s graphics are as glorious as ever, and have even been bumped up quite a bit since it has adopted the same, upgraded engine as Bloodbourne. The character and creature models are terrific. Armor gleams in the moonlight and fang and claw look as though they’ve recently been used. Environments are as beautifully gloomy as in previous Dark Souls games, although the regions themselves are slightly smaller (and more focused) in size than the first two games. The flame effects in particular are extremely well done, and you can almost feel the heat from exploding fireballs and radiant pyrotechnic spells and abilities.

In all, I found Dark Souls III to be an excellent return to form for the series, and its campaign is a lengthy and involving 35 + hours of purely delicious action and roleplaying. Dark Souls III is filled with gruesome creatures, challenging bosses, legendary loot, and a cryptic and fascinating storyline that is there for folks who like that sort of thing (like me). If you are a patient gamer who believes that gaming should be more about strategizing and roleplaying as opposed to rote-memorized button combos and instant gratification, then give Dark Souls III a try, and try to remember to eat and sleep in doing so.

5

 

SCORE: 85%

Dark Souls III definitely aims to please with cutting-edge visuals. We recommend playing it on a higher end gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to see how great they really are:

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