Dark Souls 3 doesn't win over fans who didn't already enjoy the painfully difficult franchise, but it puts some challenging new twists on the tried and true combat system.
In the franchise's classic fashion, Dark Souls 3 asks a lot of its players. The latest installment in From Software's painfully difficult series of games continues the long tradition of throwing players into the deep end and letting them decide on their own if they are up for the challenging task of saving the world and earning some hard to obtain trophies. For the third time (in the main series alone), the result is a beautiful, dark, engrossing game that is definitely not for everyone.
Dark Souls 3 follows last year's Bloodborne and two years ago's Dark Souls 2 and manages to learn lessons from both titles. Players choose a class, create a character, and jump into a short tutorial to find their footing back in Lothric. The game doesn't explain much to players, but the short tutorial does attempt to convey the unconventional controls to players who are new to the series. The tutorial culminates with an easy boss fight that will likely be a cakewalk for veterans of the series, but is designed to explain the way of the world to new players. Taking down enemies requires careful planning, memorization, and defense-first combat tactics. Once players clear the mini-boss and find their first bonfire (save spot), the real fun (and torture) begins.
The story of Dark Souls 3 is familiar territory, but works well thanks to great voice acting and a stunning world that is sometimes disgusting to look at, but also hard to walk away from. Players take control of an unkindled hero and try to tackle the task of saving the world from the apocalypse. The darkness in the world is growing and the player can stop the spread by linking the fire, which basically means killing a bunch of other heroes. The plot is interesting enough, but it is really the game's visuals and challenging encounters that will keep players coming back for more.
All of the games that come out of From Software have been visually stunning in their own way, but Dark Souls 3 feels the most impressive yet. Although many of the settings revisit old territory that we've seen over and over from the franchise such as swamps and castles, the fresh coat of paint and level design are impressive enough to make it all feel like the first time. In addition to the scenery, the game's monsters are brilliant as well. The developer seems to have heard the complaints that Dark Souls 2's enemies were too visually repetitive loud and clear and really brought out the big guns this time around. Each enemy feels unique and it's hard not to be distracted by the incredible amount of detail that is put into each monstrosity. Despite the great effort that was put into making each enemy and boss look like a unique individual in the world, the bad guys sometimes feel just a little too familiar in the heat of the battle.
One of the few downsides to the game's combat is that the bosses (and other enemies) can often be handled with the same few tricks time and time again. This isn't the case with every boss fight, but there are a few that will feel way more familiar than players who enjoy a challenge with expect. The fights are still difficult, but the same series of moves can be used to take down a few late game bosses just a little too easily. This isn't a major problem, but may rub hardcore fans the wrong way.
Aside from that, the game's combat is incredible. The fights are brutally difficult, winning is always extremely rewarding, and there's a new level of speed that offers a cool change of pace from previous installments. The increased attack speed from enemies makes parrying more important than ever and, although the combat still feels distinctly like Dark Souls, there is a new rhythm to come to terms with. The game also introduces a new attack to the arsenal with the weapon skill feature. The special skill can come in the form of an extra powerful attack, a buff, or a unique spell. The mechanic uses the new focus points meter and add an extra layer of complexity to combat, which is a welcome addition to a game that is all about the challenge. Purists can get through the majority of the game's encounters without harnessing the power of the weapon skills, but where is the fun in that?
While racing from encounter to encounter and desperately seeking out the next bonfire to save progress, players may feel a bit more on rails than in previous installments in the series. The game's roads do offer a few variations, but most of the wrong turns end fairly quickly in a dead end after just one or two enemies. This forces players back to the main road much faster than in previous From Software games and may make the world feel a little less open. How much of an issue this is really depends on what players are looking for from the game. Even if players stick to the main road exclusively, there are still well over 40 hours worth of adventures to explore for the non-speed runners. If gamers were hoping for more of an open world experience with lots of branching paths to explore, this aspect of the game will come as a disappointment.
Although patches have already been announced and a few have been released, the game's bugs must be mentioned. We played the retail edition of the game with the day one patch and experienced a few weird frame rate issues, but no game-crushing bugs.
Like previous games offered by From Software, Dark Souls 3 offers a unique experience that blends subtle storytelling, dark settings, and painfully difficult encounters to stand out from the crowd of other action games. The challenge is well worth the countless deaths and hours of practice for players who have the patience, but is likely one that should be skipped by gamers who prefer to get things right on the first try.
Dark Souls 3 is available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. For this review, Game Rant was provided an Xbox One review copy.