Anyone who knows anything about Dark Souls expects it to be immensely difficult, full of merciless enemies and invincible-seeming bosses – but when I started playing Dark Souls III I didn’t expect to encounter a monster I’d be utterly unable to defeat: power outages.
Our local power providers insisted on starting their shenanigans to coincide with the release of my most anticipated game of the year, which was made worse by the tighter deadline in my day job because of public holidays. Still, after a few nights without sleep and plenty of neighbour-waking swearing and controller-hurling, I was finally able to defeat the newest entry in the ball-busting Dark Souls franchise.
I don’t think there’s much to say about the Dark Souls formula that isn’t already known to most gamers. They’re fantasy action RPGs in which you create a character and enter a dismal world full of horrific enemies. There are hundreds of armours, weapons, spells and consumables with which you can equip your character, and near-endless tactics you can use to defeat enemies. There are so many secrets and tricks to learn that a clever communication system is built into the world to enable players to share their knowledge. You can also summon other players into your game temporarily to help you, or enter their game and help them. You can also invade other players’ worlds and attempt to kill them – and they can do the same to you.
That about sums up the basics and Dark Souls III is no different to its predecessors in this regard, so I’ll get on to the differences. All Dark Souls games have very deep stories that aren’t told outright, but are cryptically littered around the world for YouTube loremasters to find and explain in entertaining videos. The gist of Dark Souls III‘s story is that the world is dying because the four Lords of Cinder – who sustain the world by burning themselves alive – have absconded. I guess if my job involved burning myself alive, I’d play hooky a lot too. You’re tasked with finding them, kicking their asses and dragging them back to their thrones to save the world.
This is easier said than done, and I must say I found Dark Souls III to have quite a steep difficulty curve in the beginning. It evens out a bit as your character levels up and you find some of the more decent early equipment, and then ramps up and down intermittently over the course of the game. I found Dark Souls III to be a bit more linear than its predecessors. You’ll be quite far into the game before you encounter a branching path enabling you to visit two completely separate areas, both of which must be cleared before you can proceed to the next linear bit. After that there’s another fork – again, both prongs of which must be cleared – before you can proceed to the rather extensive final stretch.
This more linear progression is most noticeable if you’re a veteran of the previous games, which sprawled off in every direction and allowed for some creative approaches to clearing the games – but it’s not a huge issue. Because Dark Souls III is the first game made specifically for current-gen machines, the areas you explore are quite a bit bigger, often containing several distinct areas and even entire hidden sub-areas you could easily miss.
For instance, the first major area you encounter, The Undead Settlement, contains a collapsed bridge, a dilapidated village, a sewer, a canyon, a tower housing a giant you can befriend, a cathedral containing a boss, and two secret areas I totally missed the first time – one of which is quite extensive and contains a mini-boss of sorts, as well as one of the most useful rings in the game. Each of these sub-areas is full of interesting details and plenty of nooks and crannies containing loot and/or nasty surprises, making exploration a lot of fun.
Combat is largely the same as before, requiring that players manage their health and stamina while they learn when to block, dodge, attack, cast magic, use items, etc. A new mechanic is that every weapon in has at least one (sometimes two) special attacks. These attacks are generally the same for each class of weapon. For instance, longswords allow players to enter a special stance that grants them two powerful attacks – but occasionally you might find a longsword that has a unique special attack, such as the Longsword of Judgement, whose special attack hurls dark projectiles.
Magic is much the same as before, except that instead of charges/ammo which is recharged at bonfires, there is now a magic meter. More powerful spells require more magic points to cast, so if you want to cast lots of spells, you’ll want to invest in that. There are also two types of Estus Flask now, one for healing, one for restoring magic points. There are three schools of magic: sorcery, miracles and pyromancy, and hexes school (which was introduced in Dark Souls II) is strangely absent – although there are some “dark” sorceries and pyromancies that resemble hexes.
Another thing you’re likely to notice is that FromSoftware are diligent recyclers, and many items and enemies from the previous games are mixed in with the new stuff. There are also some old locations – but those are implemented in the narrative and very cleverly used. Also, From, don’t think I didn’t notice that the Pontiff Knight Armor is a re-skinned Bone Ash Armor from Bloodborne.
So that’s Dark Souls III for you. It’s familiar yet fresh, with a new world to explore full of awe-inspiring, controller-snapping encounters, presenting a few new mechanics on top of the tried-and-trusted gameplay. As always, it’s only for those who are up for a challenge.