Let’s talk about the enormous demon behind the fog door and get straight into Dark Souls 3, the third installment in the – let me finish – Dark Souls series by From Software. Dark Souls 3 is a fantasy game set in the ruined world of Lothric and is played exclusively by sadomasochists.
I knew from the outset that it would be tough, not only because my pre-order (which I wasn’t 100% sure would even be there) was an hour’s drive away but also because I am, admittedly, just not very good. A final thorn in my side was that when I managed to snag my copy, I was two days away from a long weekend break – I did manage to squeeze in 2 hours of play that week (and then 7 more since).
From the outset, Dark Souls 3 seems to be a step forward from Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne; combat is easier to pick up and it feels quicker and more responsive when you’re in the midst of battle. While easy to pick up, it is still difficult to master and From Software have complicated matters with new ‘special attacks’ that deplete your – equally new – FP meter. This is something I have yet to completely understand, which may have led me straight into my 78th roadblock.
The environment and world seem crisper and nicer to experience, from the landscapes to the way your character moves. They have certainly grown and enhanced the player experience from the days of Dark Souls. To add to that experience, there is a welcome return of the far-reaching horizon – in the distance you’ll see a huge forest or a towering castle and know that one day you’ll be right there, looking out on the next swath of landscape to explore.
The hubworld aspect of Dark Souls 2 has also made a comeback, in the heavily nostalgic namesake of Firelink Shrine. From this Shrine of Solitude (Fortitude), you will be able to warp to bonfires across the kingdom and convince lost souls that it ain’t such a bad place. They’ll come with new services and questlines to offer, for the relative safety of the shrine. It seems like an expanse on Majula of Dark Souls 2, although you’ll have to put aside a few hours to hunt down these wayward souls.
It does seem to be an amalgamation of old tricks in a new style. The environment is wonderful to behold but there are so many twists and turns along the way, with so much to discover and miss, that you’ll end your session that night checking the Wiki to find out what you should have found. After two hours of not being pulverised by a grotesque monster and wandering through 3 different zones, I had to admit I was lost. After consulting the internet, which I’d avoided doing since the announcement because I’m an anti-spoilers kinda guy, I eventually joined the Sunbros and added a few more bodies to my Shrine.
With the addition of the FP meter (which I think I’ve named correctly, so apologies if I haven’t), there’s a whole new Estus Flask to hang on your belt! This one will simply, if you hadn’t guessed, refill a chunk of your FP. Alongside this, you have the option to allot your Estus flasks to either type once you start collecting shards and handing them over to Andre (oh yes, he’s back).
My experience with the early bosses has left me hoping for more in the later game. I’ve only dealt with three to progress so far, skipping one along the way, but I felt it was easy to pick up their strategies and dispatched them on the 2nd or 3rd try with relative ease. So far, the elevated NPC’s have proved a bigger threat. Or, perhaps, I’ve actually managed to acquire some skill along the way…
Changes have also been made to co-op functionality, from additions and modifications to Covenants through to actually connecting up with people and engaging in jolly co-operation. First off, the Mound-makers covenant has been added, with a new method of invasion, to delight PvPers and terrify new players. Unfortunately, I am also terrified by the prospect of people murderising me, so that’s about all I know about PvP. Co-operative play has taken a page from Bloodborne (apparently) and uses Password Matching to connect directly with your friends. Testing this with a friend, I was quickly pulled into their world and set about killing everything I could for them. To add some challenge to the experience, enemies in the summoned world will be strengthened with each new phantom.
I mentioned before that after 2 hours, I was lost. Luckily, there is not a lack of bonfires along the way, as well as a number of shortcuts to help you along as well. As labyrinthine as the zones may be, it doesn’t seem like you’ll be too far from a bonfire – although you’ll have many trials to get there first.
It does feel like Dark Souls 3 might be a shaky last step for the Souls series; strong components of the previous games have been brought in to carry it along, from the sharpened controls and heightened visuals of DS2, to the locations and themes of Dark Souls through the Undead Settlement and the swamp area that I haven’t faced yet. The story follows a different route during this telling, instead of the slow decay of your character through time, you are strengthening yourself with the fires of Lords – although, in fairness, this is changing some words around with the same base gameplay.
I’ve enjoyed the game I’ve played so far and I only wished I’d managed to soldier further through Lothric before this post. I’ll press on through the Cathedral of the Deep and see what lies beyond – probably the steep cliff-face of the difficulty curve to come. At some point, I’ll read through some of the lore of the world, most of which I’ve missed because I’ve been engrossed in pushing further ahead.
With all that said, I hope Dark Souls 3 rounds off the Souls series. From Software have shown great potential with Bloodborne under their belt, which used the Souls formula in a different style. I’d like to see another twisted fantasy from them in the future.
As a side note, I apologise for the lack of interesting pictures. I’m often too focused when playing to get screenshots as I go and these were some I happened to get. Plus, spoilers.