Let’s talk about DARK SOULS III for PS4. So…I’m 160 hours into DARK SOULS III, and have beat the game 12 times. … This game has pretty much taken over my life for the last few weeks.
In the interest of doing something productive, and to make myself feel better about how much time I’ve “wasted”, writing a review of the game sounds like a good thing to do. So that’s what I’m going to do. There may be minimal spoilers ahead, but…not really.
Background: I’m a SOULS veteran. I have received a Platinum trophy in DEMON’S SOULS, DARK SOULS, DARK SOULS II, BLOODBORNE, and DARK SOULS III. This analysis of the game will obviously be skewed toward some that likes the series and is “pretty good” at it, but I’ll do my best to explain it to someone that has never played an entry before.
Story: The series is not known for its story, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It’s just that you have to go looking for it. You’re not going to be inundated with lengthy cutscenes (almost every cutscene is a boss introduction), but if you’re expecting something straight-forward and to the point, not gonna happen. Once you beat the game, your reaction will probably be…”OK…that’s it?”. This game is pretty much the same as every other game before it.
There is no lengthy explanation to anything, but there’s plenty of nuggets in interactions with NPCs, item descriptions, and just keen observation to the environment, where you can basically figure things out, if you desire. Again, the core gameplay is completely detached from the story, and that’s one of the main tenants of why a lot of people LOVE this series. This isn’t METAL GEAR SOLID. It’s an action RPG that harkens back to the NES days.
Without going too deep, the basic overall story here is that, well…you’re tasked with perpetuating a cycle of “linking the flame” to…I guess make sure the status quo keeps going. Otherwise, the world will turn to darkness and the Hollow will rule. Or something. Hell, to be honest, it’s not really that clear to me.
Here is a good video if you’re interested in learning what happened in the first two games (with the caveat being, the story is open to interpretation, but this video covers a lot of basic events):
One thing I’ll note: there is quite a bit of fan service throughout the game with subtle nods to previous SOULS games (including DEMON’S; which isn’t, apparently, in the same universe). There’s a certain hidden little area in Farron Swamp that made me smile…and then I was sad. These types of nostalgic encounters are all over the place, and that’s very cool! But, they’re so subtle…it’s not in your face at all. Very well done.
Gameplay: Here it is! The only reason you should be playing games, and DARK SOULS does not disappoint. Developer FROM SOFTWARE is essentially using the same basic mechanics of all the SOULS game beforehand. What you’ve got is a 3rd person action RPG. You control a nameless avatar, which you can customize prior to starting. You don’t speak. You’re not a “main character”. You have no name. Your goal is to take down the LORDS OF CINDER, and you do that by eliminating enemies and collecting SOULS. These souls continually accumulate and can be seen in the bottom right hand corner of your HUD. If you die, your souls go away. If you can find the place where you died, you can collect your souls again. If you die again before collecting said souls, your souls are gone forever. Brutal? Unforgiving? Hours of gameplay wasted on two deaths? Perhaps. But, you’ll learn to be careful. The game really isn’t “cheap” (OK, there’s a few times where it is), so getting your souls back shouldn’t be “too much” of a problem.
So…how does one obtain SOULS? Well, you kill stuff. Little stuff, big stuff, boss stuff, all kinds of stuff. You have the opportunity to develop your character in several attributes by “leveling up” with your accumulated souls. You can spend them to increase HP, TP, defense, strength, dexterity, magic, and luck. Whatever “class” you pick at the beginning really doesn’t mean anything. It’s up to you to decide how you want to play. Want to play as a STRENGTH build…or…feel like changing it up and becoming a MAGIC build instead? OK!
And that’s one thing I think DARK SOUL III does a good job at, it feels like you can be pretty flexible in what build you want to play as. You get a lot of different weapons early on in the game, and leveling up your weapons “seems” a lot easier. You get unlimited access to “Titanite Shards” and “Large Shards” pretty early. Also: remember leveling up armor? That’s gone. Hooray!! I felt like in DSII, once you decided what you wanted to be, that was it. It was very difficult to farm materials or find good weapons and be flexible with armor. Also, I can’t remember if DSII was the game where enemies perma-disappeared after killing them too many times. Enemies definitely no longer perma-disappear in DSIII, Praise the Sun. I think all of these changes are for the better.
OK, well, that’s fine and good. You’ve got a character with some weapons and magic and such. So, what’s the goal? I’m glad you asked. Basically, you venture to an “area”. In every “area” there is almost always a “boss”, once this boss is cleared, you normally venture into a “new area”. Sounds simple, don’t it? Generally speaking, each area links to the next, and there’s…I think really only two “branching” spots in the game…where you will need to travel to both forks to complete everything. There are some hidden areas as well (let me count…I believe there’s…5 optional bosses!). It’s not exactly linear, per se, but it’s pretty close. You’re not going to get DARK SOULS I’s fantastically tiered areas with multiple shortcuts (I mean I really loved the world structure in DSI, top notch).
Combat: If you’re familiar with the series, nothing has changed, other than the fact that magic spells are no longer usage based, and now draw from a “magic bar”, which can be refilled with a new “magic Estus Flask”. You have the opportunity to assign whether or not you want “flask points” to go toward the HP healing or magic healing version. And eh…never been a magic user, so, not a big change for me. I’m still rocking one slot at level 300+!
Other than that, it’s the same basic stamina-based attack system. You have a green stamina bar, which you can level up via the ENDURANCE stat. The more stamina you have, the more you can attack. Once your stamina is exhausted, you need to wait until it fills up again (generally 3-4 seconds to completely refill) before you can do any actions. You can use a shield to block attacks, and this generally reduces stamina, once your stamina is exhausted you’ll enter in a staggered state and be criticaled (don’t do that; also a reason I don’t use shields).
The equipment percentage system returns with no real changes. The stronger armor you use, the heavier it is, and the harder it is for you to move. You can level up a stat called VITALITY to allow you to use heavier equipment. If you go past 70% “equip load”, you will no longer be able to have the most effective “roll” and are just generally slower at everything. Rolling is a defensive dodging technique which is completely critical to the entire game. Rolling has a second or so of “invincibility frames”, which means, if someone attacks while you’re rolling, you will take no damage. Rolling is important. Learn how to roll. Master rolling.
Same with armor, the “heavier” your weapon is, the more damage it can do, but the more “damage” it does to your equip load. Lighter, dexterity based characters will use lighter weapons like: katanas, daggers, short swords. Heavier weapons include: maces, axes, poleaxes, hammers, etc. And a lot in between. Combat is balancing armor, weapons, and equip load to maximize damage output, defense, and speed. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to get to level 40 for ENDURANCE, getting a decent HP level (I would say 40 is good), and then allocating other points toward STRENGTH, DEXTERITY, INTELLIGENCE, or FAITH, depending on what kind of weapons you want to use.
Each weapon has a “minimum level” you need to be at to use said weapon effectively as possible. For example, to use Washing Pole (the longest katana and my favorite weapon), you need to be level 18 in STRENGTH and 20 in DEXTERITY. Each weapon also “scales” its damage output with the amount of additional points you put into it. Again, using WASHING POLE, as an example, the more levels you put toward STRENGTH or DEXTERITY, the stronger it becomes.
There is also a generally complicated system of “infusions” that, for the most part, is the same as others in the series. You can infuse most weapons with different attributes such as fire, darkness, lightning, bleed, poison, etc. However, doing this normally makes the weapon weaker overall, in terms of total damage potential.
So…example encounter. Enemies, should (read: should), also have an unseen STAMINA bar as well. If they perform a strong attack (generally, the longer someone “winds up”, the more stamina it’s going to use), they are less likely to be able to attack again immediately. Most combat involves either striking first before an enemy can attack, or counter-attacking in a way you avoid an attack, either by backing up, rolling, blocking, or parrying, and then following up an attack with your own. Generally speaking, you want combat to be 1-v-1 battles, but certain situations will see you fighting multiples enemies at one time…and that’s bad. You never really want to be in a situation like this.
Using the WASHING POLE, one last time as an example, you can attack 6 times by “two-handing” the weapon, or 7 times by “one handing” it (at 40 ENDURANCE with Ring of Favor +2 equipped). The latter is a faster attack, but weaker, and subsequently takes less stamina.
If you watch videos, it may seem complicated, but every fight is using the same basic premise. I value STAMINA very highly and always look to max it out as early as I can. Most of the time I win PvP fights is by taking advantage of the difference between my high stamina and, most likely, the smaller stamina of my opponent. They will be out, when I’m not, and mine regenerates faster through rings and items. I never try to be the strongest player, I use weapons that are fast, but strong. That’s a good segway to…
Multiplayer: There’s a lot to cover here actually. There’s “cooperative” and “competitive” aspects. First, every player has the ability to use a messaging system to write “messages” on the ground that every player in the game has an opportunity of seeing. Is there an ambush around the corner? Well, you might find a message saying to be careful…or in game terms, “Be wary of left”. People can “rate” your messages and if someone gives you a positive, you’ll get a free HP heal…so, it’s good to write helpful messages! It’s also a good idea to read every message you see. Most of them are helpful..most of them…and if they’re not…downvote that sucker.
Other than that, there’s the combat aspect. You have the opportunity to help other players with the “White Soapstone” which will allow you to be “summoned” to play an area together. Alternatively, you can use a “Red Eye Orb” to “invade” another person’s world. Your goal is to eliminate the “host”. Doing so yields souls and covenant items.
Covenants are “guilds” that you can join that offer various items, weapons, and spells to the user. This involves giving the covenant master 10 to 30 items (example: Proof of Concord Kept). Turning in 30 of these will allow you to obtain all covenant rewards for that covenant. It’s a good idea to do these. You can view these as “sub-quests”, if that’s how you’d like to think of it. If you’re interested in getting Trophies, you’ll need to do them. All of them are involved with Player versus Player (PvP) encounters.
This game ups the ante a little bit, in that, I believe you can have…I want to say, 6 or 7 people in one host’s game at one time! It’s a lot of fun, but generally pretty rare to encounter that many people at once.
For the most part, other than the addition of new party limits, the game is basically the same in terms of multiplayer as previous titles. And that’s great! This system is one that is unique to the SOULS series and can make every invasion terrifying (“Son of a bitch…I’ve got 300k souls…I’m out of Estus, I’m in the middle of nowhere, and I just got invaded…how the hell am I going to get out of this one??”). If you’re invaded, you can summon help, or “get to the boss” to get invaders to leave. Or you…could just kill them. Invaders have 50% health and 50% Estus, so beating them isn’t impossible (I feel like this has changed since DSII, but I don’t remember…), and beating them gives you souls and covenant items.
Seed of a Giant Tree are back, and much easier to find (it’s in the beginning area). These can be used to turn enemies in your area hostile to invaders (by default, invaders and enemies are on the same side).
There are also certain areas where invasions occur at much higher rates. You’ll be invaded by members of special covenants. Again, similar to past games.
The multiplayer aspects of the SOULS series are what really makes the game shine. It’s not forced on you, but…you can’t avoid it. It’s integral to the enjoyment of the game to invade and be invaded, and really makes you a better player. It also helps that everything here, for the most part, feels more polished and works great…for the most part…I’ll talk about this later.
Graphics: Not something I care too much about, and I won’t speak too much about it. The graphics are basically just higher resolution versions of the previous games. It looks great, but nothing mindblowing. The background scenes though…wow, just beautiful. I can’t immediately think of a game that just blows me away in terms of scale. Maybe XENOBLADE, but that wasn’t exactly earth-shattering graphics-wise. In any event, it’s a nice looking game. Moving on.
Difficulty: Here’s where I struggle to rate this. I can’t tell if this game is easy because I’m a veteran or…if it really just is easier. It’s probably both. But, there are actually a lot of tweaks that make the game easier (which I’ll go into in a second). BLOODBORNE made DSIII game feel so much less stressful, if I’m being honest! BB was a lot harder to me than this game was. I certainly don’t feel like I needed to use shields in DSIII due to prior experience with BB (BB didn’t have shields). I am so much more confident in rolling…although, man, would it be nice if SOULS had the HP Recover gimmick that BB has…but, I digress…where were we? Hmm. Right, difficulty.
I don’t know. In every SOULS game, you’re going to get a: forest area, castle area, library, fire area, super secret hidden area, generally annoying poison swamp, and some others. Check, check, check, check ,check, check. Was it less difficult because I knew what to expect? Maybe. Was there any ORNSTEIN-level difficult boss fight?! Not to me (I joked in the image subtitle above, but even that boss wasn’t “that hard”…although it seems like most people consider it the hardest boss in the game).
Was there any really, really bad area? The pitch black cave? That laggy, god forsaken swamp? That place in DEMON’S SOULS where enemies give you no experience and you’re walking on planks a few feet across? No. And…honestly, thank heavens. I don’t think there’s any “cheap” areas in DSIII. But that does make things “easier”. Is this a complaint?! I DON’T KNOW! When you come into a SOULS game, you expect something wicked. Did FROM sell out and make it easier? I can’t say that…the game is still challenging, it’s just…I guess once you find the staged ambushes, you can just generally breeze through things. I just know that I never encountered, say in NG+, “Oh crap…I’ve got to go through THIS place again…”. Put it to you this way…I did not ONCE lose ANY of my souls in this game in the first playthrough. And I wasn’t really that conservative. That, well…look, I didn’t expect that; I expected more of a challenge. There were certain sections in previous games that handed my ass to me over and over and over again! I just never felt like there was that really hard thing in this game. I kept waiting for it…it just never happened.
This may be because BONFIRES are so ridiculously dense, they’re everywhere! There’s never really that sense of…”crap, I really need to find a bonfire”. … Or maybe it’s because you can have FIFTEEN Estus Flasks! And you can LEVEL UP their potency TEN TIMES (a swig of which feels like it heals you 60%!!). For comparison’s sake, the internet tells me the limit was 12 in DSII (with +5 bonus). For those that aren’t aware Estus is how you heal. Every time you reach a BONFIRE, these regenerate. When you get so many Estus and Bonfires are so close, and there’s no really difficult area…I mean….
OK, maybe there’s one thing more difficult. The poise system is broken. Poise is “supposed” to be a stat that you can alter through rings and armor that allow you not to be “staggered”. That is to say, if someone hits you with a dagger, or let’s say, a rat jumps at you, with high poise, you’re not supposed to flinch, as those are “weak” attacks. Well…apparently FROM SOFTWARE didn’t like that! They say “it’s working as designed“, but…it clearly isn’t. Now…what does this mean to the normal user? Don’t bother using the WOLF’S RING. Don’t bother wearing armor just for poise. The joke in this game is that you can be “stunlocked” (term meaning you can’t move after being hit) to death by several small enemies such as rats…even with the best armor in the game. So, actually…this small change makes the game HARDER in many respects.
It really screws over heavy builds…but…to be honest, I think this makes PvP more entertaining. You’re no longer going to get Full Havel’s running around that are unstoppable. So, that’s just great, that’s a welcome change, honestly. BUT, now you get get people with cheap spammy daggers and rapiers that will continually break your poise…because poise doesn’t work anymore! What’s better?! I don’t know. It’s both good and bad. I like PvP more with it broken if I had to choose though. But does this make Player versus Environment (PvE) more difficult? Probably. But it’s not that big of a deal honestly. There are ways to mitigate it.
Then there’s the completely pointless “repair” system. They made it useless. I don’t even know why they bother having it in the game at all now. Each piece of equipment can be “broken”. Normally high strength, but fragile things like WASHING POLE are vulnerable. There used to be players that took advantage of this and broke your equipment through spells and crippled you (raises hand, I did this; stupid Havel’s armor…). If you broke someone’s equipment, they were screwed. Now…? Everything is repaired, for free, by a bonfire. Or by spending 600 souls on a Repair Powder. One Repair Powder repairs everything. Whee! In past games, you needed to go to a blacksmith for this. Now…I’m not saying this is a bad change! I LOVE THIS CHANGE. But it makes the game easier, and kind of overpowers certain light equipment that used to have a fatal flaw (*cough*WASHING POLE*cough* Edit: FROM actually nerfed WASHING POLE’s damage slightly, but…pfff, I’m still using it).
But, maybe it’s this next point. Almost every, single, boss has an NPC phantom you can summon. Did I use them in NG/NG+? No. I did not. I fought every boss 1-on-1, and generally did not take more than a handful of deaths to do it, but the fact that you can tag team so many bosses, kind of cheapens the accomplishment. There’s also no “X-on-1” type bosses in this game. Everything is generally “fair”. Which…I don’t know…just seems, weird?!
Now when you beat the game for the first time, you get to start over with all stats and equipment, this is generally called NG+X. I’m on NG+12. Why? I don’t know…maybe it’s because FROM SOFTWARE screwed me over by making one of the alternate endings NOT trigger the last Ending Trophy, and I just said, “Screw it, I’m speed running this shit”, and then found out, “Wow, I can beat this game in less than 3 hours…let’s do it again and see how high a level I can get!”. That’s where I am. I’m now level 350 and I can’t find anyone to play with me anymore….sigh. The ONLY boss I have a lot of trouble with 1-on-1 is the Final Boss. Good LORD is it hard at max NG (NG+ difficulty seems to cap at 7 play-throughs…maybe…honestly, I can’t tell…).
One last point on difficulty: I don’t know if it’s just me, but…MAGIC does not seem to be that POWERFUL as it was in prior games. I mean, I remember getting eviscerated by PvP and bosses that had strong magic. Let me put it this way, I’m at Soul Level 350+ right now. My FAITH is at 8 and my INTELLIGENCE is at level 10. These are STARTING LEVELS. And I can generally take a hit from anything, and it not take more than 30% of my health. HUH?!? I swear, I remember having to level these up because I just couldn’t defend against strong magic (I’m a STR/DEX build, by the way). To that end, I very, very rarely see anyone use any forms of magic…if anyone does it’s usually the MAGIC SPEAR thing that is pitifully easy to roll out of or the LIGHTNING SPEAR thing…same deal. *shrugs*
That’s not to say, again, that the game is not challenging, it’s just…if you were expecting the challenge to ramp up, it’s the opposite, it’s gotten easier in several different areas. Am I complaining…? I mean sort of…winning just feels a little bit cheapened…one of the absolute best experiences of the SOULS games was doing something that took you several, if not dozens, of attempts; that feeling of accomplishment and the accompanying adrenaline rush was great! When you beat something, you really felt like you beat something. I didn’t get a lot of that this time. Oh well…
- Little changes to core gameplay; everything you know and love is more than likely back.
- No, “Oh my God I hate this place”, areas. That’s a good thing or a bad thing based on your perspective.
- Improvements to several systems including: no armor leveling, decent matchmaking (you’ll almost always find people to summon or people to invade), new magic bar system, L2 performs a new special attack for every weapon now; kind of cool.
- Difficulty is easier for veterans of the series.
- Fairly linear; only one real “branch” in the game.
- Not covered above, but, the game is still ridiculously impossible to find everything (or even ‘basic’ small things) without a guide. I did buy this one at launch, and…I can recommend it for newbies, but for veterans, it’s pretty lacking. Doesn’t even come close to touching the awesomeness of the FUTURE PRESS guides, such as this. There are at least 3 Covenants that you WILL NOT FIND without help. And thankfully we live in the Internet Age where we have glorious wikis like this to help.
- This is the first game that I’ve continued to play after getting a Platinum. I generally like the PvP in this game. There’s lots of cool covenants, a couple areas where people strictly play for PvP battles.
- Certain covenants are broken…I explain this in one of the videos below. FROM has already “patched” this, but I don’t see how it’ll help without major additional changes. Basically, the game needs more people to use a certain, pointless, covenant so people can be summoned to assist. Right now, it’s impossible to be summoned, and thus impossible to get all covenants rewards (read: trophies).
Verdict: 9.5 / 10
I love this game. It has a few problems, but when the complaint is…it’s not as hard as I want it to be (but it’s still hard), come on, that’s a pretty weak fault. I urge anyone that likes a challenge to play this game. You will be challenged, and you will get better. Completing a SOULS game should be a rite of passage for any video game fan. There is no “difficulty” setting. The game is the game, and what a game it is. This is, apparently, the last game in the series. That makes me a little sad, a lot of sad, actually. Here’s hoping that the wonderful development house FROM SOFTWARE makes something even better in the future!
BONUS CONTENT: I live streamed quite a bunch of content. If you’re interested in seeing some game play videos, I recommend checking out my Youtube channel.
Early gameplay (NG):
First Lord of Cinder boss fight (NG):
Proof of Concord Kept farming (NG):
Speed leveling in Forest (NG+12):