Archives by Day

Dark Souls III

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: From Software
Release Date: April 12, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Review - 'Dark Souls III'

by Brian Dumlao on April 29, 2016 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

A dark and brooding fantasy adventure awaits players in a vast twisted world full of fearsome beasts, devious traps and hidden secrets.

Buy Dark Souls III

Success for the Souls series was never guaranteed. From Software's previous RPGs weren't cult hits in the West, and fans only knew the developer from its Armored Core series. When the decision was made to bring Demon's Souls to North America, it was done under the Atlus banner since Sony was reluctant to publish it. Nevertheless, the franchise has grown beyond cult status, and each release is met with growing anticipation from its large and faithful fan base. Dark Souls III is meant to be the final chapter in the series, and if that's the case, the series ends on a very high note.

On the surface, the story is set up via the opening cut scene. The Kingdom of Lothric is in ruins, and its pilgrims are worshipping the death around them. The First Flame that is supposed to stabilize the land has gone unchecked in the absence of the Lords of Cinders. You play the role of an Unkindled, a being whose sole purpose is to return the Lords to their thrones. Though the setup is clear, the details remain obscured in the lore, and while series veterans will have a better understanding of the details, it takes multiple playthroughs and some help from the gaming community to understand the full story.

The core combat system remains the same. Your class determines the equipment you'll start with, whether it's dual blades, a staff, or your standard sword-shield combo. You have a little flexibility regarding which weapons you can wield as you progress. Quick and heavy attacks make up most of your arsenal, while blocking and parrying are available if you have a shield or other defensive item. Rolling and sprinting are useful for breaking objects as well as escaping a skirmish, which you might want to do often to avoid getting overwhelmed. All of these things are governed by a stamina system that depletes with every block and sword swing you take. It refills quickly enough, but you'll either curse the moment you lack stamina if you're on the attack or hope that the enemy doesn't make a move when you're on the defense.

There are a few tweaks that affect things positively. The lock-on system is more reliable, and while the range isn't wide enough to help you scope out unseen enemies, it is good enough that it takes quite a bit of work before the lock drops on its own. There are two rolling variations available, and the kick move returns. Also, the combat feels a touch faster, closer to the speed in Bloodborne than Dark Souls II.

Weapons now have the ability to tap into Focus Points, which add more variety to the combat system via attacks and defensive measures. A few of the abilities come at the cost of your health, but there are times when you'll find that a small hit to yourself is worth a big damage boost to the enemy. These points also act as fuel for some of the classes, like the Sorcerer and Pyromancer. Although the points do not replenish like the stamina meter, they can be refilled with your Ash Estus Flask. Once you reach the hub world, you can partition how many flasks you can carry, and that gives the game another wrinkle in your character build. Those going for pure melee with some bow and arrow attacks might ignore Focus Points altogether and concentrate on health while spellcasters may do the opposite since they already possess healing spells.

All of the game mechanics, both old and new, are very welcome since the title retains the signature feature of relentlessly tough enemies. Bosses are large in stature, and almost all have ridiculous ranges that keep you at bay. Some of the fights add other minions to up the ante. Some of the smaller foes may fall in one or two hits, but a simple mistake means you'll be on the receiving end of combination blows that can quickly tear through your health meter. Making the wrong move means that you'll see the "Game Over" screen quite often — even before you reach the real meat of the title.

For a game that is marketed as relishing punishment, it all feels fair. Dark Souls III expects you to treat things more methodically since it isn't as reflex-based as other similar games. You're expected to be paranoid enough to check every nook and cranny to reduce the number of surprises. Unless you're quick enough to get the drop on enemies or approach them from behind for a vicious unguarded attack, you'll be playing the game defensively and attacking only when the opening appears. Playing too aggressively or not stopping to read your opponent results in you getting hurt, and every mistake brings you closer to death. Even when they catch you in an ambush, you're expected to be patient and learn from those events. As strange as that sounds, what would normally be a frustrating series of events becomes an enjoyable learning experience. At the very least, the game needs to be experienced because words do a poor job of conveying why it resonates with so many.

As far as level design goes, it falls somewhere in between the first two titles. Even with the hub world, which you can return to at any time to try new items or level up, there's certainly a linear flow when you're sent off to otherwise disconnected parts of the world. The levels are rather vast due to numerous secret passageways and multiple paths at almost every juncture. There isn't a map, and there aren't any on-screen indicators to tell you where to go. There also aren't any invisible walls or obvious piles of rubble to stop your progress, so you'll rely on your instinct to guide you to bonfires. The only real guides you have are visible enemies, and while one path may be more enticing due to relatively low resistance of the enemies, there are rarely any sections that lead to dead ends. Ultimately, the level design trusts that the player knows what they're doing, and that feels good even as you stress out about how far the bonfires are from one another.

Like the previous entries, the multiplayer tends to cover all available bases. The PvP mechanic is still here, so you can summon another player via embers to help you during a fight at the cost of giving other players a chance to invade your world and hunt you down. The tools to enter a game or have others come into yours are available early on, so you don't have to go very far before multiplayer comes into play, and the password system adopted from Bloodborne makes it easier to summon friends.

Likewise, the covenant system is easier to access since you only have to find the symbol for the group you want to be affiliated with instead of going through a mini-quest. For those who don't care much for interactions in real time, the titlestill features bloodstains that show you how other players died in that spot as well as notes that others have left behind. Thanks to the fervent community and the two-week head start in Japan, there are plenty of notes littering the world, most of which have been helpful.

About the only criticism is that  Dark Souls III no longer feels fresh. When you think back to the original Demon's Souls, that kind of game was not really being made, and few companies were into experimentation. You'd expect this kind of success to spawn a bevy of imitators, but that didn't really happen. Instead, the sequels themselves kept trying something new to prevent the formula from going stale. In that sense, the developers have succeeded, and even though the idea of dying countless times is no longer novel, few can deny that the team still knows how to do it well enough to capture more fans with every release.

Graphically, the game and its macabre setting are rather beautiful. All of Lothric is dark and gray, which makes the shimmer of metal and the bright oranges of fire stand out. The environments have an excellent sense of scale, and foes can be seen from faraway distances, so the world seems vast even if you can't directly go from one environment to another without the hub world. Each object is presented with intricate detail, such as the body of a fallen dragon, statutes in various states of disrepair, and trees with corpses stuck on them. Character designs are both horrifying and beautiful, and that description applies to the random shambling zombies as well as the larger-than-life bosses. Animations are smooth and easy to read, a blessing considering how vital they are to the combat strategy. There are pauses in the game here and there, but for the most part, it runs smoothly. This is perhaps the one strength specific to the PC platform, as the frame rate is very smooth on an Nvidia GTX 760 with all settings on High.

While the PC version displays enough graphical advantages to make it the recommended platform, there are also enough issues that may make players lean toward the PS4 iteration. In particular, the game has stability issues when it comes to bonfires. Depending on who you talk to, it seems like the physics of either the hair or the clothing in combination with the bonfire's lighting effects cause the game to crash almost all the time. The issue was plaguing the PC version during the pre-release period, and based on the comments from other players, it is still present at the time of this writing. There are at least two workarounds, but they come at a cost. The first is to play as a knight since he has a helmet, thus solving the issue with the hair but restricting your choice of starting class. The other option is to set the lighting effects to low, which also works but isn't that reliable since the game fails to remember the setting, so you're forced to change it every time you boot up the game. The hope is that a patch will come out soon to address this, but until then, PC players should proceed with caution or hope that they have lucky silicon that prevents them from seeing the issue at all.

Like the visuals, the sound finds beauty through its haunting nature. Only the boss fights change this up by including more high-tempo orchestral tunes that fit better with the tension in these overly difficult battles. Though you won't hear much music, you will hear loads of ambient sounds that either punctuate an otherwise quiet scene or remind you of everything else that's waiting to kill you. This is especially noticeable in surround sound, where the sudden presence of a creature lunging at you from behind can make you jump as if you were playing a survival/horror game.

Dark Souls III leaves the PC space the same way the original came in. The gameplay remains challenging but much more refined, with a faster combat system and a bevy of options. It comes in with a very beautiful presentation on both visual and aural fronts, besting the consoles in frame rate and other effects due to the platform's scalability options. However, the various crashes can be bothersome, and the temporary fixes rob the game of either player choice or graphical fidelity — depending on which fix is chosen — something that is made more annoying due to the lack of forthcoming patch news. Still, the game remains a great example of how to accomplish a finale, and once the issues are ironed out, Dark Souls III is another near-masterpiece in the genre.

Score: 8.0/10

More articles about Dark Souls III
blog comments powered by Disqus