Dark Souls 3: The Kotaku Review

Dark Souls 3: The Kotaku Review

Including Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3 marks the third Souls game in as many years. Dark Souls 2 was disappointing, so is Dark Souls 3 is a return to form? Mostly. Playing From Software's Souls games used to feel like joining a private club. Now, nearly seven years after Demon's Souls, the games are played by millions. It'd be impossible for Dark Souls 3 to have the same impact as previous games; it's the nature of sequels. The latest game doesn't reinvent the skeleton wheel, but it doesn't need to. It's not a triumph, nor a revelation. Dark Souls 3 is simply a very good Dark Souls game.

Dark Souls 3 is an action RPG for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC in which players are thrust into a gothic fantasy world and asked to survive against brutal odds. The narrative connects to the first two games, but story takes a backseat to action, so newcomers won't feel totally lost. In Dark Souls 3, players travel to Lothric, a land of ash and decay. Your task is to defeat the Lords of Cinder, god-like creatures corrupted by power. It's expected that you'll die, as the game is full of enemies (and traps) meant to kill you constantly. Learning from failure is Souls 101, but as you level up and learn to memorise enemy patterns, your path becomes less perilous.

Dark Souls 3 is the fastest Souls game yet, almost a hybrid between earlier Souls games and their faster-paced cousin Bloodborne. There's a swiftness to combat in Dark Souls 3, one that asks you to bob, weave and roll at a relentless pace. The cranked up speed means you, as a player, can approach Dark Souls 3 in different ways from past games. It's definitely possible to slap on chunky armour with a sword and shield, as was my style in previous games. But in Dark Souls 3, I've incorporated my skills from Bloodborne, preferring a brisk warrior who keeps their distance, often shifting between arrows and two-handed attacks.

As you explore Lothric, you'll find lots of new weapons, armour and gear to use. Dark Souls 3 finds a happy balance between variety and utility, letting players express themselves through their play style and meaningful equipment choices. No armour you pick is too bad, no ring you wear offers a perk that you won't be glad you had a some time. (I love me some stamina rings.) This explain why I've yet to give up my ridiculous pope hat; as I slay demons in the dark, I might as well look rad doing it.

Dark Souls 3: The Kotaku Review

It's a balance the series has lacked in the past. In Dark Souls, there was an enormous variety of equipment to choose from, but only a handful that made sense. If you wanted to wear colourful armour or wield a strange weapon, it meant being at a disadvantage. Though Dark Souls 2 featured an abundance of usable equipment, it was stuck in an inferior game. Bloodborne was even stricter than Dark Souls, severely limiting equipment in service of making each option unique.

Looking cool is one thing, but what keeps me coming back to these games is feeling cool. I've said this before, but it's as true now as it ever was: the sense of triumph after defeating a Dark Souls boss is unlike anything else I've felt in video games. The desire to smash a controller into pieces after dying for the 15th time in a row is erased by the euphoria of winning on the 16th. I scream, shout and pound the floor like a child while playing Souls, and Dark Souls 3 doesn't lose this. It demands my full attention, and I'm happy to give it. Several sequels in, it feels like Dark Souls and I have come to an understanding. It's no longer the teacher, but I'm not the master. We're familiar sparring partners trying to find a new trick to trip the other up.

Those sorts of tricks spring a number of times in Dark Souls 3, especially toward the end. Too often in Souls games, it's been possible to jump into a fight, haphazardly swing a weapon around and fumble your way to victory. Dark Souls 3 pushes back on this; a handful of bosses are basically brick walls. They seem insurmountable when you walk in the room, capable of destroying you with a single attack. But slowly, over time, you understand what makes them tick, and the impossible starts to seem possible. Those moments are tied to your mental ingenuity as much as your finger dexterity, and are deeply satisfying.

Dark Souls 3: The Kotaku Review

There's one endgame fight, which I won't spoil, that epitomised this. It took everything I had physically, mentally and emotionally to see it through. Unlike other bosses, which tend to rely on a few moves that you commit to memory, this one has dozens. In the heat of the moment, it felt infinite. Every few seconds the fight would change, leaving my existing strategy in disarray. I was as likely to survive five minutes as I was to survive five seconds. As the fight raged on and minutes turned into hours, I wondered if this was the one that would break me. Did I need to summon another player for help? Did I need to grind for souls and level up? Or did I need to take a deep breath, trust that my hundreds of hours with these games counted for something, and keep at it?

My breakthroughs were tiny but significant, and they began to stack up. You measure progress against a Dark Souls boss according to two metrics: how much health you took off and how long you survived. Over time, both began to tick upward, but the stress was taking its toll. My palms were sweaty, causing my fingers to slip off the buttons. And you know that phenomenon where you say a word too many times and it stops making sense? That started happening to my hands; I was unable to grip the controller the right way. Nothing felt natural. The fight was stripping me of my motor functions.

But then, one set of sparring seemed to go my way. Hack, slash, dodge. I managed to get the boss within an inch of defeat, and though I died, the closeness of victory was its own victory. The boss was beatable. I could do this. It took another 20 minutes or so, but eventually, their souls were mine. My hands shook for minutes after the fight was over, my breath was erratic. I slept soundly that night.

In all sorts of ways, Dark Souls 3 pulls from the games that came before it. It borrows Demon's Souls' separate energy bar for casting magic spells. (Players can now recharge magic through a new estus flask, and alter the amount of health vs. magic flasks they're carrying at one time.) Demon's Souls, Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne adopted centralised hubs that splintered off into different areas, while Dark Souls had players gradually connecting the dots on a sprawling landscape, with shortcuts revealing the surprising ways locations tied to one another. Dark Souls 3 does a little bit of both.

That interconnectedness helps Dark Souls 3 feel huge and sprawling, even if you're ultimately being funnelled into levels. It rewards curiosity and exploration more than any other Souls game, with secret areas, bosses and equipment hidden everywhere. It's difficult to keep track of where you're going, which the game delights in taking advantage of; it wants you to feel lost and hopeless. One nightmarish moment found me with little health and zero estus flasks. I'd creep around every corner, clearing rooms with a mixture of care and fear. Each step seemed my last, each hit causing me to flinch. Soon, I found a large area. To my right, a sleeping giant. To my left? A lift that lead to... who knows? I took my chances with the lift, praying for salvation. At the bottom, my patience was rewarded: bonfire. I literally stood up and, in Souls fashion, praised the sun.

Dark Souls 3: The Kotaku Review

Even though I've "finished" the game, I took a look at the game's wiki, and it's clear there's much more to find. More than ever, Dark Souls 3 is OK with you missing things. This has never been a series that concerned itself with players experiencing everything the designers built, but it's entirely possible to never, ever find certain NPCs, side quests and other optional parts of the game. When I'd talk with friends, they'd ask "Hey, did you see this?" and often the answer was no.

As with Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3 greatly benefits from being built for new hardware; it's gorgeous. Though From Software has never been known for its technical expertise, an issue that raises its head again here, they make up for it in artistry. I'm not usually into fantasy worlds, but hot damn, I love exploring the Souls 'verse. The oppressive atmosphere combined with the notorious difficulty might be too much for some, but those things work in concert for me. Rather than dive into item descriptions to learn the underlying story, I let my imagination go wild. The artists and level designers at From Software build their eerie environments with purposeful restraint, letting players wonder what nightmares might have befallen this once-vibrant land.

Like I mentioned, as with any new From Software game, there are technical hiccups. Remember Blighttown? I try not to. The PC version of Dark Souls 3 that Bandai Namco had reviewers playing gave me significant performance problems in some areas, but a recent patch cleared up my issues. While it's difficult to achieve 60 frames per second all the time, this is the cleanest PC version From Software has produced yet. As for the console versions, Digital Foundry's analysis of the PS4 and Xbox One versions suggests the PS4 versionis the better of the two,though both of them are capped at 30 FPS. I'm planning to try out the console versions soon, and we'll be keeping an eye on them after the game's release.

It's unclear whether this truly is the last Dark Souls game, but it sure feels like it. Dark Souls 3 has no problem indulging in connections to previous games, something the series has done quietly but never as explicitly as it does here. It frequently feels as though the series is closing the loop, achieving a sort of resolution. I'm reluctant to say anything more, as the secrets should be experienced on your own, but two moments in particular put a smile on my face. Longtime fans will know it when they see it, but each produced an audible "oh my god" from me.

Souls games have always thrived on their sense of mystery. You were never quite sure what to expect around the corner. Dark Souls 3 does its best to reinvent and remix what's come before, but the game is ultimately unable to overcome a feeling of familiarity. Given that we're three games into the series — and, really, Demon's Souls makes it four — it's not a surprise that fighting dragons, demons, and skeletons isn't nearly as interesting as it was the last time. As a sendoff to the series, Dark Souls 3 is a fine one. It's time for something new.


Comments

    After awaiting Dark Souls 2 from the first announcement to pre-ordering and then beating it within a week I've pretty much lost the hype for Dark Souls 3. Completely skipped Blooborne and not fussed about ever playing it.

    Dark Souls 3 just feels like...meh. I'll probably buy it at some point but that likely won't be for quite some time. I enjoyed the first one immensely because it was difficult, but even then it got a lot easier in the second half of the game.

    The main difficulty just seemed to be getting used to the controls and how the game mechanics work. Once you have that down it's a hell of a lot easier. Dark Souls 2 pretty much continued the difficulty level from Dark souls 1 in that it was easy once you have the mechanics down and they hadn't changed from the first one...

    I killed half the bosses in DS2 on my first attempt, around 25% took 2 shots and the rest took 3 or more...think the worst was around 6 attempts.

    For a game that prides itself on being difficult the games just don't fell that way anymore. Even if DS3 has rave reviews it'll still take a lot to convince me to buy it any time soon. Too many other games to play right now.

    Enter the Gungeon is pretty fun.

    Last edited 12/04/16 11:29 am

      So you didn't like Dark Souls 2 because it was too easy? Dark Souls 2 was probably the easiest in the series, and you're really missing out on Bloodborne, it really is a fantastic, well made game.

      There is so much literature explaining why the Souls' series doesn't "pride itself on being difficult", Miyazaki has confirmed this a number of times.

      But hey, if you don't want to play it, that's fine. Not too sure in the point of your post though?

        DS 2 was easy, but I also pointed out DS1 was easy in the second half of it once you've become accustomed to the controls. DS 2 felt easier more due to me knowing the controls/mechanics rather than the inherent difficulty of the game itself.

        Souls not priding itself on being difficult yet calling the DS 1 DLC "Prepare to die" edition is a bit contradictory. Being difficult is one of the main things they focus on and what their players expect.

        The point of my post is pretty much that DS 2 was such a poor entry that it's really put me off of their games as a whole. I'm still interested enough that I figured someday I'll get DS 3 but there's no priority for it.

        Last edited 12/04/16 1:21 pm

          I think the point of Dark souls is that it's difficult but possible with skill. To most people it's ridiculously hard but only because they haven't mastered the skills, reflexes and tactics required for it. Like any game it gets a lot easier when you master and controls and know what you're doing. This is oppose to some of the old arcade games that were just difficult for no point other than to make you put more money in to finish it. A game that's difficulty can't be countered by skill and practice is a pointless game.

          I think what you're really looking to say is that Dark Souls is a hard game for most people who aren't as skilled as yourself.

            Yeah, you're pretty much right. It's hard for me to point to exactly what feels wrong with Dark Souls for me now but something in DS2 ruined it for me. I know the original creator is back on board for DS3 but even then what I've seen is just more of the same.

            I'm sure it'll be fun to play but I'm not that fussed about it...will get round to it someday when I've finished with the other games I'm playing through.

      Most souls players probably had similiar death attempts on the DS2 bosses as you did. I know I one two or three shotted most, but they are not always the hardest part of the games. Besides, how often do you even die at all in other games? If you did DS2 in 70 odd deaths (which would be pretty good for a first go!) thats still about 67 more times then in most games.

      Dark souls isn't about being BRUTALLY hard, despite what often gets said. Thats Super Meat Boy or whatever. Its challenging and rewarding, but not insane. I will say that the DLC for DS2 is a lot harder then the base game, and I think it actually detracts from the experience overall.

    Should I Dark Souls 3 today? I was gonna wait, because I've barely played 2, and just started the Witcher 3. But I loooved Souls 1. And Bloodborne.

    So Internet, I need answers: Should I Dark Souls 3 now or later?

    And yes, I am using Dark Souls as a verb.

      Witcher 3 is amazing however if you've put if off for so long you might as well wait for all the DLC to come out before you sink your teeth into it (from the sounds of things the 2 DLC together are as big as the main game).

      So yes put Witcher 3 away and start Dark Souls'ing?

      I've played Dark Souls III for review and would say yes, put away 2 and play the new one. It's absolutely worth it and as someone who liked 1 and Bloodborne you will feel right at home in the latest

      Last edited 12/04/16 11:56 am

      I'm buying it so I can be part of Souls-a-mania the first time around.

      Join meeeeeee

        This is my second time round but im hoping i finish it this time lmao

      I put down dark souls 2 because i had a new child come into our life and it just seemed too hard to find the time

      I downloaded DS3 last night... I dont know how its going to go but coming from someone who has put the Witcher 3 down for a little while and gone back to it, you wont miss out on the story from the Witcher 3 - you wont forget for having a foray into Dark Souls 3. Get on it while its new and enjoy it - deal with your pile of shame another day ;)

    Aw man I half expected this to be written by @markserrels dammit mark! Less baby-making more writing! =P

      I assume this is the US article? might still be up to Serrels discretion to write another.

    Several sequels in, it feels like Dark Souls and I have come to an understanding. It’s no longer the teacher, but I’m not the master. We’re familiar sparring partners trying to find a new trick to trip the other up.

    Perfect.

    same shit as the past 4 titles.
    little to no innovation.
    still can't stealth, no environmental destruction to create shortcuts or use against enemies, no bosses out in the world list goes on.

      One of the first few bonfires in Dark Souls II has a destructible wall, which can be blown up with firebombs and in turn creates a shortcut. The explosives found here can also be used to kill enemies. Shortly after this shortcut, one of the earlier bosses (The Pursuer) can be engaged within the 'world', away from the usual arena you fight him in.

      There are also numerous items in all 4 games that you can use for stealth, such as items that turn you into an undetectable object within your current environment.

      Sounds like you're trying to pitch your own game. All you need now is a backer and a studio to make it.

      While I acknowledge your issues, the beauty of the DS series is they know what works.
      If it aint broke, don't fix it.
      They add plenty of new features for returnung players to notice.
      Enough salt.

    Quick question for the soul veterans. I have been wanting to try out dark souls 2 : Scholar, blood borne and eventually Dark souls 3. Been warming up with lord of the fallen game and realized that I really suck at it. Would it be worth to wait and get better first with movement mechanics or just jump in? Was it frustrating at times for you?

      Jump in. Lords of the Fallen is pretty different.

      The really, really, really important thing to remember about Dark Souls is that 'souls' earned by killing enemies are a spendable currency. On items, or on level-ups at the shrine. (You'll have to beat one mini-boss first.)

      When you die, you lose all those souls, but you can run back to where you died and if you make it that far, you can pick them all back up again and you have effectively lost nothing from dying. In fact, on the way there, you will have likely picked up even more souls, so you're actually ahead. The only time you'll lose anything is if you haven't spent your souls, and you die once, then die again trying to retrieve the lost souls.

      When you realize that dying isn't necessarily a bad thing and you can't ever really go too far backwards, death becomes a trivial set-back. If worst comes to absolute worst, you can go grind up the respawning enemies to earn enough souls to level up some more stats and come back harder than before.

      It's a bit more forgiving than some games, in that way.

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Now, I have to work on my pile of shame first and then I will get it.

          LOL that might take you a while if you are expecting to go from darksouls right through to darksouls 3

    I really don't like the internet circle jerk against DS2. It is just as worthy as the others and for my money better then Bloodborne and Demons.

    Now, can anyone inform me whether in DS3 there is -
    a) Loot is hidden in crates that need to be broken
    b) Illusory walls

    Ive only put in a few hours and haven't seen any so far, but it would be nice to know if I do or don't need to destroy every barrel and mash x next to every suspicious wall.

      Can't answer your questions unfortunately but completely agree on DS2 point. I loved DS2 and don't understand why people found it so easy. The second boss in the game was ridiculous for that level (as long as you didn't use the ballista)

      I guess it was extra hard 'cause I solo'd the whole thing too. On the second run I used some support on the boss fights and that made it a lot easier.

      Easily loved DS2 more than 1.
      It felt way more atmospheric to me.
      Fantastic game.
      And I haven't found any hidden walls yet. But items inside /behind crates are easily visible. You'll see that telltale glow as usual.

    Dark souls is like one of my favourite bands, I don't want it to change much.

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