Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Dark Souls III for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I’ve mentioned before my blasphemous dislike for the first Dark Souls. I loved the setting and the way the world fit together, but the ponderous combat and punishing hollowing system was a heap I just could not get over. It took Bloodborne, one of my all-time favourite games, to convert me on the From Software style. I was nervous that I’d feel the same way about Dark Souls III as I did the first, but needed some of that sweet Bloodborne methodrone so took a risk. I’m glad I did; I loved Dark Souls III.

Dark Souls III is as obscure and unknowable as anything else in this series. You awaken in the dying land of Lothric with a task; to hunt and kill the Lords of Cinder, resurrected beings who had previously Linked the Fire and brought more time for the world from darkness. I’m sure there’s a lot more to the plot that I didn’t pick up on, having skipped the first two. It lacks the narrative cohesiveness of Bloodborne, which built an extremely compelling lore in one game, but there are moments of strange power which resonate even if you don’t have a clue what’s going on. I foresee watching many lore videos in my future.

Dark Souls III plays as a hybrid of Bloodborne and the older Souls games. It’s still a slower and more defensive beast than the quick and aggressive style of Bloodborne, but it’s also not nearly as defensive as the first Dark Souls. The reliance on hiding behind a shield in the first game put me off a bit and Dark Souls III does a much better job at catering to a range of play styles. I played as a sorcerer/swordsman hybrid, with a focus on light armour to allow me to dodge around. This served me pretty well and I didn’t feel the need to play the heavily armoured knight the series is probably best known for. That said, this isn’t Bloodborne and trying to play it like it was got me killed more than a few times. As the game progressed I came to enjoy the combat more and more and think that Dark Souls III may have one of the best combat systems I’ve ever encountered. On a purely mechanical level, Dark Souls III is extremely satisfying and lacks the clunkiness which put me off the first game. I can’t not mention the bosses, which are generally outstanding. There are a few which are focused on spectacle over challenge, which is fine as the spectacle is generally brilliant, but some of these bosses are brutal. I personally found Dark Souls III much harder than Bloodborne, but this probably says more about my preferred play style than anything else.

Whilst the environments in Dark Souls III are varied and interesting, they lacked the sense of cohesion and dense layering that made Bloodborne and (from what I’ve heard) the first Dark Souls so special. Partially for plot reasons, Dark Souls III is a bit of a mishmash, but there weren’t any moments of stunning short cut unlocking that were so exciting in Bloodborne. I’ll never forget travelling through the woods, crawling through the poison cave filled with giants, climbing a massive ladder and finding myself in the graveyard just outside Iosefka’s clinic from the start of the game. That’s not to say that the environments don’t sometimes fold back in on themselves in interesting ways, but all told Dark Souls III is a more linear experience that I was perhaps hoping for.

Dark Souls III is a supremely pretty game with a wonderfully melancholic and sinister art style. The monstrosities you face are suitably horrifying and the locations oppressive, but there are moments of genuinely breathtaking beauty. Emerging from some truly horrible dungeons and caverns into a new beautiful location is an emotional and oddly stirring experience and Dark Souls III has a couple of those moments. That said, I missed the cohesiveness of Bloodborne’s Yharnam. Sure, there was variety of Bloodborne, but everywhere was recognisably connected and afflicted by the same curse. This helped Yharnam stand up alongside settings like Rapture as one of the most compelling videogame cities I’ve ever explored. Dark Souls III doesn’t have that sense of overall coherence, making the setting of Lothric less compelling for me. The music is wonderful and the general sound design sublime. Running at a consistent frame rate on PS4, Dark Souls III is sumptuous and beautiful game.

Dark Souls III is a wonderful game that only suffers for following on from one of the best games of all time. From Software have created something truly unique in this series and they’re a company who I’ll now be following with great interest.

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