Dark Souls 3 Review

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It’s been two years since Dark Souls 2 and a year since Bloodborne but From Software continues its reign of terror with Dark Souls 3. Can it capture the lightning in a bottle for a 3rd straight year or is time catching up with their trial and error gameplay?

Dark Souls 3 is set in Lothran, a beautiful medieval world that has been destroyed by years of war between light and dark. You control the ashen one, an undead soldier who can possess the power of ember. As an unkindled you must seek out and defeat the Lords of Cinder, 5 extremely powerful bosses that have linked the flames over decades. In typical Souls fashion not much information is given to the player and most of the story takes place through character interactions with non-hostiles and brief cut scenes that explain where you have to go and what you have to do. Miss one of these and hours can be spent chasing your own tail around a hostile area with many nasty surprises lying in wait.

Graphically the game really shines, with beautiful vistas and fantastic creature design stealing the show. Each new area introduces new enemies and bosses that look fantastic in an “I want to run and cry in the corner” kind of way with some old favourites returning with new skins and attack animations. But the heart of what makes Dark Souls so enjoyable is being able to fight a boss in a dungeon one second and five minutes later you will be staring at a great new view over the world.

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Unfortunately, on the Xbox One version, the game struggles to keep its frame rate steady above 30 FPS, making fights that require split second timing and precision all the more difficult. My first real problem with this was during the first speed bump boss that ultimately took me more than 20 attempts, since he cloned himself at half health the game chugged due to his fast attacks and mirrored pattern bringing the game down to roughly 10-15 FPS. Some fights against regular enemies had the same problem but it wasn’t occurring often enough for it to seriously affect the game.

From the opening cut scene to the final boss battle, the orchestral score keeps you on your toes with creepy and atmospheric sounds that add to the experience. Using a score very similar to Dark Souls 2 and Bloodbourne, the soundtrack by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra sets the tone for each area. Add to this solid sound design that delivers satisfying clanks, swishes and impacts to ensure that each blow has weight, while providing subtle audio cues to alert you to nearby bonfires and enemies.

The game play is more of a step back to Dark Souls 1 rather than an evolution for Dark Souls 2. Gone is the whittling health bar from Dark Souls 2 and in its place a new Estus Flask that recovers magic uses. Both the health and magic Estus Flasks share a use pool that can be adjusted depending on class, meaning warrior builds won’t use this unless they are enchanting weapons. There are a few smaller changes but the core still remains the same, much like a violent version of ballet a lot of the combat revolves around dodging with blocks and well timed attacks being the key to success. Each enemy has a pattern and subsequent weakness; it takes time to analyse and trial attacks making each encounter as dangerous as the last.

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When it comes to the challenge level of Dark Souls 3 the game is a bit more forgiving than its predecessors, at least for the first few hours. Early in the game bonfires, the games checkpoint and travel system, are plentiful and easy to reach with clever shortcuts to discover that cut the time to travel in half. When it does pick up the difficulty reaches typical Dark Souls levels with tough bosses, unforgiving sections to traverse and deadly traps waiting for you around every corner. While some bosses and scenarios are very familiar there is still enough here to keep the experience fresh and exciting well into the new game plus which will carry you through as many play throughs as you can stomach.

Dark Souls 3 provides a platform for newcomers that none of the From Software games have in the past. That being said, there is plenty for veterans to sink their teeth into as well. Some might find the first hours a breeze where others will struggle, but that in itself is what Dark Souls is about. Aside from the technical issues plaguing the games frame rate, the experience here is as much a quintessential Souls experience as it gets. The tough enemies, tougher bosses and challenging exploration all come together as well as others in the series. So sit down, get comfortable and prepare to die a bunch because Dark Souls is back and you won’t regret it.

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