It’s been a long time, From Software, but we’re back here again. A mystical and unexplained world is in peril once again, or something like that. We’ve never needed to be completely clear on the specifics, there’s a well-defined goal and that’s all that a game like Dark Souls III needs.
Players wake up in a graveyard – the why of it isn’t explained and you’ll actually forget your humble origins before long – and are soon told that they need to defeat the Lords of Cinder. Achieving this feat will allow players to link the First Flame that keeps the world of Lothric alive. It’s dying, you see, and players are the saviour that the kingdom has at its command. Whether the kingdom was justified in its selection… that falls on players to determine.
A Pointless Choice
As with all of the other games in the series, players have different classes to choose from. The only difference between these classes is the starting gear and the starting stats. If you’re going to be heading into pyromancy early then it makes sense to start with the basic equipment for the job.
Regardless of whether you pick a squishy sorcerer or the knight/tank starter, players have the option to learn everything in Dark Souls III. It just depends on where you allocate points, at the end of the day, rendering the starting pick completely pointless unless you’re fond of a particular starter set.
For that reason we opted for the Northern Warrior starter set (above) and travelled through the Kingdom of Lothric using the axe and the warrior’s armour set. The circular shield was swapped out for a Crest Shield at the first opportunity but the rest of the starter kit followed us almost all the way to the conclusion. The initial axe, suitably upgraded, took us all the way to the final boss battle. The armour only fell away in the highly-toxic Consumed King’s Garden. Fashion Souls isn’t for us.
Journey Without End
Whatever you choose to take with you, know that it better suit your play style. It’s perfectly possible to cheese your way through the game with a bow and some dampened pants, if you want to play it that way, but you can also tank, scorch, backstab or mage your way across the scenic locations in Dark Souls III.
And though the locations are very scenic – we conducted this review on one of LG’s 4K, 55in EG690 OLED TVs (look for the TV review soon) and the visuals jumped out of the screen with more ferocity than usual – you might find yourself becoming almost bored with Dark Souls III at first.
That’s because the game seems so frighteningly linear in the early going. Point A to Point B, stopping at Bonfire C, seems to be the tack that From Software took this time around but right about the time that players hit the Abyss Watchers battle, Souls III begins to branch off in familiar and exciting ways. Each fork in the road becomes an agonising choice, even if you can come back and explore the rest later. You never know when something’s just going to whomp you into a smear on the flagstones. Not at first, anyway. The next time, though, you’ll be ready for the bugger.
A Poke In The Eye
A lot has been made of the difficulty level of Dark Souls since the series first launched, with Demon’s Souls being the series’s progenitor and the hardest point for the game, though Dark Souls came close to being as tough-as-nails as the series is reputed to be. Dark Souls III, in the scheme of things, is the easiest game to traverse from end to end. Part of that is the popularity of Souls – as its appeal has grown, the difficulty has been toned down.
That doesn’t mean that players will romp through Lothric’s graveyards, dungeons, villages and castles shrugging off blows and sneering at bolts. A single misstep will still cook your goose, a moment of inattention will see you blown back to the nearest bonfire like the chaff that you are. A lightning-charged Lothric Knight that catches you on the upswing with a greatsword will zap your entire health bar in a blow, even if you’re still riding high on that last boss-fight win. But it’s all slightly easier this time around. Parries are more forgiving, for one.
Players will also really have to mess with their builds to create a completely useless character. Most times you’ll have a chance to clear some distance from an attacker and sip on your Estus flask for a health boost, even if you’re carrying far too much equipment. A new feature is an Ashen Estus flash, which goes along with new weapon and shield skills. These skills are activated with Focus Points, which we’ve seen before in Demon’s Souls, and the Ashen flask is used to refill these. We… didn’t use it. At all. FP is for wimps.
While on a journey through Lothric, a trip which includes several nods to previous games in the series, you’ll come into contact with NPCs. You’ll also meet invaders, both AI controlled and human. The point is the help the first and kill the second, unless you really, really want to do it the other way around.
Most of the NPCs in Dark Souls III have their own little quest lines, the specifics of which are easy to miss if you don’t make a point of exploring everywhere before moving on to your next objective. Even then, it’s simple to miss a quest trigger.
But doggedness, or a trip to some internet forums, will be rewarded with little stories that play out in front of your eyes. Players can become a dragon, trigger a secret ending, become Hollow, or get married. You might not be able to do it all in a single playthrough, though. Something as simple as joining the Rosario’s Fingers covenant can kill off an entire questline for good.
The online portion of play further extends Dark Souls III‘s longevity, even without accounting for New Game+ and the various permutations afterwards. Invading other players or being invaded (or summoned) will allow players to procure spells and items not available through normal play.
Dark Souls III is a tightly-formed ball of frustration that balances risk and reward on a tightrope of survival. You’ll pass through most of the game’s areas, eventually, as long as you keep at it. The fight might not be pretty and you might take to cheesing enemies when they’re not looking to get through some locations but you will eventually break through the barriers standing in your way. Souls III isn’t the controller-breaking experience previous outings were but it’s perhaps better for it. The only real criticism is the early linear nature of the game. And, if you’re a hardcore player, that it isn’t quite tough enough to make you want to beat your head against the wall.