Dark Souls III Review

April 4, 2016

Bloodborne was what sold me on Hidetaka Miyazaki’s gameplay design. I’d had Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls sitting on the shelf for a while, having started them once or twice but never really progressing very far, but Bloodborne was the gateway drug that sent me on a bender through the Souls series. While I wouldn’t consider myself a pro at any of the titles, this kick did happen relatively recently, meaning that each game is still pretty fresh in my memory, which may have put me in the best possible state for Dark Souls III.

Dark Souls III is intended to be the final game in the Dark Souls series, and ultimately it reads as a love-letter to the fans. While there is a heap of new content, there are lots of little touches – whether it’s a weapon, an enemy design, a location or even the way an encounter is set up – that fire up memories of games from Dark Souls to Bloodborne all the way back to Demon’s Souls. Familiarity with these games isn’t a requirement to enjoy Dark Souls III, but will definitely help you get the most out of the little references, riffs and callbacks strewn throughout the adventure.

Taking place at a later point in the Dark Souls timeline, probably hundreds of years into the future, your character (once again created with an array of disfiguring creation options) has risen from the grave as the Unkindled or Ashen One. The world is coming to an end, and your job is to find and destroy the Lords of Cinder in the Kingdom of Lothric. How this ties into the lore of previous games and what this means for the world I’ll leave unspoiled, but it’s more than enough to stage an enthralling Dark Souls tale, largely told through visuals and subtext.

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You make your base in the Firelink Shrine, which serves the same purpose as Majula did in Dark Souls II. It’s a safe location where you can level up, talk to characters you’ve met along the journey, upgrade your equipment and infuse them with magic stones, and visit item stores. As you journey across Lothric, you can light bonfires which serve as checkpoints where you can stop and heal your hero, but can also be used as warp-points to quickly make your way around the map.

While Dark Souls II felt like it jammed a large number of smaller locations into its running time, Dark Souls III returns to the feeling of the first game, in that you’re exploring one cohesive world. There are fewer overall ‘areas’ to explore, but each one is much larger, with all kinds of landmarks and different environments and hidden paths running in between everything, making everything feel interconnected.

One look at screenshots of the game will be enough to tell you the areas you visit in Dark Souls III are drop-dead gorgeous. The design in some areas like the Boreal Valley, or the High Wall of Lothric, or any number of locations is insane. There’s a nice blend of old and new, as the medieval architecture from previous games is still thoroughly present, but the world has clearly moved on with some almost Bloodborne-esque towns that update the setting, while keeping the gothic atmosphere.

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In place of Dark Souls II’s annoying trial-and-error Pharros Lockstones, there are other tricks and mean little pranks the game will play on you if you’re not extremely careful and skeptical of every situation you come across. If you’re new to Dark Souls, Bandai Namco have put out a how-to video on the basics of gameplay, but suffice to say you should take nothing for granted, bank what souls you can when you can, and always be prepared for everything to be taken away from you even when it looks like you have the advantage.

Your character moves more quickly and fluidly than ever before, assuming you haven’t overloaded them with bulky equipment, making running through the environments easier than ever before, and even bringing a new intensity to battles. While you can still equip shields that let you parry with the ‘L2’ button, you can also forgo that and use ‘L2’ to unlock ‘Battle Arts’ which drain your new magic (FP) meter. Every weapon you find has some kind of special move that can be pulled off with the button, adding a little level of complexity into finding your favourite go-to weapon. The FP gauge can be refilled with a new ‘Ash Estus Flask’, a variation on the old Estus Flask which refills your HP in Dark Souls games. As you upgrade your Estus Flask, you can allocate how much of your usual refills go into the HP flask, and what goes into the FP flask when you camp at a bonfire.

Of course, the stars of the show as always in Dark Souls are the enemies, and their design in Dark Souls III is simply incredible. There’s always something new and horrible to discover and slay, from living cages of bones, to skuttling limb-crabs, to giant fat town preachers… There are some designs which are so beautifully bizarre and strange but are never over-used, only appearing for a handful of encounters, making their appearance all the more memorable.

The challenge of Dark Souls is in full flight in this game, and as fans will know, this is what makes the games so enjoyable. There’s nothing like tackling an area filled to the brim with tough high-level foes again and again, until finally you become skilled enough to make it through… Only to discover there’s still another half of the map to go. Overcoming adversity is itself the reward in Dark Souls III, and the rush from taking down tough enemies for no reason other than to say you did is still huge. The aforementioned familiarity that comes with this game could be seen as a slight negative as well, as at times the game feels a bit like a remix of previous highlights (Oh joy! Another poison lake area!).

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The bosses, too, all make for very memorable encounters. While I’d be hard pressed to remember more than a couple of bosses in Dark Souls II, each one in Dark Souls III has something unique or special going for it, and doesn’t rely on a single gimmick. Encounters like the Abyss Watchers, or the Deacons of the Deep, or High Lord Wolnir, all bring something to the table you haven’t seen before in a Souls game, and are really fun to play. If there’s one disappointment among them, it’s probably Yhorm the Giant, but only because his fight relies on figuring out a weapon rather than his own pattern or a strategy.

The game’s servers only recently came online for Australia, so I haven’t been able to spend as much time online as normal, but the usual Dark Souls system is still in place. If you are ’embered’, you can see markers left by other players to invite them into your game to help you with a particularly tough area or boss, or you can invade other players’ games and screw them over for a reward. There are NPC’s on hand to summon to your aid if you play offline, but that can’t replace the great amount of satisfaction that comes from tag-teaming a monster from the abyss with a helpful stranger online. I expect that once the game is out to the general public, it’ll be much easier to find players to assist or invade, but unfortunately during my review it was pretty slim pickings. Still, I enjoyed all online encounters in Dark Souls III just as much as previous games.

Unfortunately, even after a recent 1.01 patch a few technical issues still persist, although they are minor. The frame-rate does tend to get bogged down when there’s a lot of action on-screen, or when there’s a group of enemies. There’s also a recurring issue with props and objects flashing in and out of existence as they come into your field of view, but this doesn’t occur so often as to be irritating, and seems to be something that could be easily patched in the future.

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Huge, dark, haunting, beautiful, challenging, insanely fun – I could keep throwing adjectives at Dark Souls III but I probably still wouldn’t do it justice. Newcomers will get sucked in with the game’s faster pace and amazing visual design, while series’ veterans can rest assured it is much better than Dark Souls II and will reward their loyalty with some very cool cameos and callbacks. Dark Souls III is easily an early game of the year contender, and is a must-buy for anyone looking for one of the most enjoyable challenges in gaming.


Faster paced gameplay
Huge, interconnected levels
Amazing visual design
Great nostalgia for fans
A massive challenge
Memorable bosses
So much to explore and replay


Some aspects might be a little too familar for veterans
Minor technical issues

Overall Score: