Dark Souls 3 (Xbox One Review)
The Souls franchise has always had a polarising divide when it comes to its fanbase and the everyday gamer. Some say that Dark Souls is a unique sub-genre in its own, teaching players about leveling up yourself as a gamer is just as important as leveling up your in-game character, and understanding failure is due to the fault of the player and not the game – resulting in an overwhelming sense of fulfillment once mastered. Whereas the other side of the spectrum see the Souls franchise as a series that needn’t be so hard, denying players who wish to experience the story by difficulty. With a steep learning curve Dark Souls can often push players away from the game early on and in doing so incites a sort of negative affinity with the series, and they wouldn’t be wrong in saying so. Thankfully Dark Souls 3 is a tad bit less abrasive than its predecessors, giving way for new players to hopefully feel a tad more comfortable approaching this new installment.
With Hidetaka Miyazaki’s return to the director’s chair at FromSoftware, a lot of fans were over the moon – since plenty of speculation surrounding Dark Souls 2’s over-convoluted concepts and change in style was due to Hidetaka Miyazaki’s steping down. I can confidently say that Hidetaka Miyazaki is back in full swing with Dark Souls 3, as the vast interconnected environments are back as well as a whole new sleuth of fiendishly difficult enemies and fascinating boss fights.
Anyone who has ever played a Dark Souls game knows the story is never clear or explored in a linear fashion, you are usually given an overall objective detailed in the opening cutscene and it’s up to you to work out how to proceed next. In Dark Souls 3 you play as an Unkindled Ash, a being once dead and brought back using Embers from the fire that keeps the world from falling into darkness. The Lords of Cinder have risen from their graves and have abandoned their call to link the flame. It’s your duty to hunt them down and return each of them to their respective thrones; to continue what they started. FromSoftware don’t exactly stray far from their ideas when it comes to overall story concepts, since all previous iterations of Souls games have had you kill 4 major figures once again, and Dark Souls 3 is no different. But like any great Souls game, the devil is in details, and the discovery of these tid bits of a dying world are imperative to enjoyment, so the less said the better. Although you can trust me when I say that Dark souls 3 brings back the small nuances we have grown to love over the years, right down to the delicately placed swords and destruction of battles once fought.
The methodical combat system is still strong and prevalent as it has ever been. Taking your time to watch enemy movements, timing your attacks accordingly, and most importantly learning from your mistakes still play a key role in success with Dark Souls 3. Every enemy should be approached with caution, as even the most feeble of monsters can take you out with a flurry of attacks – similar to what you’d expect in Bloodborne. Dark Souls 3 has more or less implemented some of Bloodborne’s mechanics, such as easier staggering of enemies for simple stunlock strings and an enhanced combat system for NPC’s so that they have more robust attack patterns, allowing them to combo you more and evade/heal when necessary. Most notably, FromSoftware has upped the pacing of Dark Souls 3 to be almost on par with Bloodborne, something I am not entirely convinced is a wise choice. The speed and pacing in Bloodborne were justified by its own health regeneration mechanic -when you attack an enemy you regain some lost health- encouraging more aggressive gameplay and in turn reducing the necessity to think about your next move. Dark Souls has always been about those one on one engagements, the slow stare downs between you and the enemy towering over you as you trade blows and absorb damage with your shield – true David and Goliath moments that are forever grained in your memory. Now with the faster paced action, similar to Bloodborne, there is less time for the player to think and react to enemies goading the player to think brashly, resulting in poor decisions and ultimately death. It a divisive choice for sure, some people may love the new pacing of Dark Souls 3, while others would prefer much slower pacing.
The pacing isn’t the only thing Dark Souls 3 changed, the mana meter from Demon’s Souls makes a return; although it’s called Focus Points – FP for short – now. As you’d probably guess FP is depleted whenever you use a Sorcery, Miracle, Pyromancy or Weapon Art. Weapon Arts are specific skills attached to weapons that provide further functionality than their base attacks. Some sword Weapon Arts allow you to break an opponent’s guard with a powerful underswing attack, some even provide a self-buff that prevents you from being staggered for a short amount of time. Simple melee weapons aren’t the sole receiver of the Weapon Art treatment, staffs, chimes, and talismans can also use these special abilities to buff their spells.
As I had mentioned before Dark Souls 3 has a large and interconnected world to explore. There has been some slight confusion around this from early gameplay sessions, but this is only limited to a small area. The Firelink Shrine makes a return and is the only area that is disconnected from the world. Serving as a hub, the Firelink Shrine is where NPCs gather and where you can level up/upgrade equipment, as well as a welcome break from a long hard day of soul collecting. The world is vibrant, yet dead at the same time. Castles lie in ruin and undead roam the lands. There are plenty of references throughout that relate to the original Dark Souls, as well as some familiar areas that fans will be thoroughly pleased to see. However, it has to be said that there aren’t any areas that are notably unique in design. And what I mean by this is that all the areas have taken influence of past games; such as the swamps and underground caverns (refraining from saying actual names to avoid spoilers). It’s not to say that’s entirely bad, but it would nice to see some new ideas once and awhile. Essentially Dark Souls 3 is what The Force Awakens is to a New Hope. It’s an entirely new game, but all the areas feel so reminiscent of Dark Souls. Although when all is said and done, Dark Souls 3 looks fantastic visually and is a pleasure to navigate as the world’s complexity is only matched by its verticality. It would be perfect if these areas weren’t hindered by persistent frame rate issues on the Xbox One and to a lesser extent the Playstation 4, although it’s unknown as to whether or not these will be fixed by future updates.
Nothing sets the tone of a game better than it’s score and Dark Souls 3 delivers epicly in that regard. Whether it be a sole violin faintly playing in the background to create a soothing and relaxed atmosphere or a large orchestral group accompanied by the vocals of a choir to create a tense moment during battle. It’s these little touches that really help envelop the player in the world of Dark Souls 3; with echoing harmonics bringing the larger landscapes to life. Even running back through areas you had previously explored can be reinvigorating as the music can change with the decisions you’ve made throughout your game.
When it comes down to it, Dark Souls 3 is an amalgamation of everything that came before it. With similar locales to the original Dark Souls, the improved combat mechanics for NPCs and the ability to fast travel from Dark Souls 2, the speed that everyone praised Bloodborne for, and some character designs alongside mechanics from the original Demon’s Souls. It’s a neatly packed bundle of joy and stress at the same time, enemies are tough, but bosses seem to be on the weak side – although they are still intimidating as ever. If the framerate issues get fixed with the day one patch then I’d say this could probably be the best Souls game to date, it is however the shortest one too. If you’re a fan of the Souls series then you’ll love everything Dark Souls 3 has to offer, and this is before we are able to even comprehend the PvP aspect that has yet to be added by servers.
Editor’s Note: At the time of reviewing no online functionality was available for the Xbox One version of the game, the version being 1.00. It is our intention to return to and possibly review Dark Souls 3 for a second time after the Day One patch has been applied. But until that point we are unable to comment on the factions of Dark Souls 3 of PvP aspect beyond knowing that they exist and there are a copious number of factions available.