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Return to the land of death, destruction, and death with Dark Souls 3. Released on April 12th 2016 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One, Dark Souls 3 is FromSoftware’s final installment in the souls series. Known for its massive difficulty and equally massive community, the souls series contains punishing combat, rich landscapes, and diverse storylines buried deep in the game’s lore. Working off their highly successful title BloodborneFromSoftware has raised the bar with modern graphics and visuals. The game boasts a smooth 30 FPS (60 FPS PC) coupled with their tried-and-true gameplay requiring patience, persistence, and dedication to make it to the end.

Gameplay

The player overlooks a massively beautiful scenic view of foggy mountains, a broken castle and the forests surrounding it.

Welcome to Dark Souls III

Dark Souls 3 combat is extremely similar to previous games in the series. It places focus on precise combat, creating a slower and more deliberate pace to fights compared to the over-zealous style of a typical hack and slash game. New to the series is the introduction of “Weapon Arts,” weapon-specific techniques that either unleash damage or provide an alternative to movement. Another new addition is the inclusion of a FP meter, a bar similar to mana from Demon Souls which is drained through use of magical sorceries, miracles, and pyromancies as well as weapon arts.
Combat in Dark Souls is considered difficult, requiring the player to rely on proper dodging, blocking, and timed attacks as opposed to over-powered attacks and spells. This becomes incredibly obvious during boss fights, pitting the player against massive monsters with the capability of killing over-anxious players with a few quick attacks. Unique to the series, Dark Souls 3 falls back on previous entries and requires players to survive through death as a means of improving play. This often borders on unfair scenarios, ambush attacks, extremely difficult boss fights or sudden jumps in difficulty. All-around this creates a difficult yet fair style of gameplay that is rewarding to those that persevere.
Multiplayer in Dark Souls 3 is back with the 9 covenants scattered throughout the landscape. Combat can be either competitive or cooperative depending on the various items used as well as planned and unplanned meetings. Players are capable of invading another player’s game in an attempt to steal their souls and their fire. An invasion can happen at almost any point before a boss fight. This creates an environment of confusion, difficulty, and the potential surprise to throw the player off. Equally impressive is the improved matchmaking system and online servers that present virtually zero lag and can support up to 4 players at once.

Graphics/Design

Two landscapes are highlighted, one brighter overlooking a forest and the other of a dim crumbled remnant of a castle courtyard with crumbled stairs.

Beautiful landscape design accompanies updated graphics and character models

While not typically their focus, FromSoftware went above and beyond with their design, stepping back to their root concept of “if you can see it, you can go to it.” Massive landscapes are showcased with story-based design to create a truly menacing and absorbing atmosphere unlike any other game today. FromSoftware also stepped up their game by bringing their character model graphics into the modern age with a smooth 30 FPS (60 FPS) design and supported PC graphic upgrades.
Landscapes are massive in size and detail with much of the story coming from item and character placement as well as secret locations. Fitting with the size of the world, Dark Souls 3 uses clever world design to intertwine the different locations while returning the player to some familiar ones. Hitting the nostalgia button perfectly while introducing some intriguing questions into the overall lore, Dark Souls 3 delivers a well-trained balance between powerful graphics and equally enigmatic design.
The game loses points however in their continued effort to stay just a half step behind the modern generation. Character models lack sufficient detail in appearance, especially with facial features. Furthermore, character models still don’t move in a natural way nor has FromSoftware seemingly invested in any sort of motion capture for their models. While it works for the souls series in general, it seems to be a relic from an earlier age of gaming and out of place in the current generation.

Story and Lore

The player faces a burning campfire in the middle of a dark castle plaza.

Can you survive a thousand deaths to become the Lord of Cinder?

Probably the most notable feature of the souls series is how it tells the story – in a word, basic. Much of the base story told through cut scenes and battles lies in the player, The Ashen One, seeking the 5 Lords of Cinder that scattered throughout the lands. That’s it! The rest of the story is told through item descriptions, creature locations, environmental design and NPC storylines. This level of storytelling may not be everyone’s cup of tea but creates a more engrossing collection of lore that immerses players who want to know more but doesn’t distract from those looking for a standard gaming experience.
Overall the story so far seems to take place after the events of the original Dark Souls. This is seen through repeated locations, NPCs, and references to events of the previous games, linking the entire storyline together. Spoilers aside, much of the full story is yet to be fleshed out, something typical of the massive community surrounding the game.

PS4 vs Xbox vs PC

There are only minor variances between the two console versions of the game with the more impressive hardware of the PS4 boasting better lighting, shadows, and graphical detail throughout. Furthermore, frame drops are seen more consistently in the Xbox version of the game although they do happen on occasion on the PS4 version so there is little reason to pick up one copy or the other.
However, the PC port has its fair share of issues, especially for those with Nvidia-brand graphics cards. Numerous issues were reported at launch for about 30% of the PC users ranging from FPS rates dropping into the single digits for portions of the game to straight up crashes. For those able to run the game successfully, graphical glitches, tearing, and unstable frames have been seen in the most powerhouse of computers far exceeding the recommended specifications. Hacking has also proven to be a problem for PC players as the same base model for Bloodborne was used to build Dark Souls 3, giving many unseemly players plenty of time to crack the code.

Overall

The player looking into a landscape of ancient villages and castles.

Will you survive Dark Souls III?

Dark Souls 3 is the definitive game of the souls series, landing in just barely above the epic success that was Bloodborne. Long-time fans of the series will find everything they know and love about the game while also experiencing some new twists. Not much has changed in the formula for the souls series that embodies the “why fix what’s not broken?” mentality but nothing is really needed. While the game isn’t perfect between the graphic glitches and less-than-stellar PC release, Dark Souls 3 maintains what made the series successful in the first place – the difficulty and fun gameplay.
Pick up a copy yourself and jump into the lands of Lothric to die, die, and die again before finally reaching the end and becoming your own Lord of Cinder.
All images copyright of FromSoftware and Bandai Namco Entertainment.
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