DARK SOULS 3
Dark Souls 3 is a sendoff of the series. Not only have From Software confirmed that the series is going on a break, but while playing it’s clear that this is the end of the series as we know it. The game constantly references the games that came before it, borrowing visuals from Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 1 & 2, and Bloodborne. The greatest complaint you can level against Dark Souls 3 is that it doesn’t convey a strong image of its own, as it’s making you think of other games all the time. But as a sendoff for this series of games, that’s perfectly appropriate. I didn’t mind this approach at all because the quality of execution is From Software at their best.
This is probably the most consistently good Souls game yet. For example, in Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne I felt the quality of boss fights was too uneven, and in Dark Souls 1 some areas of the game felt rushed. In this game though, the minimum level of quality is very high, and the boss fights are better than ever. It presents the sort of challenge I like, where you have to learn to read enemy animations to learn when to dodge or attack. Given that even normal enemies now have more animations than before, regular fights outside of bosses retain a high level of tension and excitement, even after you’ve spent a few hours in the same area. Leveling up can only take you so far, so you’re pretty much forced to patiently learn enemy attack patterns to win consistently. It’s nicely balanced, where it feels fair. Most games like Witcher 3 can often mess up subtle details in how combat works, and add a sense of chaotic sloppiness. I’m talking about things like hit detection, invincibility frames while dodging, how target lock-on works, and so on. The best games make these things predictable and dependable, where your losses feel like your own mistake, and not the system screwing you over. Dark Souls 3 is such a game, where you CAN master it, and it will treat you fairly. As much as people hype the difficulty, it’s really only about on the level of Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry on medium. It’s not a cakewalk, but most people should be able to get through this without going nuts. I mean I had more difficulty getting through Uncharted 3 than I did this.
When it comes to story, the game is as obtuse as ever at conveying information, as you really have to dig into it to learn anything. Especially at the start of the game you feel starved of information, to an extent you don’t in other games. So it’s more of a slow burn where pieces eventually start falling into place. One disappointment is how there are things that don’t pay off properly in the story. There are things put into the game seemingly because they thought they were cool, and not because the game “is about” those things. So there’s a sense that the game could’ve been even better, had there been more depth to the story here. But I guess we’ll have to settle for it being merely good.
Even though the game reuses a lot of assets from earlier From Software titles, it does so with good direction and intent. The world design and layout makes sense, unlike Dark Souls 2 which was more like an amusement park than a world. There you went into a windmill, traveled up an elevator behind a throne room, and ended up at the entrance of a lava mountain land. A mountain which by the way wasn’t visible behind the windmill itself. It was a complete mess. Because Dark Souls 3 only came out a year after Bloodborne, I didn’t dare set my expectations too high, and as a result, it consistently exceeded them. This is the kind of Dark Souls sequel you’d hope for after the first game, as it has most of the qualities that made the first game so good.
One thing that bugged me is how every location has fixed time of day and weather effects. Every location is tuned for a particular look and mood. This would normally be fine. But because you can teleport everywhere in the world via bonfires, it’s a bit odd to go from a sinister solar eclipse in one place, to a moonlit night in a different location, in the span of just a single load screen. I’m hoping this is something they can improve in future titles with better technology so that the entire world can change its appearance as you advance through the story.
As the final Dark Souls game, this is a great way to end. This is just the amount of game this formula can take before running itself into the ground. Same goes for the tech they’re using, which also feels like its played out its role. For every flaw in the game, there were a hundred more things I thought were just awesome. I had a great time, it didn’t feel its length, and I'm satisfied with how it ended.