Dark Souls 3
Action RPG, Hack and Slash
Playstation 4 (Reviewed), XBox One, PC
March 24, 2016
₹ 3499/- (XBone and PS4), ₹3999/- (PC on Steam)
“Praise the Sun. One Last Time.”
It was sometime back in August 2013 that a notorious thought struck me, what if I did accept fellow Sun-Bro Sahil’s words to follow the flame and discover my interim love and hatred with Dark Souls. I heard a portion of the crowd raving about it, like there’s no other, and the other hating from the bottom of their heart; it was long due that I stepped on this controversial title. From August 2013 till October 2013, I was trying to get out of the Undead Burg, the first area of Dark Souls. I soon figured that smashing the buttons won’t help me go anywhere, that confronting enemies in the same style won’t glorify my cause either. The Asylum Demon was a hard boss to confront in its domain, and only when I spotted a message that hinted at jumping on him from a plank, that I figured where Dark Souls was taking me. Dark Souls the original chases the very roots of game designing, with interconnected levels, all trying to send you a message. I finally beat Dark Souls in March 2014, days ahead of its sequel release and only one thought occurred to me – How in the world did I miss reviewing this title when it was released? I even initiated an all arm Dark Souls dedicated tattoo. Cut to three years down the road to Lordran, here I am, bracing the Lords, praising the Sun and gunning my way to the review score of Dark Souls 3, a real love letter to the fans of the original game.
Open the Floodgates again
Dark Souls 3 begins as majestically as Dark Souls 1, with a pretty cutscene explaining to you what’s up with Lothric (the episode capital) and what has happened in the universe since the rekindling of the Chosen One of Lordran (precisely your character in Dark Souls 1). You start your journey at the Walls of Lothric, a place that takes you back a few years to those couple of months you were stuck in the Undead Burg and were trying to connect the paths of a complex maze. Just like in the Burg, there are hollows, knights and a dragon that breathes down fire. And some community messages that totally crack you up in the seriousness of the atmosphere, such as ‘Time for Back, therefore try Hole’.
Just like the other Dark Souls, Dark Souls 3’s story has more lore than meets the eye. Most importantly, the Souls story told here has a direct cord with Dark Souls 1, almost replicating the consequences of Lordran, with refreshing tales sprinkled on the course. The cord almost makes Dark Souls 2 irrelevant, as if this is how it was supposed to be, coupled with the mechanics and level designing, that ricochets the essence of the first Souls. If you are amongst the first ones to jump into the series, make sure you fist fight your way through the first Dark Souls before you reach here. Because the nostalgia and feels return stronger than in DS2, almost putting you under a spell that can only make you fangirl harder about your decision to go hollow back then.
As the age of fire faded, despite the attempts by Gwyn, the first Lord of Cinder that crossed your path in DS1, the entire kingdom has fallen to ashes. Fire, just like life, can be rekindled only to burn out in time, and that’s why every generation needs a Chosen One to restore the fire link. In Lothric, you don’t lose your humanity unlike in DS1, but the embers of the final fire that burns within you are gone with your death. The embers restore your link to the other worlds, that sometimes fight monsters along with you, or simply invade your story to run away with loot. In this intertwined world, you must survive some of the harshest areas, such as Farron Keep, Catacombs of Carthus, Cathedral of the Deep (FU Skeletons!) and the Irithyll Valley, linking the bonfires wherever you go; to finally gain the rights to enter Lothric and challenge the King. As you go, you must slay the other fallen Lords of Cinder, namely the Abyss Walkers, Yhorm the Giant and Saint Aldrich of the Deep, to send your message strong and bright to the keepers of the Lothric firelink. As you come back to your central hub, called the Firelink Shrine, you must pay homage to the fallen Lords of Cinder, by burning ashes of their remnants sitting atop their thrones. Like I said, even though this is the core story of Dark Souls 3, there is more to it than simply this. As you invade areas, discover hidden items, and join covenants, you ruffle up some of the craziest versions of the conflict.
Dark Souls 3 links the skill based gameplay that defined Dark Souls 1, nerfing the way sorcerers got through with everything in Dark Souls 2. Meaning, the parries, backstabs and hack-slash-roll out skills come on top of everything; this time with enhanced graphics and stable frame-rate (R.I.P. Blighttown). Remember those days when you would travel on foot from the Undead Burg to Darkroot Forest, and some annoying creature would jump on you when you’d least expect it? Dark Souls 1 made you attend the most annoying classes and come out with decent grades, Ornstien and Smough being the gatekeepers of the one thing you so badly desired – the Lordvessel. The Lordvessel allowed you to teleport between bonfires, instead of walking into a trap every now and then. With Dark Souls 3, the mechanics of transportation changed for the good, as they borrowed the Central Hub with teleportation abilities from DS2, Bloodborne and Demon’s Souls and put it to use right from the start of your journey. This mechanic surely helps you stay in your Ember form longer, but also makes you neglect the very concept of soul farming, as you force your way out of a bonfire to hunt some souls for upgrades.
One of the main differences between Dark Souls 1 and Dark Souls 3 is that the intertwined world, along with its secret doors, elevators, shortcuts, doesn’t concern the Central Hub anymore. While the level designing is notches above the linear Dark Souls 2, it doesn’t leave you with the same satisfaction as kicking down ladders in Undead Burg. Instead it goes linear, away from the Central bonfire, with secrets and shortcuts often occurring to you within an area, as it shortens your trip to the area bonfire. The Irithyll Dungeon is a sad place to get trapped in, with Casters often cursing and depleting your HP and rats surrounding your rear. And Miyazaki’s magic of laying down puzzles in the form of ladders, elevators and secret doors play a big part in deciding whether you leave the area with loot, or die infinitely.
The element of surprise and not completely telling what to do makes Dark Souls dangerously special. That’s when the community comes together to etch out hints on the platform or fool someone into jumping off a ledge. The same returns in DS3, in greater proportions. Areas looking easy to traverse often become the hardest (shout out to whoever got kicked by Patches in the Cathedral of Deep, again!) and boxes that tempt you to grab the loot often unveil as mimics trying to kick you out of the screen. Though I feel there are way too many mimics in Dark Souls 3, to an extent I feel like they garnished the game with elements of Sen’s Fortress across all areas. Despite the Orange Soapstone Mark, there is no SAFE ZONE AHEAD in DS3!
The element of guessing in Dark Souls 3 puts you on the learning curve, every single time you think you could’ve done better with some respite. Bosses often show you a different side to their combat style at 50% of their health, some bosses often duplicate and put you under a crammed situation. There is a reason why every single Dark Souls thread on Reddit is smeared with the name of Pontiff Sulyvan. The boss can soar, beat you into a pulp with quick slashes, cast magic spells and engage a decoy to fight alongside. Even if your body is ready for the confrontation, the boss will make you question your reason to think so. Similarly, the Gundyr of Cemetery of Ash returns as Champion Gundyr later in the game, showing how he has harnessed his powers since the last time he got beaten at your hands, aiming for your blood. It doesn’t take Dark Souls 3 courage or prudence to take you from one epic Cinder Lord fight to another, in a matter of two minutes. If you know what I’m talking about, you must’ve died at the hands of the Dancer of the Boreal Valley for at least 20 times. The element of surprise ticks Dark Souls 3 on.
Upgrade your Nightmare
Dark Souls 3 returns with all those questions that you ask yourself in your sleep. Should I skill up my Strength or use Dex build from hereon. Also returning from Dark Souls 2 is a dedicated Endurance and Vitality skill set. While one increases the number of times you can swing your blades or run, the other takes care of your maximum equipment load. There are only choices ahead of your journey in Dark Souls 3. And as each time you lose 20,000 souls, equal to one skill up, you’ll want to drop a TNT on Miyazaki’s head. Dark Souls 3 celebrates Pyromancy like no other of its predecessors have, with a special loot area meant for Pyros, called the Demon Ruins. Motivation capsule, the Demon Ruins sit atop the Izaleth gallery, so just trust the Witches to give you an instant fix.
From time to time, you discover Scrolls, Coal and Ashes that respectively unlock new Spells, Weapons and upgrades and Usables and wearables. Keeping one’s sight on the environment is critical, not just to make sure you’re battling the enemy with an upper hand, but also to never miss out on an upgrade ingredient. Some areas are extremely painful to traverse, knock knock Silver Knights, and with a little extra, you’ll never feel miserable again. One of the most intriguing unlocks in Dark Souls 3 is definitely the Mage that teaches you about Dark Magic. Without telling you exactly how to find her, I’d leave it to you to chance upon a hundred deaths and curses in order to finally fetch her.
As far as gameplay and mechanics go, Dark Souls 3 is silent and fair, unlike the first Souls game wherein even poor frame-rate was a Dark Phantom. It’s you and how you can ‘GIT GUD’ versus the most notorious creatures and heinous bosses that you’ll ever face. Instead of only improvising on the Dark Souls game physics, FROM invested time and research to bring the fast paced, quick bladed Bloodborne diagram for an epic closure to its predecessor – Dark Souls. It retains the same old swordplay and prefers to give the Dex built bleeders a little extra, and the same to the tanks who wield Twin Dragon Tower Shields. The PVP looks glamorous every time the servers at FROM decide not to act as the antagonist.
The only bit of change, and perhaps the most clinical shift since DS2 is the Mana bar. However light it seems, it allows players to choose damage control over magic offense at certain areas. The introduction of the all new class – Assassin, that has strength in Dex and Magic, makes this shift all the more important. Magic can buff up one’s armour and weapons, but an extra Estus can save you from that all important last drop of blood. Like I said earlier, Dark Souls 3 makes you question all those things that you took for granted over the course of time. Thankfully, each death doesn’t result in a health bar deduction penalty as in Dark Souls 2, as my gameplay took a toll until I found the Ring of Binding later in the game. Just like the previous games, finding Estus Shards within the world increase your capacity to chug. Similarly, finding Undead Bone Shards increase the potency of each chug. Sadly, there are no Life Gems, so you will have to gulp it down when the enemy is not auctioning his/her attacks on you.
Return of the Prodigal Unkindled One
One of the things that struck me right in the beginning of my adventure was that how oddly similar the world of Lothric looked to Lordran. From the misfit castle towers crowded with pagan undead to the deep gutters, smoggy and toxic with rat swarms. The second half of my playthrough showed me pastel strokes and colours that resembled that of Bloodborne. The Irythill Valley itself was a chapter from Yharnam, with enemies as quick as the blade-dancers in Bloodborne.
With no 25 FPS frame cap and an excellent line of sight detailing, that sometimes threw a popping structure or a blurring effect, Dark Souls 3 is the best looking Souls game till date. I was left in awe for 15 minutes right outside the gates that hosted the Deacons of the Deep because of the amount of detailing that FROM piled on this series closure. The architecture and environment palette combines the harvested richness of the Souls series with the moon-kissed Victorian archetype from Bloodborne.
Okay I have waited this long enough, now let’s talk about our return to Anor Londo in Dark Souls 3. I still remember those crushing 10 hours from Sen’s to the rooftops of Anor Londo, meeting the Silver Knights and Archers on the way up, just praying to God to give me a second bonfire. And here I was, right after Pontiff Sulyvan’s bonfire, being crushed into pieces by swarming mega-arrows and a continuous fight against vertigo. I was getting throwbacks of DS1 in the overall set up of Dark Souls 3 till now. Like how they mixed Sen’s Fortress and the Catacombs from DS1 to create the Catacombs of Carthus. Or like how they expanded the story of Artorias the Abysswalker and the Great Grey Wolf Sif in one of the Lords of Cinder lore – the Abysswatchers. But this was way close to the real feeling. I turned the wheel expecting shit to blow up or a Gargoyle to drop with a lightning charged tail, when the screen announced ‘ANOR LONDO’. This is essentially where Dark Souls chooses to please the old boys more than the fancy Bloodborne spurred Souls ‘veterans’. Anor Londo defined what hope and despair was, as I was moments away from breaking a controller or giving up on an otherwise great run, and here I was, back in the capital of Sunlight, enslaved by the Wraith Moon. What seemed like a majestic summer capital impressively turned into a fallen nightmare, the one with priests heaving fire, leeches swarming the entrance and a giant spider guarding the main door. I felt the nostalgia kick back harder than any of Aldrich’s magic vortex when I was in that room where I once killed the duo of Ornstien and Smough, now wrapped in muck, a recluse for the Saint of the Deep. Sadly, the ‘Great Chest Ahead’ was gone.
What else returns from the original Dark Souls? Well, the crashing servers and the disappearing summon signs. At certain boss arenas, I wanted a buddy to help me get through. But thanks to the servers at FROM, I had to choose between laggy partners or no partner at all. ‘You Died’, like clearly. A giant advancement to the online mechanics of Dark Souls 3 is the negation of the Orange Soapstone, and replacing it with a simple text templatiser. And an incentive to use the microphone in order to communicate with the bunch.
Dark Souls always banked on its weaponry, as much as it was about its fragmented lore and worthy clashes. The great ones from the series return in all their unabashed pride, like the Zweihander, Uchigatana and the Large Club. The system upgradation for the same remains the same as the series provided, firstly starting with Titanite Shards, going into Large Titanite Shards, then Twinkling Titanites and the Titanite Scale for the Boss Weapons. Speaking about the Boss Weapons, a lot of them can cure your boring death count. The Wolfnir Greatsword that sends a shockwave with its Skill move and the Aldrich Scythe that can eat up your enemy’s health and give it back to you. There is tons to think, rethink and repent about in this edition, and the greed will consume you to become one with the fallen Cinder Lords. The inclusion of the special move, now with R2 on the PS4, lets you perform a Skill move that is dependent on the weapon or the weapon type. This can be quite handy especially while controlling mobs, beating PVP players or going head on with the area bosses.
Overall, I can say that Dark Souls 3 shares the same blood as Dark Souls 1, but these two games are two different chapters in the history of Hidetaka Miyazaki and FROM Software. Both are vengeful of your ignorance, both are ready to reward you for your arrogance. If I had reviewed Dark Souls 1, maybe it would’ve had been extremely difficult for me to calculate the worth of Dark Souls 3. But having spent nearly 70 hours in this edition, I can vouch for this statement – the Series has received one of the finest last bows. So as to say, I started missing April 2016 and to a certain extent the winter of 2014, when I was hacking and slacking my way into a series that would later groom me to become the person I am today. Till then, here’s an obligatory score and a standing ovation gesture to the franchise that has restored more faith than embers into this cut-scene driven entertainment variant.
+ A befitting end to the rich Souls lore
+ The best looking Souls experience till date
+ Excellent bosses and challenges
+ Well done Mana Bar
+ Pace of the Game
+ Dark Souls 1 Throwbacks
+ Soundtrack (Esp. Dancer of the Boreal Valley Fight)
- Too many mimics
- Too many online Co-Op crashes
- Central Hub should've linked up with the rest like Lordran