Dark Souls 3 is the not-so-long awaited sequel to 2014’s Dark Souls 2, the series of Action RPGs from From Software which has earned their fanbase through punishing difficulty. When I sat down a little more than a week ago with the PC port of Dark Souls 3, I expected a familiar yet different sort of experience. And Dark Souls 3 is familiar, indeed. In fact, hot on the heels of Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3 feels a little too familiar. It’s a great game still, but one that shows From Software may be running out of ideas on where to take the series.
Now, if you’re just a plain ol’ lover of the Souls games, you’re probably going to be over the moon with DS3. Like I said, this is still a superb game at its core. Don’t worry, even the screens here won’t spoil the game’s expansive adventure for you. But much in the same way that playing a new version of an EA Sports title or a Call of Duty starts to feel pretty rote year after year that’s how I wound up feeling about this entry into the souls series. That’s not to say From hasn’t shaken things up at least a little bit. The most notable differentiation comes in the form of Combat Arts – special skills that each weapon has access to. Some can be buffs, some can be extremely powerful attacks, and others can even be fireballs.
In addition, DS3 brings in Focus Points (FP) which function like magic points. You’re never really forced to use FP or Combat Arts, so if you find them more a hindrance to your combat flow than an addition, you can ignore them. That said, they often make combat easier so it’s recommended to explore them, toy with their strengths and weaknesses, and learn when and where to use them in the game’s many fights. You refill MP with FP flasks, basically a mana potion, and they function much like the healing flasks in the game. As you progress, you can have an NPC create more, and while you can only ever have 10 total flasks split between HP or FP, it presents a nice new wrinkle in the resource management game that is healing and recharging your character’s vitals between bonfires.
While the moment to moment gameplay and exploration of Dark Souls 3 has changed little, one area in which From has really upped their ante is in the storytelling department. While it will benefit you to have played other Dark Souls games in order to full grasp what is going on and all of the little call backs to previous games, there’s something masterful in the way that DS3 uses every tool at its disposal to weave narrative. Everything from sound to enemy design, set design, item descriptions, little pieces or lore scrawled on walls – it’s all there to help unravel the mystery of the game world and its past as well as your place within the story.
And while there are already speedrunners beating the game in less than two hours, chances are the bulk of us will still take about 30-60 hours to slog through the brutal adventure. There’s a lot of meat on these bones, and loads of secrets and hidden places you likely won’t uncover on a first run unless you’re playing with a strategy guide. There’s so much little stuff packed into the corners of the world, I found myself dodge-rolling into any wall that looked suspicious just in case it was a façade that let to something great and top secret.
I’ve seen reports from fellow writers that DS3’s performance on PS4 and XB1 is spotty at best, and strangely… that’s just not true on PC. Though the game’s menu and control system is still squarely ported from the console version and begs to be played with a controller, the actual performance of the PC port is pretty damn solid. I rarely dipped below the locked 60 FPS, and I played on both my beefy dual Titan PC and my 960M laptop (a much less powerful machine). PC owners, for once with a Dark Souls game, are probably better off than the console players so long as you can resign yourself to playing the game with a controller and not the Mouse/Keyboard.
I have few complaints of bugs within DS3 too, but the game’s worst lack of polish offender remains its camera. In a game where you need to have the firmest of grasps on your surroundings at all time, DS3’s camera can get stuck on geometry, obscured by walls, and the game’s lock-on targeting system (while crucial to success) can also cause issues with the camera. They’re small complaints, but when you’re playing the camera makes an already maddeningly difficulty encounter that much worse you’ll be ticked too.
Dark Souls 3 is the great game everyone expected it to be. There’s no denying that. Two late game bosses are absolutely off-the-wall fantastic. But in hindsight having played it, I can’t help feeling that there’s not much room for the series to go if From Software insists on such a breakneck pace with sequels. Much like Bloodborne just felt like Souls in a different place, Dark Souls 3 feels like “more of the same” a little too often. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, and I worry that another quick turnaround on a Souls game will make the series feel stale. Here’s hoping whatever comes next shows us that the From Software still has more tricks up its sleeve.
GAMEPLAY: 9 | Punishingly difficult but never cheap, this is a formula for action RPG gaming that From Software has simply perfected. It’s tried and true, but also a little “samey” now that we’ve had several games in the series.
VISUALS AND SOUND: 9 | Absolutely gorgeous, minus the always ugly as sin player characters. More importantly, DS3’s sound and music are top notch, the kind of eerie atmospheric awesomeness that really sets a tone and immerses you into a world.
POLISH: 8 | The biggest downsides are the always-terrible PC controls, which can be fixed by simply plugging in a controller, and the wonky and prone-to-getting-lost camera. Minus these issues, the PC port of DS3 is superb.
LONGEVITY: 9 | There are at least 40 hours of gameplay tucked away in this gem, and way more if you’re a completionist who likes to play through these games time and again to uncover all the secrets.
VALUE: 9 | $60 is well worth what’s on show here, so long as you can stand the difficulty of the Souls series. If you’ve never played a Dark Souls game before, I’d suggest one of the earlier (and now cheaper) games to make sure you don’t break your PC or console frustration.