Dark Souls has always been a franchise that has stuck with me, and I’ve been excited to get my hands on Dark Souls 3 for a long time before the title was released. Unfortunately for me, I had to miss out on launch day and begin my adventure through Lothric the following day. Using what time I had available to me, I managed to get over 35 hours of time into Dark Souls 3 before I headed onto New Game Plus.
Already armed with the idea that I was going to play my first playthrough of Dark Souls 3 as a Knight class, I spent a lot less time on the class selection screen than I probably should have. This time around, players are offered a fairly basic set of classes, which are accompanied by two additional classes, which are a kind of hybrid. The first is the Herald, which has a starting weapon of a Spear, and is designed to be a bit more of a faith class, employing the use of miracles. The second class is the Assassin, which seems the polar opposite of the Herald, since it has a focus on sorcery, and starts with an Estoc. It’s nice to see that there are classes that will still tempt in new players, and gently introduce them into the world of magic, rather than focus on just a sword and shield like most players opt to begin with. Unfortunately for me, I did not consider this, and I managed to play the game with a sword and shield, and a very limited use of Pyromancy, which was just used to buff my weapon with fire damage.
My journey into the world of Dark Souls 3 began with the sound of bells ringing as your character rises to start their quest as the Ashen One. As I began to venture my way through the Cemetary of Ash, I ran across the Ashen Estus, which was designed to replenish your FP bar, just how a regular Estus recovered health. In Dark Souls 3, spell usage is governed by FP, rather than how many casts each spell has, balancing out the mechanic a little more, and FP is also used to perform the weapon arts, which I will cover a bit later in the review.
For a starting area, the Cemetary of Ash really wasn’t so difficult. I don’t class myself as an amazing player of Dark Souls, but I would say I am good enough to get by, and so it wasn’t so much of a huge deal making my way through. True to previous titles in the series, the tutorial is just a series of Soap Stone messages left on the ground, telling you which buttons do what, and leaving you to figure it out. Even now, I am still to scared to try my hand at parrying, and just focused on my shield blocking and rolling to survive. As I ventured forth, I found a path with a message telling me to turn back, but i continued on to find an optional fight against a crystal covered monster, which at this stage of the game wasn’t a straightforward fight. It shown me my first taste of frost damage and the frostbite mechanic that had made its way into the game, but I managed to slay it first time with a bit of patience and a little bit of luck.
Returning to the correct path, I made my way to the first bonfire, which was a brief respite, since not too far away, I would soon find myself fighting the first proper boss of the game, the Iudex Gundyr. It was nice to see that they had returned to the original Dark Souls approach of having to face a boss before you made it to what you’d class as the hub area of the game. Once again, I managed to make my way past the first boss the very first time, which is something I can’t say I managed with the rest of the bosses. The Iudex Gundyr was actually quite an interesting fight to begin with, since when you had managed to get around half of the health off it, it mutated into something, and changed the attack pattern, giving the fight a more dynamic approach. This is a feature that seemed to carry on with most of the bosses in Dark Souls 3, making the bosses that little bit more challenging if you’d not faced them before.
Once that ordeal was over with, the main hub area of the game, Firelink Shrine, was only a hop, skip and a jump away from my location. However, before I continued on, I noticed that a new bonfire appeared in the boss arena. Now this was something very useful, as the majority of boss areas had this feature once you had slain the local boss, meaning if you wanted to help people take on bosses, it wasn’t difficult for you to just leave your summon sign down before the boss room, and offer your assistance to other players.
Now Firelink Shrine seemed to be a much better hub than in previous titles of the game. I did enjoy that as soon as you got there, there was a vendor that you could use right away if you wanted, and finally I could rejoice since there was an option to sell my unwanted items right off the bat, thought it was short lived as I hardly sold anything in my first play through. Selling items was rather important to me, especially since in Dark Souls 2, it was a real pain to have to find an NPC just to get rid of the vast amount of the same armor that you already had, and kept picking up. Now it has just become something convenient, and it is a really speedy was to redeem those consumable souls too, since they sell for the same amount of souls you’ll gain from using them, so bear that in mind if you want to save yourself precious time.
As well as the vendor, there was also a familiar face to greet me, Andre the Blacksmith. What made this interesting, was the fact, that you could always upgrade your weapons pretty much from the start of the game. Though the weapon progression system seems slower this time around, and most players won’t see a weapon maxed out until near the end, it was great to know I had the option to improve my equipment so soon. As well as weapon upgrading, you could also infuse your weapons too, and provided you had given Andre the coal to open up the option, and had the right gem, it meant you could switch your weapon types on the fly. Admittedly I found that I just infused my weapon with sharp, so I could continue to buff it with resins or Pyromancy, since a long experiment with a Fire Broadsword made me realise I lost the ability to buff, and in that sense, I lost a bit of damage output.
Andre is also the guy you want to see about your Estus Flask too. He has two great options to use here, which will really change your journey, the first being the option to reinforce your Estus Flask. This simple task will give you an additional use of your flask, giving you the confidence to fight tougher enemies, or just giving you an extra lifeline to help you explore further from the bonfire. The second option is the ability to allocate you Estus Flash usage. Now this is key, since it allows you to allocate how many of each flask you use, and you should make the selection based on your play style. I went pretty much sword and shield, so all of mine went into the Estus Flask, focusing on my HP recovery, though players who want to use spells or weapon arts frequently will want to divide it into balancing their HP and FP recovery.
Now I won’t delve any further into the story, to avoid spoilers, and now I can get down to a lot of the nitty gritty of the review, ensuring a lot of focus on what you really need to know about the game. Dark Souls 3 maintains the same standard of the previous titles, in which I mean it continues to not hold players hands through the game. I’m not afraid to admit that as soon as I’d hit Firelink Shrine, probably because I was neglecting to pay attention, it took me about 5 minutes to work out where I was going next. Though a lot of the areas are connected in Dark Souls 3, just like previous titles, sometimes you’ll need to take a little initiative to find out where you’re going next. Sometimes, just because an area is a direct continuation, it doesn’t mean it’s where you want to be next, you might want to run back and find another way, and a good example of this is after fighting the Crystal Sage. I ran forward, to an area where the enemies hit hard, and I soon found that I could go to another area that was in the swamp I had come from, to find my way to the Abyss Watchers.
This has been something I have always enjoyed about the Dark Souls franchise, nothing is ever as clear as it seems, or as easy as you may expect. One of the features from Dark Souls 2, that I am glad they kept, was the ability to fast travel to any bonfire right off the bat. Travelling between places is as easy as resting, and opting to fast travel to where you want to go, whether it’s back to a boss bonfire so you can help players take on a tough boss, or just back to Firelink Shrine to level up or spend your souls.
As you would expect from the world of Dark Souls 3, there is danger in a lot of places. Compared to previous titles in the franchise, Dark Souls 3 is a lot faster, and more fluid. Due to this, I found that my adventure was played a lot differently to how I would before. In previous titles, I was more than happy to move to a greatsword or ultra greatsword as soon as possible, and just be a tank character that dealt massive damage. Due to the pace of this game, I had to adapt, and I found myself favoring a broadsword for the majority of the game. I really got into the whole rolling mechanic which I neglected in previous titles, though my shield was 100% physical absorption, I learned quickly that rolling gave me the advantage to strike in so many scenarios.
So on the combat side of things, Dark Souls 3 also introduces what is known as Combat Arts. These are special abilities on weapons and shields, that consume your FP, but usually to do some form of cool, or damaging attack. I will admit, I was a little bit late to even trying this, and I only really used combat arts in a single boss fight (those of you who have played will know exactly what I mean), but the concept is really cool. Normally you’ll find yourself having to two hand a weapon, or have it in your off hand in order to use them, but some weapons or shields will allow you to use the combat art of your primary weapon if you have the right combination of equipment. Combat arts really do give combat a different feel, whether it’s you using them, an NPC or invader.
So let’s talk about invasions. I remember when I played Dark Souls 2, though invasions were rare, I was never keen on them, so I’d normally jump off an edge, just to get rid of them, but this time around, since it was launch week, I knew they would be a little more frequent. Any player can invade your world as long as you are a Host of Embers, and they are in the correct summon range to find you. Once they are in your world, it’s their job to try and kill you, and most of the time, that is exactly what they will do.
Dark Souls does have a form of etiquette to invasions and most players will announce their presence to you before their onslaught begins, but you will find those who just want you dead, and will try to trick you or just charge. Whether you’re an invader, or have been invaded, you can certainly have a lot of fun with it. There’s an item called the Young White Branch, which will transform you into a random object of local scenery, whether it’s a statue or a barrel. I was with my friend as he got invaded, and I was a statue hiding in a bit of an obvious place, but luckily the invader ran right past me in an effort to kill him. This gave me the opportunity to catch him off guard.
One of my memorable duels, was when I was helping my sister reach Anor Londo, in which we got invaded by someone with no equipment on, and he just decided to sit nearby until we got invaded by a second player. As both he and my sister watched me duel, he was sneaky enough to sort his equipment out and try to dispatch her in a rather unsporting manner, though his plan was foiled as I had removed the second invader and was able to intervene.
The best invasion I have had to date, was the one pictured above. Once again, I was in my sisters world, and low and behold, there was an invasion. As the gesture exchange happened, I started to drop prism stones around the place, and they decided to watch. I must have dropped about 60 prism stones before he dropped a divine blessing for her, and then disappeared, but not before we had some laughs with silly gestures. It was nice to be reminded that not everyone is so heartless when they invade, and that they can have some fun too, even if their purpose is to hinder you.
Just like previous Dark Souls games, co-op is initiated using the Soapstones in the game. The very first of which, is available to buy straight away from the vendor in Firelink Shrine. For a measly 500 souls, you can have the option of helping others, and trust me, sometimes, you’ll be glad you do. If you help a player defeat their area boss, you’ll become embered (if you’re not already), and you’ll get another ember too, which means you can farm embers for yourself. To me, embers seemed a little scarce at first, but by the end of the game, I had 70 just sat in my inventory, so it was a fairly efficient method to collect them.
Being summoned into another world has a few advantages. The first, is that it’s a really good way to get to learn an area, if you’re new there, you can give yourself the ability to find your way around, and make your run through a little more efficient. The best thing though, is that you’re pretty much safe, and what I mean by this, is that no matter how many souls you carry or accumulate, or your embered status, you won’t lose it. If you die in someone elses world as a summoned phantom, you will keep all that you have earned in your time there, at no risk at all, and it doesn’t matter if you’re embered or not if you want people to summon you.
Of course, summoning has a few balances to it. If you want to summon people, you will need to make sure you’re in an area where you haven’t beaten the boss. The people you summon can have already beaten the area boss, but you can’t. This also applies to invaders, and once the area boss has been beaten, you’re on your own if you ever want to go to an area again. People who are summoned to your world will have half their Estus Flasks, and it’s rounded down. If you normally carry 5, then you’ll have 2 if you’re a summoned phantom.
As I made my way through Dark Souls 3, I have to say, there weren’t too many problems. Sure, there was the occasional FPS lag when there was a lot happening on the screen, but in my 36 ish hours of playing the game, I noticed it about 3 times. My main gripe was the initial “Retrieving Calibrations” problem. Upon starting the game, I would occasional have to try about 6 times before I could get online to play, though I managed to fix it by ejecting my disc and putting it back into my console. I’m going to attribute it to launch week demand though, since it balanced out neared the end of my first play through.
The main problem I had, which again, I’m putting it down to launch week server demand, was the occasional lag online. If i was summoned, occasional other players would just float around, and I was the same on their screen. This was a blessing and a curse, sure it was funny, but if I went against a boss with another player, as a summon, the boss was unable to damage me. The boss floated around the arena too, and I was safe to just take it out with no risk of death. Just like the above issue, this happened to me about 3 times in my play through, but it could easily detract from the games value if it was a constant thing.
Overall, Dark Souls 3 was a wonderful experience for me. I loved how it was a lot more like Dark Souls, and contained a lot of references, be it NPC’s or areas that I visited. I was reminded how lore rich the game really was, and the game was a lot more fluid than previous titles. Summoning and invasions seemed to be a lot more fun to me, though admittedly I didn’t really have a lot of experience with it before. The subtle change of pace in the game was a great way to get me to see Dark Souls in a different light too, and really get me to change my play style. The faster pace made it a lot easier to pick myself up again after a death, and not feel I was going to face a slow run to regain my progress I had just lost. It was so nice to be able to remember my love of exploring areas, while at the same time trying to be alert to any tricks or traps that may be awaiting me. NPC’s seemed a lot more fulfilling, offering me the option of side quests, or a way of really adjusting my game.
Aside from the very few issues I had with the game, which were mostly connection based, I could easily say that Dark Souls 3 is the best in the franchise. This title seems a lot more friendly to new players of the franchise, be it with the new classes to try, or the faster pace, but it manages to shed a lot of the issues that would deter new players from giving it a go. The beautiful scenery really shows this time around, and the game wants you to know it’s there, but putting it into places you will see it, and even the community want you to see it with their messages on the ground. Dark Souls 3 really returned me to my inquisitive, yet cautious nature that previous Dark Souls titles have given me, and I found myself so easily immersed in the game, and that is why I give Dark Souls 3 a well deserved.