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Dark Souls 3 Review: How Dank Are These Souls?

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Dark Souls 3 is the culmination of the Souls series for From Software. It saw the return of Hidetaka Miyazaki as director after he had finished up with Bloodborne. It took all lessons learned from the rest of the SoulsBorne series and in my mind, perfected them.

Taking the tried and trusted Dark Souls formula, with a slightly faster combat system similar to Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3 is the smoothest Dark Souls. It is worth noting that our other writer Zack prefers Bloodborne overall. He also made a point to say that this could be an interesting discussion some time down the line, I agree there.

It must be said that Dark Souls 3 is my favourite game of all time. To my mind it’s one of the most enjoyable, rewarding, and replayable games there is.

Gameplay? 10/10 – A perfect mix of fast paced combat, with intricate systems makes Dark Souls 3 an utter joy to experience.

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Unlike some of the other games that I have reviewed, Dark Souls 3 doesn’t have multiple differing gameplay aspects. Everything is fine tuned around combat. Games like Dark Souls 3 live and die by their combat system. So, to make things easier for me, let’s go for some subheadings to split up different parts of the combat.

Hopefully this way I can be coherent and informative with my writing.

Bosses

Bosses are not exclusive to the Souls series, many games have them. They are basically just big enemies with more health, that deal more damage. Dark Souls 3 is no different in this aspect. 

Where Dark Souls 3 stands out is in the quality. Both in terms of actually fighting them, and in terms of design. 

My favourite thing about some of the Dark Souls 3 bosses, is with the 4 main Souls of Cinder that you have to fight. Each has a second phase to them, in this phase they all go into Ember form. This is where their bodies look like they are partially on fire, their weapons are pretty much set on fire, and they become more powerful.

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You are able to become Embered as well, so it’s interesting to see an enemy boss with basically the same power has you. The fight against the Undead Legion in particular looks amazing in the second phase, as there is a huge trail of fire that is left after each swing of their weapon.

Bonfires

I can’t talk about a Souls game without at least mentioning Bonfires. These are literally a bonfire that you will find in the world, they act as your checkpoints. Here you can rest, which has three functions. The first is to reset the world, bringing back all normal enemies back to life. 

The second is fast travel. You will be returning to the hub, Firelink Shrine, often. It’s good then, that you get fast travel from the start. Having to wait for fast travel is my one main critique of Dark Souls 1.

Dark Souls 3 bonfire

The final main function of the bonfire, is to refill your Estus Flasks. These are magical flasks that act as your HP and MP potions from other games. It’s how you’re going to survive the harsh world of Dark Souls 3, so you’ll be drinking these energy drinks a lot!

Souls

Souls are souls. Literally. They are the life essence of past individuals that have passed. Either condensing into consumable Soul items or just the essence you drain from the victims you slay.

This is your currency in Dark Souls 3, just like the previous 2 entries in the series. You can use it to purchase items, to upgrade weapons, and to level up.

Leveling is the most important, for the most part. You can offer souls to the Fire Keeper at Firelink Shrine, this will allow you to level up your stats. Leveling up your stats will grant you many benefits, from dealing more damage, taking less, or equipping heavier gear. Just to name a few things.

Weapons

Dark Souls 3 has a wide range of weapons to choose from, and a broad selection of weapon types as well. From straight swords, to great axes, halberds, and bows. There is a lot to choose from, each with their own stat requirements, stat scaling, and moveset.

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You can upgrade each weapon, if you have the right amount of Souls and the materials. You can also Infuse them. This will change a lot of the properties of your weapon, like changing the stat scaling and the damage type.

Two different examples of infusion would be Sharp and Dark. A Sharp weapon will have it’s Dexterity scaling increased, meaning the higher your Dexterity the more bonus damage your weapon will do.

A Dark weapon will add dark damage to your weapon and add scaling with Faith and Intelligence. So, for a Pyromancer that has points in both of these stats, a dark weapon would get a massive boost to damage.

A new inclusion in Dark Souls 3 is weapon arts. Each weapon will get an alternate action, for a lot of weapons this requires you to double hand them. These actions will use up focus points, this is your blue bar, often called Mana or MP in other games. 

Dark Souls 3 upgrade

My personal favourite weapons arts are with the katana weapons, like the Uchigatana. You sheathe the blade and one of the actions is a quick upward movement that lets you parry. This lets you parry your opponent’s attack with just a katana, and let me tell you. This is endlessly satisfying. If you manage to be successful that is, which can be a tall order.

Magic

Magic in Dark Souls 3 follows the same schools set out in the first game. Sorcery, Miracles, and Pyromancy. Following the same stat requirements too. Sorcery requires Intelligence. Miracles require Faith. Finally Pyromancy requires both Intelligence and Faith.

Sorcery deals with Soul magic. Creating projectiles like Soul Spear (which is my favourite Sorcery), homing missiles, magic greatswords, and Kamehameha waves.

Miracles deal with healing and lightning magic. With Miracles you can cast healing spells on yourself or your companions, or through lightning bolts, and imbue your weapons with lightning.

Pyromancy might be my favourite one, it deals with fire magic. You can throw little fireballs, all the way up to my favourite Pyromancy. Great Chaos Fire Orb, this throws a huge fireball that will leave a pool of lava on the ground for a short time. Love. It.

Fashion

Possibly the most important part of any SoulsBorne game. The FashionSouls. You may be trying to prevent the end of literally everything, and you may be fighting giants and other monsters. That does not mean, however, that you can dress as a slob. 

Dark Souls 3 pontiff fashion

If you’re going to save the world then you’re gonna look damn good doing it. There are so, so, so many different outfits that you can mix and match. My personal favourites full sets are, the Alva set, Faraam set, and Elite Knight set. 

I will often include at least one piece from one of these in any outfit that I choose.

Visuals? 9/10 – Gorgeous vistas can be found all over these worlds. Irithyll of the Boreal Valley for instance is one of the most beautiful game locations. 

Dark Souls 3 is the cleanest and sharpest look game in the Souls series. It is the culmination of all the hard work the series had laid before it. Looking impossible beautiful, especially seeing as it’s a game that was released in 2016.

It has some of the most incredible vistas of any game you’ll find today, there are few that can truly compare. That is my genuine opinion.

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This holds some of the best designs of any bosses in the series to date. All of them look amazing, in terms of graphical fidelity, and many just look incredible in design.

For me, the Nameless King really stands out, both the boss and arena. Being that you are literally fighting on top of a huge dark cloud. Fighting the King of the Storm, with the Nameless King riding on him. Then the one on one fight with the Nameless King. It’s a stunning fight and arena.

The only maring aspect is that some of the character models at a distance stop looking right. I’ll talk a little more about this in the Performance section below.

The important takeaway is that Dark Souls 3 looks incredible.

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Audio? 10/10 – Amazing orchestral numbers permeate a darkened world. Featuring some of the best boss tracks around.

Dark Souls, along with their difficulty, are known for amazing soundtracks. It’s not headbanging metal riffs like Doom. It’s also not cheery J-Pop like Persona.

What it is, is perfectly formed orchestral numbers that capture the mind and soul. One of the most sombre and incredible tracks from the series is the Soul of Cinder from Dark Souls 1. This is the soundtrack to the final boss, a mix of this is present in Dark Souls 3 too. It’s one of my gaming favourites.

To solidify my point on the incredible soundtrack, one need only start the game up. Not even play it. The theme playing in the menu is better than a lot of full soundtracks throughout most games. I really believe that. It’s instantly recognisable and has many layers, it’s a hauntingly beautiful piece. Give it a listen below.

Story? 10/10 – A dark and dying world that has turned to you as a last resort. It’s deep and sad, I for one love that.

Dark Souls 3 takes place at the end, end of times. Mostly following on from Dark Souls 1. The cycle has continued for an untold number of years, and the world is not in good shape.

To quote myself for a second time ever, from my article about hard games:

“Fast forward to DS3 and the world is on its last legs, the fire has been re-linked over and over and now it really is dying, so there is one last chance. There’s a problem, in this cycle no one has been strong enough to make it to the fire a re-link it so the world spits back out Lords of Cinder, these are individuals that have previously linked the fire, but they don’t really want to do it again so they leave too.

Well damn, now what? Ok, so everyone that previously succeeded in linking the fire has been revived and they sodded off, well then what about the ones that tried to link the fire before but didn’t succeed? Good enough idea, no one has any better ones but really scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point. Anyway you must go around fighting the Lords of Cinder that chose to run away and then try to re-link the fire yourself.”

That’s the main plot. It’s also about the only information that you are given up front, the rest you must discover for yourself.

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Effectively you are an Ashen One. An individual in a previous cycle that attempted to Link the Fire but failed. This basically burns your being up and you become ash. Things aren’t going well because no one has been able to Link the Fire in this cycle, so 5 previous Lords of Cinder were revived.

Lords of Cinder are the ones that successfully Linked the Fire before. They decide they don’t want to burn up again and leave. In a last ditch effort to save the Fire, many different Ashen Ones are awoken so that they might attempt it again. Hopefully with better results.

You then must travel across all the lands and return the ashes of the Lords of Cinder to their thrones in Firelink Shrine. Using these will let you travel to the Kiln of the First Flame so that you can attempt to Link the Fire again.

On the surface it’s a simple premise, it just has many layers of depth as you progress. There are questlines for different characters and factions that you can follow. For good or bad.

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You meet quite a few characters on your journey that help you. For my favourites are Greirat and Siegward. Siegward in particular has a fantastic questline. It’s silly all the way through, with you constantly helping him when he gets stuck. Which he does a lot. Like being naked down a well because his armour was stolen. 

The ending to this quest line though is one of the coolest sequences, in my opinion, in most RPGs. It’s an old game, and not to spoil too much, but he basically jumps in and interrupts you during a boss fight. Fighting alongside you, there is also a very cool law implication discovered in this fight.

Acting? 10/10 – Grand performances, even if one in particular is more smug than should be legal.

The voice acting throughout the SoulsBorne games is always stellar. I can’t think of a single performance that I dislike or take issue with.

Well. I take issue with Patches! Patches and his damn smugness as he ruins your life yet again! Other than that though, no issues.

In particular our friendly neighbourhood Onion Knight is a treat. “Hmmmm hu hmmmmm”. I love Onion Bro. It’s a shame that we are missing Solaire, but I digress.

Onion bro

Writing? 10/10 – Definitely subjective but I love the mystique associated with the Dark Souls writing. Written in a way that makes you want more.

I have brought this up before, Dark Souls 3 has a unique story telling method. There aren’t just long cut scenes, or long sections of exposition for you to digest while playing. Instead you are given a broad stroke explaining the situation. Then you must discover everything else yourself.

This is definitely not for everyone, there are obviously those that would rather a single fleshed out story to just be presented. A good example would be the most recent God of War. There is a strong narrative weaved deeply into the gameplay, you follow a single main path. You get one well presented story to follow, it is exceptional in what it does.

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Dark Souls on the other hand requires you to search out the underlying story. You aren’t presented all of the information through cutscene style conversations like in God of War. You have to glean snippets from some conversations, or item descriptions. A lot of the holes that are left, are there for you to guess, and imagine for yourself. 

I personally love this, delving into hours of videos and discussions on lore, theories, and the like. Dark Souls 3 always has something to sink your teeth into and imagine.

Performance? 8/10 – Smooth gameplay and visuals, occasionally affected by some frame drops and long range weirdness.

Despite being the most put together of the SoulsBorne games, Dark Souls 3 still suffers from some performance issues. There aren’t many, and they aren’t big, or regularly occurring. They are there though.

I have played Dark Souls 3 on a regular Xbox One and an Xbox One X. Both have had the same issues crop up. I should think that if I were to play this on my PC these wouldn’t be there. I cannot confirm this as I haven’t tried.

This is understandable, in a lot of boss fights, especially, a lot is going on. So there are inevitably going to be the occasional frame drop, here and there. It’s not much more than a small dip, but it’s noticeable. Does not ruin anything, or really cause issues though.

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This is something that I have noticed in some other games too, notably in the Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 remakes. There seems to be a common issue with enemy models at a distance. 

Now, it obviously makes sense that not everything at super long distances will look amazing. Mainly because they don’t need to. It’s just a little jarring when you see an enemy in the distance flying along the ground. Whilst doing the Robot like it’s the 60’s still. 

Still not game breaking, of course. I haven’t noticed it very often but when I do it is a strange sight.

Fun Factor? 10/10 – Well balanced, hard games are probably my favourite genre of game. Dark Souls 3 is the epitome of this genre.

This may come across as cheating but I literally wrote an article about what I like about hard games. I doubt I can condense more than a thousand words into a small 300 word section.

So the most logical thing would be to go and check out that article here.

To take one line from that article though, one that I think best describes it for me, it would be this one.

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“That’s exactly what I mean, pure elation and finally overcoming such a tough obstacle is exactly the appeal of difficult games.”

It’s the enjoyment of surpassing limits and overcoming difficult obstacles. It’s arguably the main reason so many games have tried to emulate Dark Souls.

Value? 10/10 – A perfect mix of affordable, content, and replayability keeps the value high.

Dark Souls 3 is not particularly expensive at this point. It also features in many game sales. For example, right now on the Steam Summer Sale it is down to £10. Which is still an absolute bargain.

The key though for me, is replayability. I bring this up in most of the reviews I do, for me, replayability is the biggest decider in value.

If a game only has a few hours of content and has nothing that would make you want to play it again, then that’s not good value for money. Unless of course, the game costs a quid. 

Dark Souls 3 has just so much content that you could play through it a hundred times and use different equipment or spells each time. Each playthrough will feel very different from the last as well, making it feel rewarding to keep playing.

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One minute, you’re swinging around a giant sword twice your height. The next you’re throwing huge fireballs that leave pools of lava on the ground.

There’s no end to the amount that you can keep playing Dark Souls 3. To get hundreds of hours from a game that now costs around £10 is nothing to sniff at.

Our other writer Zack brings up a good point, which is the entry into the series. Now I spoke about this recently in my what’s so good about hard games? article, and Dark Souls 3 falls under this. I think, how much you get out of this may very well depend on how much time and effort you’re willing to put in. 

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This may not appeal to everyone of course, and that’s fine. For me that adds an extra driving force, to make me play more. Inevitably getting much more out of the game as well.

How Much Did The Reviewer Enjoy It? 10/10 – I love everything about Dark Souls 3. It is my favourite game of all time. It never loses its edge for me.

Words cannot fully express just how much I enjoy Dark Souls 3. 

One thing that other games do not have, that Dark Souls does, is “Git Gud”. I spoke about this in my last article about hard games. It boils down to, everytime you play, you get a little better at the game. That’s the driving force behind playing over and over, you want to get better.

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For me anyway, this is the reason that I have played through Dark Souls 3 a couple dozen times. I just recently finished it again, going for a purely Pyromancer build, the moment I finished I started a new character. I wanted to go for a second run with a pure Sorcery build. 

That’s the point. I always crave playing again, I always want to try something different.

What do you think about Dark Souls 3? Do you prefer Bloodborne to Dark Souls?

Let us know in the comments below!

Dark Souls 3 review.
Written by Kyle Munn

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