Review: Dark Souls III

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DevinRogersDark Souls III is a fantastic game, but there was a time I didn’t care much for the Souls series.  It wasn’t until Bloodborne that the genre clicked for me.  But even after understanding the experience, I still wasn’t able to go back and enjoy Dark Souls.  Was it because of the difference in-game mechanics relative to Bloodborne?  Or was it because of the last gen visuals and sluggishness of movement?

Fortunately for Dark Souls III, it became apparent from the start that it was a combination of the best of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and thus I was finally able to battle my way through a Dark Souls franchise game.

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The first thing that jumped out at me about Dark Souls III was not a positive revelation: there is a noticeable dip in visual quality relative to Bloodborne.  A blurry haze appears across the environment whenever the camera spins, something that I don’t recall being a big deal in Bloodborne.  Textures sometimes load in at a low resolution (particularly ground textures or stones), and I routinely noticed instances of pop-in geometry.  There was even a moment towards the end of the game when an elevator I was in turned bright pink due to a missing material bug.

Though the camera blur is the most grievous of the visual defects, none of these issues had a major impact on my enjoyment of the game. The visuals are one of the game’s strengths, particularly in the art design.  The dark medieval setting in this game is brilliant and a take on the fantasy genre that isn’t often explored.  There are more varied locales here compared to Bloodborne, and some of the enemies are downright creepy.

Speaking of locales, the level design is god-tier.  There were many instances where I had three or four different paths I could take, and in some cases they went in completely different directions towards large areas.  Exploration is very rewarding in Dark Souls III and it’s so freaking fun.  The game gives you a sense of accomplishment when you discover a new area that was clearly a hidden route, leaving you in wonderment that another sprawling environment was even there at all. It’s easy to miss entire parts of the game if you don’t take the time to explore.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up to the beginning. One of my biggest worries was that the game would feel sluggish coming off of Bloodborne. Though it is slower, I found I was able to dodge roll away from the tutorial area’s frost lizard pretty easily. It took a bit of getting used to the shield, but soon I was combo blocking and rolling my way to heaps and heaps of souls, something that didn’t come as easy to me playing the first Dark Souls. The combat is just as fluid and reactionary as Bloodborne, with enough variances in enemies that kept me on my toes throughout.

The boss fights are fun, but it wasn’t until I battled the Abyss Watchers that the game started raising the bar. The battle mechanics, the enemies’ attack animations, the second phase to the fight and the absolutely epic music made the confrontation unforgettable. Not every boss encounter hit the same highs, but the ones that did planted themselves on the list of some of my most exciting video game memories.

The story isn’t in your face like most other games, so you have to pay attention to your surroundings and read item descriptions to understand some of the lore. There are lots of throwbacks to the first two Dark Souls games, most of which went over my head. However, I was able to keep up despite skipping the first two games, and the characters and stories that I saw kept me fascinated.

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You may have noticed I have been relatively non-descript in reviewing particulars of this game.  While I could talk about how awesome it is that the fat mages taunt you while verbally conjuring spells, or how curious it is that decrepit folks in the marsh hold their wooden sticks towards the small patches of sunlight hoping they will sprout leaves, Dark Souls III is a game worth discovering on your own. Reading a review that spoils the finer details lessens the experience.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Dark Souls III. Although I want to go for the platinum trophy, I haven’t found the time or interest to boot it back up for new game plus. Still, this game was made with a lot of love, and I doubt this will be the last time I traverse its somber and twisted road through madness.

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