Jai Price dived into hell for a third time and brought back his take on Dark Souls III, the final game in a trilogy of good versus evil.
The more I think about Dark Souls 3, the more disappointment nags at me. Perhaps it was partly due to a case of letting hype get the better of me, but it pains me to see its vast improvements accompanied by glaring downgrades. Despite this, overall, it marks a fitting end to a fantastic trilogy. It’s just a shame its positive changes make its few shortcomings all the more painful.
The combat is the best it’s ever been. Parrying feels visceral, with sparks flying off your shield as the enemy staggers, wet and willing for your riposte. Weapon and armour variety, while not as diverse as DS2, is serviceable and (mostly) swanky as hell. Throughout my playthrough as a knight, I made use of spears, halberds, straight swords and greatswords, each feeling comfortable. The level design and boss design are, for the most part, breathtaking, with stunning vistas showing you where you’ve been, and where you’re yet to traverse. Although featuring disappointingly linear level progression, a fair amount of zones loop back to a single bonfire (checkpoint), a welcome change from DS2’s saturation (however there are still some frustrating examples of this). As is a staple of the series by now, being killed rarely feels unfair, each death being largely your own fault, a learning experience. Excluding one who feels like a Bloodborne reject, as a whole, boss encounters are tense and engaging, with a fair deal of lore to flesh them out. I can’t think of any other game I’ve played that includes a saint who developed a habit for cannibalism, but flourishes like this keep the game from feeling stale.
The soundtrack is the strongest in the series, making liberal use of choral chanting and orchestral compositions. The main menu theme sounds like the beginning of the end, so much so that I uttered ‘holy shit’ over and over again upon first booting it up. Boss themes are by turns tragic and grandiose, adding a hefty weight to encounters. This is no surprise, considering the darker story the game’s plot establishes. Taking place in the ruined land of Lothric, the four Lords of Cinder have risen from their thrones, and it’s your duty to send them back by killing them. It doesn’t work quite as well as the personable journey of DS2, but it has a certain depressing charm to it. As is to be expected at this point in the series, the majority of lore is referenced in item descriptions and NPC dialogue, with varying degrees of depth. The game’s finale is satisfying, if a little too familiar, but if you’ve played the previous entries, that should come as no surprise.
I believe there are a few too many callbacks to Dark Souls 1. I appreciate the nostalgia factor and subtle references, but the few blatant ones dull the experience somewhat. NPC dialogue and questlines have always been vague and convoluted, but here it’s taken the point of madness. Unlike in previous entries, where NPCs dialogue would vary once you bought their wares or advanced through the game, the majority of the residents of the main hub area feel like nothing more than one-note vendors. Their questlines fare no better, often sending you backtracking to places you wouldn’t think to go without using a guide, and ofttimes ending abruptly with little payoff. The few exceptions are excellent, and well-worth the investment, however, as long as you’re prepared to use a guide.
While it has its share of missteps, Dark Souls 3 still shines brightly. Its highs are so grand that the lows are somewhat softened. While its reliance on nostalgia and barebones NPC interactions hurt more than aid it, there is still a lot to admire. The silky smooth combat, stylish equipment, beautiful level design and stellar boss fights all make for a cohesive, tense experience. Top it all off with a final boss that is a love letter to fans, and I think there is little more you could want. If only a bit more effort went into the trimmings, I believe it would easily be the best in the series. As a final farewell, Dark Souls 3 will no doubt leave you with a smile on your face, a few broken controllers, and battered pride.