So there I am. Working my way across a cliffside while doing in a few minions and preparing myself for a quick journey into this cavernous valley, where there appears to be a large statue in the center. I’m asked to pull the sword out, as I’ll need it later on, but mere seconds after I do, I find myself face to face with a giant knight that wants nothing more than to impale me with his blade.
Of course, I go toe-to-toe with him, because I like this thing called living and making sure I can move ahead in my journey. But about halfway through avoiding his offensive strikes and bringing his health bar to just about half, he mutates heavily into a creature with a large hand, one that he happily obliges in trying to crush me with. And, because of my unpreparedness of this, I’m just about dead.
Keep in mind that this is the FIRST boss.
That’s the way Dark Souls III comes at you – hard and heavy, like you’ve gotten used to the first two strenuous but awesome chapters in the series. The third one doesn’t let up in this regard, throwing massive bosses at you along with various customization options that might just make you a better knight – or a worse one, depending on what crucial decisions you make over the course of the journey.
The sequel does introduce new combat mechanics, but the general rules of Dark Souls still apply – you’ll need to think quickly on your feet or suffer as a result. The beginning boss battle I described above is proof enough of this, but much tougher battles await you, and you’re going to succumb quickly if you don’t think and fight your way out of every scenario.
There are times that the smaller enemies can be a little dumbfounded, or can’t hit targets with a damn (unless you’re standing like right in front of them, natch), but the bosses themselves are ferocious and crazy, and more than make up for their lacking behavior. Tell me you don’t get goosebumps the first time you face off against a frickin’ dragon. Yeah, you’re lying.
In addition to the return of bonfires (which are sparingly spread across the land, thank goodness), you can use other items like estus flasks to restore health and mana, as well as a number of new weapons and armor types that you’ll pick up along the way. Again, you’ll want to pick up as much as possible, just to diversify your loadout and see if a tool works more effectively in the heat of combat. For instance, the axe, it seems, is a lot stronger than the sword, although there are folks that may say otherwise, just for the sake of argument.
You can also level up accordingly through the Firelink Shrine, becoming a much stronger warrior as a result. But, be warned, the process is a bit of a grind, as you’ll have to work your way through many enemies in order to get to this point – and some of them, again, will wipe you out and force you to start over again.
The Weapon Arts system, new to this chapter of the series, is fantastic, with a better refined the dual-wield system, and creating new attacks as a result. Being able to change up techniques is a huge plus for a game like this, though that doesn’t stop the fact that you’re still mortal, and a few strikes could turn you into bloody sashimi if you’re not careful. Take your attacks in stride, and remember the Dark Souls basics.
As far as appearance goes, Dark Souls III is the most satisfying, and moodiest, game in the series to date. It definitely has a resemblance to Bloodborne, but thankfully stays fixated enough in the Dark Souls world to avoid straight-on comparison. The moody, atmospheric settings really draw you in here, and the enemies look fantastic, with a lot of variety of attacks and life-like techniques that may take you by surprise if you’re not prepared for it. Sometimes, the camera can be a pain, but it’s a minor issue compared to the epicness of how this game looks otherwise.
The audio is good too, with strong voicework across the board (a couple of weird characters here and there, but no matter), good music cues and a whole lot of growling creatures. In short, not bad at all, and perfectly themed with what’s on hand through this harrowing journey.
The online features aren’t heavily stacked here, but they’re nice to have, indicating that you’re not going through this trip alone – even though you’re still likely to die just as much. The whole Kindled/Unkindled system is cool as well, as this helps you look even more badass when you’re ready to step up to that level.
Which will take a bit. I must warn rookies that, even with the new combat system, Dark Souls III is still the kind of game that’s set to eat you alive. The bosses are no laughing matter, even if some of the minions are, and grinding through to upper levels in the game will take a lot of time and devotion – something a few of you may not be ready for yet.
However, those of you familiar with Dark Souls’ wares – and conquered the second game after so many ridiculous battles – will love what the third (and possibly final) game has to offer. It’s a tiring journey at times, but one that rewards with some epic battles, beautiful (yet darkened) visuals and satisfying gameplay. If you’re ready to put in the time, this game will reward you just as well as the others did. The only heartbreak is when it’s all over, and you end up asking yourself, “Well, what’s going to kill me now?!”