YouTube personality VaatiVidya is widely regarded as a leading authority on FromSoftware’s Souls canon. This month he reviews the final chapter in the Dark Souls trilogy, Dark Souls III, for STACK.
A common misconception about Souls games is that they're primarily designed to be "difficult". Many writers will proudly tell you that these games are not for cowards or newcomers and that invariably, you'll throw your controller, gnash your teeth, and be crushed by this punishing game.
Close, but not quite.
In reality, Souls games are designed well, and difficulty is a result of this.
Dark Souls III is no exception. Yes, it expects you to die. But it also expects the player to learn from death, and come back stronger.
In a similar way, Dark Souls III has taken the best from its predecessors. It has the distinct, atmospheric areas of Demon's Souls; the powerful characters of the original Dark Souls; the mechanical improvements of Dark Souls II; and the heady thrills of Bloodborne's frantic combat. This is the final game in the Dark Souls franchise, and players can expect to experience the best of everything that has come before.
Combat in Dark Souls III remains reactionary. Before you go into an encounter, you consider your strengths, what type of enemy you'll be facing, and how best to exploit their weaknesses. To this end, the new tools at your disposal are "weapon arts". Weapon arts are special moves (activated with L2) that differ based on the weapon you wield. For example, the Longsword's weapon art allows you to break an enemy's guard with a powerful uppercut. In contrast, the Bandit Knife's weapon art enables your character to dash with increased speed, unlocking a more aggressive playstyle. Combat has always revolved around the weapon you wield, and this relationship has been strengthened in Dark Souls III.
Every Souls game has given players the option to choose a starter class with different weapons and spells, but this is the first time every playstyle feels viable. For example, bow-only builds have never been a popular choice, but the short bow now has a fast-firing mode, and quick-shots that become available after you roll. The pyromancer's ‘pryomancy hand’ now includes a close-range L2 attack, fleshing out the ranged options we've always had. And finally, there are now a wide variety of spells and miracles in the early-game.
In the first five hours of Dark Souls III, you have access to at least 30 weapons, 20 equipment sets, dozens of spells, and at least 10 NPC questlines that help you attain these valuable items. While the early-game is more linear than Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, the world is folded in on itself like never before, hiding unique treasures around every corner. The more you give, the more you get – and the same goes for the lore. You could go through the game without even thinking about the story, but look more critically, and you'll discover disturbing truths about the characters, bosses, and the world you took for granted.
My biggest criticism stems from the linear world. While levels are densely packed and folded in on themselves, I still yearn for the deeply convoluted map designs of Dark Souls I. Gone are the days where I could be journeying through an early-game area, only to stumble upon a tough but rewarding late-game area. Souls is at its strongest when it puts faith in the player's intelligence, and its faith in a player's navigational ability is somewhat lacking. Additionally, the care put into dense environmental design is wasted when a player can simply warp past it all, instead of being forced to run through it again.
In closing, Dark Souls III is a well-crafted farewell. If you're a series veteran, the game will play upon your nostalgia with plentiful references to memorable characters and encounters. If you're a newcomer, you will be challenged, you will die, you will overcome, and you will succeed. After you complete it, other games just won't feel the same. You can then dive into all the other Souls games just to see what made Dark Souls III so great.