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Ah Dark souls III, the purported final installment of an rpg series completely devoid of any role playing, with a "Story" so hidden and thin while at the same time being utterly pointless.
If you're someone who loves rich role play, with interesting NPC's and quests, along with the ability to play out the story in your head with choices in the game. Well, look elsewhere.
If you're someone who loves reasonably challenging dungeon crawls with epic bosses to kill. This is for you.
To sum up the whole series. "Everything is fucked, and you can't do anything about it."
The "Story" (if you even want to call it that) of the Souls series is told mainly through text on items. Where you can basically learn about stuff that already happened before you ever got there. Even better, your character isn't even a bit character in this play. Nope, EVERY. SINGLE. ACTION you take in this series is COMPLETELY, UTTERLY, POINTLESS. You're not a hero, you can't save anyone. You're not a villain, everything is already doomed. You're not an actor in the play, your a random bum rooting around in the building the play was shown 60 years ago. The misery and hopelessness that the game positively oozes is so utterly overbearing that it simply becomes laughable.
The endings are generally around a minute long, and filled with all the substance of an old NES ending. "Thanks for playing! Please play another round!"
The NPC's are pretty much flat, dull characters, with only a handful of lines. Some of them have "quests" where you can meet them out in the field a time or two, maybe kill a boss together, and then they'll either die, or you'll end up killing them yourself. That is, of course, if you even noticed them at all. Or are the type to summon an NPC character to fight a boss that you don't need help for.
About 99% of play is spent wandering around dead areas, killing mindless dead men/monsters (again) all so you can kill a boss, get the thing, and move on. It works so perfectly as an arcade game its almost hard to believe that, that WASN'T the designers intention.
It really does become comical. With such moments as a sickly god being devoured by a blob monster, alive and conscious throughout your entire fight before finally dying with his murderer. Sounds horrible right? Except that he is a character from Dark Souls 1, where your only (non multiplayer gimmick) interaction with him is to....murder him. That's it. He was just a flat boss with like...two lines of dialogue. Sure you could find out some of his backstory, and how much his life had sucked. But even pre-murder you couldn't do anything with said knowledge. You couldn't talk to/befriend him or anything of the sort. It was either kill him or ignore him. So his reappearance here isn't "Oh my god!! That guy! I'll save/avenge you old friend!" It's more like "Oh hey, its that guy....and boss defeated. How many souls was that worth? Sweet, I can level up."
...So I've got a title motif going now for sequels? Huh.
Dark Souls III bills itself as the grand finale for a series, a series I've played three installments of, neither of them Dark Souls II. And purely on that front, it largely delivers. There're callbacks and thematically-rich retellings or refashionings of stories from earlier games galore, plus a likable cast of characters with good arcs, in that Dark Souls sort of way. Almost all of it strikes a great balance between its debt to prior games and standing on its own. I appreciate that you can pick which of three endings you want to pursue, based on which characters you agree with or how you interpret earlier games and events in this one. And it's all wrapped up in the usual experience of exploring, fighting, piecing things together from subtle environmental clues and item descriptions, which is about the best the series has to offer.
Fittingly, too, while I prefer the visual aesthetics of Bloodborne, the setting design is equally lovely, with fantastic visuals and incredible level design that borrows the best from both the original Dark Souls and Bloodborne, honeycombed passages that lead to shortcuts that open up. There're one or two places I wish had an extra checkpoint or two, but it's all very encouraging to the player. And the bosses are full of variety and creativity, all of them fun (mostly) whether you're the sort of player who prefers to fight harder and brute-force learn enemy attack patterns, or smarter by figuring out enemy weaknesses and resistances and bringing the right tools for the right jobs.
Plus, the combat is as chunky as ever. It's subtly sped up to be slightly less methodical, without going full Bloodborne. The usual array of weapons and spells are augmented with new but logical additions, like paired weapons whose two-handed grip is dual wielding, and giving every weapon rather than just a few special cases its own "weapon art," making the variety enormous and no weapon a true replacement for the others.
And upgrading weapons is the best its ever been in any title in this franchise. Upgrade materials are actually fairly common, with the DLC, and if you can solve the riddle to access Archdragon Peak (which I managed on my own, though admittedly after knowing that peak existed ahead of time), you can buy everything you need but Titanite Slabs, which are themselves very common by the series' standards, so there's no element of opportunity cost stress to throwing some upgrades on cool new boss weapon and seeing if you like it. And compared to the incredibly obtuse way boss weapons and infusions worked in Dark Souls, the method here is infinitely superior.
Unfortunately... well, here's where I start to get a bit critical. Because, while upgrading your weapons has never been more painless, upgrading your character is not nearly as nice. I really liked Bloodborne's system of streamlined stats, so when I jumped straight to here from there originally, some gears shifted without a clutch. Coming back in, long after the fact, on its own terms it's still better than the original Dark Souls, even if there are more stats total, simply because none of them are truly useless the way Resistance was. And hallelujah, the game offers a respec option, if one gated behind a limited number of uses and an item that can only be obtained five times without online play. But still, Attunement, Vitality, and Luck absolutely should've been collapsed into other stats.
"Oh, but Endurance was broken when it also decided equipment capacity!" Even that's arguable. And the solution shouldn't be to make a new stat whose only function is upping equipment capacity, since then that stat is punishing to raise compared to others that do other things too.
Anyway. There're also some combat mechanics changes I don't like. First of all, my favorite kind of casting, Pyromancy, whose entirely-upgrade-based progression and lack of stat requirements was balanced by its relatively slower casting times and mediocre damage type, now has hefty stat requirements on all its spells, split between the casting stats no less, so it's ineffective and all the good weapons for it are late-game and require beating bosses that're nearly immune to fire damage.
But even setting that aside, all spells not only consume FP, a sharply-limited resource that already makes playing with the Weapon Arts more trouble than it's worth most of the time for most character builds who have better places to put those upgrades than Attunement, but Stamina, meaning Endurance is still one of the most important stats in the game for absolutely everyone. There're ways to mitigate the former, but not the latter.
And even for a Dark Souls game, those NPC quests and storylines can be stupidly obtuse, locking out not only fun and satisfying character moments, like Siegward fighting side by side with the player in a battle as triumphant a thematic moment in the series as a whole and his character arc in particular as it is an awesome spectacle, or Anri taking revenge on their abuser for the sake of all the others they couldn't save, are gated behind some of the most unfair, under-telegraphed, time-sensitive puzzles in the series. That one invisible assassin you have no reason to expect coming in particular can go play in traffic.
Finally, the Ashes of Ariandel DLC is poorly-balanced. By which I mean, rather than moving from easier to harder zones, you move through a series of locales that wildly zig-zag in difficulty, from fairly-easy soldiers to impossible armies of wolves and super-tough tree-women that can practically one-shot you, with one direction featuring an army of ultra-tough knights and one absolutely piss-easy birdmen. It's just not got the same level of polish. Thankfully, this was tightened up considerably for The Ringed City, where the harshest thing I can say is there probably ought to be another bonfire or shortcut near the top of the stairs.
I also wish the endings had been a bit more elaborate. I understand they're against the series' idioms, but it is the grand finale, after all. My personal choice felt a bit perfunctory and matter-of-fact, though I suppose it fit the theme of gathering up the embers and waiting for Age of Fire to come again.
For all my complaints, I do quite sincerely think Dark Souls III is a great game, and competes with Bloodborne for the title of best in the series. I'm not sure it's a good entry point, since much of the experience, especially later on, involves callbacks and nostalgia for earlier titles, but within that context it succeeds brilliantly, and even without it the gameplay's as polished as its ever been. I just wish the makers could've shed a few bad habits for the finale.
I've been playing Dark Souls since around the time that DSII released, and like most people I had to smash my head in and play until my thumbs were raw before everything clicked together. However, initial barrier to entry aside, I can say beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Dark Souls franchise is probably my favorite series in just about any medium, bar none.
Dark Souls is a masterwork in storytelling without words, gameplay that conveys the tone and emotion of the world without you realizing, and is probably the best example I can think of when it comes to immersion in a world. For all it's darkness, Dark Souls MAKES me care about its world and characters, and Dark Souls MAKES me push myself to do better so I can understand all of its secrets, with DSIII as no exception to that. Dark Souls has made me a better story teller and a better understander of storytelling in turn, and I'll carry those lessons for the rest of my life.
Dark Souls III was phenomenal, and Dark Souls as a whole is absolutely stunning, and it has been a privilege to get to experience all of this. May The Flames Guide Thee.
It wasn't long into DS 3 that I could feel the sense of weight and scale the game had to offer, and after finishing it it really does feel like the Souls franchise has reached a triumphant zenith. FROM went for broke with this, and honestly I'm kinda wondering what the DLC could be about when nearly every important plot thread's been tied up nice and neat.
Mechanics-wise, the game really does have the best of all its predecessors. Bloodborne and DS 1's sprawling, shortcut-laden areas, DS 2's fast travel and automatic weapon repair (with degredation slowed to the point you'll probably never notice it unless you do tons of invading) along with smoothed-over covenants, and even Demon's Souls's mana bar makes a triumphant return, to make the attunement stat something useful for non-magic user.
The game is by far the most linear of bunch, but that's not really much of a problem unless all the gear you really want waits at the end of the game. Outside of really dicking around there's a very clear "path" you're supposed to take through the game, with the occasional short fork for areas that may be required, but other times aren't. Still, the early game can be the most difficult part when your options are limited and the souls you get feel like a pittance compared to what you need to level up.
And yes, this is a Souls game, so expect some really challenging sections, to say nothing of tough bosses. The combat is much faster, almost Bloodborne-levels, but you still need to be patient and fight conservatively for the most part, because just because you're seeing a lot of old faces doesn't mean the Darkwraiths or Black Knights you fought before are going to be as easy to parry. But frankly, compared to the hell of some previous bosses most of DS 3's aren't that brutal. Not to say they aren't climactic and imaginative, with even the game's first boss feeling like a massive apology for everyone who complained about DS 2's over-abundance of armored dude bosses.
Admittedly, there are some minor problems. There are a lot of one-time surprises where the game just up and decides to punish either caution or recklessness, and you won't know which way's right at first. The lore for some characters could be better as it stands right now too, with there not being enough buildup for the bosses in the final stretch,
but with two DLC packages on their way I'm hoping some of my concerns will be addressed. And otherwise I have no complaints on that end either. The various NP Cs are hands down the best, the most colorful and engaging in the franchise, with their quests giving sufficient leeway to not run the chance of cocking it up.
I do recommend saving this though for the end of your own Souls adventures. Play as many of the others as you're able to, even Demon's or Bloodborne, to fully understand and appreciate how far the story and the games themselves have come. It is everything I hoped it would be, and even more.
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