Platforms: PC (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Editor's Note: We previously reviewed Dark Souls 3 on a PC that turned out not to meet the minimum hardware requirements of the game. We apologize for the mix-up, and offer this review as a more complete and accurate perspective.
From Software’s Dark Souls series has a reputation of being extremely difficult. What started as Demon’s Souls evolved into Dark Souls and eventually a sister title called Bloodborne. Now with the release of Dark Souls 3, we have what many consider the final game in the series. Will From Software’s infamous series go out on a high note? I’ll answer that in due time, but anyway you look at it Dark Souls 3 is a solid entry in the long-running franchise.
If you played Bloodborne on the PlayStation 4, you probably know From Software tapped some of the same Dark Souls developers to create Sony’s PS4 exclusive. Bloodborne was meant to be a slightly easier and more accessible version of Dark Souls. While Dark Souls 3 still feels more like a Dark Souls game than Bloodborne, the influence is clear.
Combat in Dark Souls 3 is a little faster than in previous titles. Enemies can be stunned a bit easier (similar to Bloodborne), which makes the difficulty lighter compared to earlier entries. If you’re a hardcore Souls fan who loves the difficulty of the older games, you may be disappointed in the easier road From Software took with Dark Souls 3. To be clear, this isn’t an easy game. You won’t breeze through Dark Souls 3 no matter how much experience you have, but it’s definitely not as difficult as Dark Souls 2.
Graphically, the game looks similar to Bloodborne, to the point where some of the environments and enemies clearly belong in Bloodborne 2 (I can dream) instead of Dark Souls 3. In addition, because this is the first Dark Souls game developed from the ground up with the current generation of hardware in mind, it shares some assets and development techniques with Bloodborne.
Luckily, the PC version runs at a brisk 60 frames per second, with minimal frame rate drops if you’re running on high-end hardware. The game was smooth as silk throughout most of my play through, so much so that it was difficult watching others play the 30 fps PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game. There’s no other way to play Dark Souls once you’ve experienced the game at 60 fps.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing to really wow players either. The game looks good, but it certainly doesn’t feel as though From Software pushed the hardware to its limits. Instead, we end up with a good-looking game with solid frame rates (although you can’t push it above 60 fps), but you won’t use it to show off that new 980 Ti.
A Linear Path
One of the main aspects hardcore fans liked about Dark Souls 2 was how the world linked together. There were several instances where opening a door in one area led directly to another area. The game felt like one complete and connected world. Dark Souls 3 still feels like one complete world, but the connections aren’t the same as Dark Souls 2. This time around, the game feels more linear.
There are still plenty of side areas and optional bosses to fight, but your path to the end of the game feels more transparent. You’ll find secrets, and if you want to get the best ending you’ll need to venture to out-of-the-way areas, but the path from beginning to end is fairly straightforward. You won’t find many locations with branching paths leading to three other areas. Instead, many areas lead to the place you just came from, and the next area you need to go to.
While there are a multitude of weapons in Dark Souls 3, the adjustment to weight management and the speed in which you level up makes it difficult to be as open to new weapons as you could be in previous games. This also feels a lot like Bloodborne, where you might use the same one or two weapons the entire game, especially on your first play through. That’s not to say you’ll be stuck with one weapon in Dark Souls 3, but depending on your initial character class you may have to grind a bit to effectively use new weapons and armor.
In many cases you won’t have enough strength or dexterity to wield a new weapon, or the weapon or armor in question will be too heavy and you’ll have to put points into vitality to correct the issue. Starting as a Knight, it was rare to find new items that I wanted to try out without first having to level up a few times. That’s not entirely different from previous games, but determining which attribute you want to level up has a greater impact on which weapons and armor you can use, especially early in the game.
New Mechanics, Old Souls
If you’re a fan of the Dark Souls series, there’s a lot to like about Dark Souls 3. It feels like a Dark Souls game with a bit of Bloodborne influence, but From Software didn’t try anything new here. Magic and special weapon attacks are now governed by the FP gauge, which also has a new Ashen Estus Flask to refill. This changes things if you’re playing as a magic class, but otherwise you won’t see much difference.
The new special weapon attacks drain the FP gauge and inflict more damage (or some other ability depending on the weapon), but they don’t change how you play. You might find a bow that shoots three arrows at once, or a greataxe with a spinning technique familiar to Bloodborne players, but overall this is the same game you’ve been playing for the last decade.
If you’re looking for something new, you won’t find it in Dark Souls 3. If you didn’t like previous Dark Souls games, this one won’t change your mind. There aren’t as many healing items, which means you have to rely more on Estus Flasks, but these are minor adjustments to the gameplay we’ve seen in almost every previous game in the series. This makes Dark Souls 3 good, but far from exceptional.