My Review of Dark Souls 3, and Why I Love the Series

I love Dark Souls

Maybe it's a latent masochistic part of me who likes this sort of punishing and unforgiving game play, maybe it's the fact that nowadays games are so full of assistance and hand holding that they basically play themselves, but there's something about this series that grabs me and won't let go. Admittedly the Dark Souls 1 PC port was a travesty that was only really even playable with a fan made patch, but I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to a series. When I started hearing about Dark Souls 2 I was glued to news sites trying to learn as much as possible, and even though it had a different director I loved it. I've been anticipating Dark Souls 3 since I first learned about it, and I'll probably play it for as long as it's up and running. I've never played Demon Souls and I don't have a PS4 so I haven't played Bloodborne, but I'd love to change those things as well.

I've been playing, and dying repeatedly in Dark Souls 3 now for over 100 hours and I feel like I can finally get my thoughts down. Continue further for my review and thoughts on the series in general.

The Dark Souls series...

Is meant to make you feel small, alone and basically clueless in a large world that stabs at you from every corner and shadow. Dark Souls 3 is no exception with the player character "waking up" and climbing out of a sarcophagus in a muddy, neglected graveyard only to be confronted by various undead enemies within seconds. Very little information is given to you aside from basic controls and then the game basically says, "there is hope, but good luck, you'll need it".starting areaI found a lot of DS3 to be overall less difficult than the previous titles for a pretty long time. Bonfires are closer together, areas in general feel a bit smaller with fewer confusing paths, even enemies seemed to be quicker to take down. I beat the first boss on my first try, and the second and third, but soon after that I was finding the challenges to be more appropriate for the Souls name. "Challenging" and "unforgiving" are better descriptions of DS3 for a lot of the play through, but it certainly isn't joking around.

Characters

When I play these games I'm almost exclusively a Knight, I love heavy melee combat and overall the class just has a decent level of durability that I appreciate when battling overwhelming odds. But for those who like casting magic or dual wielding daggers there are plenty of options, and each character starts with a basic gear set, except the Deprived class which starts with no armor, a broken sword, and a flimsy plank shield. In any case though you're free to build a character how ever you'd like it to be as you level.knightAs you explore the game world you'll find a few other people in the way of vendors and of course the Fire Keeper. You'll still find allies and make enemies based on your decisions and which quest lines you follow. Everything as with all the Souls games is a pretty vague, so if you want to get all the NPC friends you can, be sure to look at walk-throughs.

The World

One thing I wasn't initially a big fan of was the lack of familiarity. All the Dark Souls titles take place in the same world but in vastly different times. The kingdom has usually crumbled away all but for a few land marks that let you know where you are in relation to past titles. I loved that in DS2, from the hub area you could look out and see the old aquaduct from DS1. It gave me a sense of direction and that's not something I noticed with DS3 from the beginning.

It does show up though in various forms later on, particularly with the city of Anor Londo. In DS2 this was a place bathed in eternal twilight, large and beautiful but still threatening and dangerous at every step. In DS3 Anor Londo is experiencing its winter and you'll come across some very familiar sights that pay respect to DS2 in quite a lovely way.

Overall this iteration of the game world strikes a balance between bleak loneliness and being stunningly beautiful. All around you are the leftovers of a largely successful civilization now falling to dust at your feet and populated by the mad undead hollows of forgotten wars long past. Whether you find yourself behind high castle walls or on a narrow path winding along a cliff side, you'll find the views to be difficult to look away from.distant view1I had originally planned on logging in to both Dark Souls 1 and 2 to take some screens and post for reference here. But sadly no matter what I do DS1 will no longer run, and even sadder, when I did my Windows 10 install it didn't properly transfer my "appdata" folder from my documents. And since that's where DS2 had it's save files I no longer have a character. A 170+ level Knight with over 180 hours of play time and he's gone. Ah well maybe some day I'll run it through again.Dark Sun

Dark Souls' "Legendary difficulty"

As I mentioned above, at first things feel fairly easy in relative terms. That doesn't mean that there's much room for mistakes though. From the onset you'll be facing enemies that have all the potential in the world to ruin you again and again. The opening area for instance has the base line mad hollow enemy with no armor in plentiful supply. They go down quick but if your timing isn't perfect every time you'll find yourself on the wrong side of the fight. Not to mention that in the same area is a mature Crystal Lizard, enemies that aren't seen again until you're level 30+. Just beyond that area is the first boss and even though I found him easy enough to handle, it's clear that the fight there could get out of hand very quickly. Don't be afraid to use your flask for healing here though, as a bonfire will be the result of his defeat.

dead
The death screen, an all to common sight

Of course you'll still need to prepared to lose over and over. Sometimes it won't matter too much at all. Other times you may lose the next three or four levels worth of souls you've been saving up because you'll make a mistake, like walking off a ledge, or aggro-ing and being smashed into the ground by a giant crab or something. And as always, your collected souls are both your experience and your currency, so losing tens if not hundreds of thousands due to something silly is pretty frustrating. Luckily as much as this game loves tearing down your ego it also loves rewarding persistence. You'll see glowing items placed near edges and walls or even just on the ground at your feet free to pick up and use. Souls, items, weapons, rings, even whole armor sets just handed to you because you made it there to grab them.

One of things that I found surprising was the lack of fog walls. In the Dark Souls games, if the bonfire is safety then the fog wall is uncertainty. Running around the world and coming across one made you stop in your tracks. Sometimes they were just a transition point to the next portion of the map, but most of the time they meant a boss fight and the only way to tell without reading walk-throughs was just to try it out. DS3 does still have fog walls of course but they're fewer and farther between and seem only to denote major boss battles; sometimes you'll only see them once you've failed an attempt first.

Combat...

Is awesome as always. You can almost never expect to be successful just running in and flailing your weapon at the closest enemy. The A.I. isn't as stupid as one would expect. Monsters have skills and move sets and they know how to use them. One of the first truly tough enemies I ran across was the Lothric Knight. This guy has a sword and shield and is capable of avoiding attacks and even staggering you to score hits. It took precision and patience to learn his patterns and eventually he became a farming target for a new set of gear.Lothric setI love how these games always challenge you heavily but allow you to learn and strategize to overcome obstacles. Really I look at winning every fight the first time all the time as a lost opportunity to learn something new. Not that I relish losing time after time, but as you fight on you can begin to put things together, patterns in pathing, what a particular enemy may be less resistant to, how many of them there are, whether they're social or not etc. For some the repetition may be boring, but you don't have to play that way by any means. If you want to just blow through the game you can do it. Speed runners out there are completing DS3 in less than two hours. Of course choosing this path means you'll miss a lot of items and encounters, but it's certainly possible.

Leveling up...

In Dark Souls is at once easy to do and potentially risky. Characters start at level 9, presumably this is because you're a fallen warrior of a battle long over and were in some way an experienced fighter before you died on the field.

starting stats
Overall player stats at the starting level

As I mentioned earlier, combat yields souls, and these are both experience and currency so managing numbers is important. Early on the number of souls will be fairly easy to store up and use for leveling. I think the first level increase took a mere 800 souls. But this number will increase each time you level up, and like the previous games every stat point increase equals a level. So if you've got enough souls to increase your vigor by 3 you've now leveled 3 times. As this number goes up, so does the risk of dying and losing all your souls. This is where you learn to be patient and take your time as often as you can. Caution in exploration can go a long way, but it won't always save you from traps and surprises. My character is level 136 at the time of this writing and nearing 130,000 souls per level now, making losing a level or two worth of souls pretty crushing.

It's important to level up your character, yes. But it's also important to level your weapons so they're strong enough to be useful as the game progresses. For folks who may not know how weapon scaling works, I'll go through the basics quickly.

weapons
An example of weapon scaling shown here with a Black Knight Greataxe scaling with strength and dexterity creating a total damage output of 695 with the current stats

Character stats for leveling are: Vigor (health), Attunement (spells), Endurance (stamina), Vitality (carry load), Strength (attack power), Dexterity (attack power), Intelligence (spell attack power), Faith (spell attack power), Luck (item discovery). The duplicate types like Strength and Dexterity are used more by certain weapons. A weapon may require strength to use and scale its attack power based on both Strength and Dexterity. The scaling is graded by letters of the alphabet from A to E. Weapons with scaling A will scale better with the stat it refers to. So an item with Str scale C and Dex scale B, will be more effective for high Dexterity characters, and as you level weapons these scales can change.

Weapon leveling takes upgrade materials and souls. Titanite is the most common and comes in varying forms, Shards are the lowest form and Slabs are the highest. Twinkling Titanite is used for special weapons, and Titanite Scales are used for Transposed weapons. These are created by an NPC at the cost of a boss soul. It takes more of each type per level to increase a weapon's strength. Normal Titanite weapons can be upgraded to level 10, special and Transposed weapons can be upgraded to level 5.

Then there are gems used for infusions at the Blacksmith. They will add elements or different types of scaling to benefit different character builds. For instance, high strength characters may want to use a Heavy Gem as this removes scaling of all types from the weapon except for strength, which it then improves. Fire Gems will add a fire damage bonus but reduce the base damage and scaling. It just depends on your preferences and the way you wish to build your character really. And if you decide you don't like the changes you made, they can be reversed for a fee.

Boss battles...

Are fun like they've always been, there are mechanics to learn and strategies to consider. Lots of times patience is key. Again, just going in with the thought of swinging wildly and hoping to do as much damage as possible will likely end your attempt quickly. Most of the time it's worth looking at the floor outside of an area before entering. First off you'll see messages left by other players alerting you to the fight, secondly you'll likely see roughly 2,786,549 blood stains on the ground that will serve as further warning that something big and bad lies ahead.stains

Reading messages and touching blood stains can provide a lot of information. "critical foe ahead" or "be wary of tough enemy" are common warnings and touching a blood stain will allow you to see the last few seconds of a player's attempt at a fight before they died. This can tell you if they were attacked quickly or slowly, perhaps letting you know whether it's worth using a shield or if two-handing your weapon may be the best solution. Either way you're bound to find out first hand pretty quickly.phantom2I would suggest placing your summon symbol on the ground before trying any major fight yourself. You'll be able to purchase the White Soap Stone from the Handmaiden at the Firelink Shrine early in the game. This will allow others to summon you as a phantom and give you the opportunity to help folks progress in the game while learning fights. But just as importantly, dying as a phantom will cost you nothing while winning the battle will reward you with many souls and the ever important Ember. This can be done multiple times, as long as the boss isn't already defeated in your world, and can help a lot in leveling. Just don't level too much or you'll be out of the range for the boss and won't be able to summon others to help you when you decide it's your turn. If you're still having issues you can always look at the many, many let's play videos out there. I have a few of my own up on our own Twinstiq LP channel on You Tube, and I'm sure to add more with my second play through.

Items...

Are varied and there are a lot of them. Everything is useful, even rubbish so hang on to all you find. There are general items, that help you along: Firebombs, Green Blossoms, Moss Clumps, etc. And there are important upgrade items: various forms of Titanite and different gems to infuse weapons and shields with. Then there are key items, things you need to have: Embers, various types of Umbral Ash, Coals, Souls, Keys, Bones, Covenant Symbols.... the list goes on and on.itemsProbably the most important thing you'll need to have is the Ember. This is the equivalent  to DS1's Humanity, and DS2's Effigy. While in Ember Form you're a multi-player host. This means you'll be able to summon others to your world for help and vice-versa, and you'll also have about 30% more health. However the benefits that being in Ember Form afford also come with the risk of being invaded by other players looking to kill you for souls like they would any other enemy in the game. Which can be great fun, but you might tear your hair out from time to time since it almost never happens at an opportune moment.

PVP

In DS3 like the other Souls titles, PVP is a big part of getting through your game. In DS1 as long as you were in Hollow Form you were safe from invasions, your character was weaker in almost every aspect, but safer none-the-less. In DS2 you were never safe from invasions except in particular safe zone areas and while resting at a bonfire.

DS3 handles PVP like a cross between both prior games. You're safe as long you're in Hollow Form, if a bit weaker, and can also be summoned by your covenant to invade or help others as needed. In Ember Form you can be invaded almost anywhere, but safe zones are larger and the match making for PVP battles is more balanced for all parties. Plus like in DS2 you can place duel symbols on the ground with your Red Soap Stone and there are various ways for players to battle each other giving others more of a chance to play the game with a bit less frustration.

summon_signs
A veritable rainbow of summon signs for dueling

Phantom players come in many forms now. Blue phantoms are protectors of other players who are being invaded by Red phantoms. White phantoms are the general summons to help with bosses or playing through the game in general while Gold phantoms are in a covenant designed to reward folks for helping in critical fights. You'll also see Purple phantoms, these guys are a gamble since they're neutral characters. Meaning they can help you if they like and then kill you right afterward; and they're allowed to invade just like the Reds or be summoned like the Whites or Golds.

pvp
Here you can see a couple of red phantom invaders attacking the host who has 2 white phantoms, myself included, and a gold for help

PVP is really fun in DS3, and I say that as a guy who isn't very good at it. I can't wait for my new game plus run to start because that's where people are on more equal footing and can see big jumps in PVP battles. Of course if you don't like PVP you can choose to play in offline mode. Doing so will not allow you the benefits of online play though, like summoning others or reading and placing messages.

The Covenants themselves are easy to get in to and you can choose to participate or not by wearing your covenant symbol. For instance, The way of the Blue Covenant ties to the Blue Sentinels Covenant. Way of the Blue members wear their symbol and that allows the Sentinels members wearing their symbols to be summoned automatically to help during an invasion. Others work by being "protectors" of a particular area. The Watchdogs of Farron Covenant members will randomly invade players who've wandered into the Farron swamp and forest areas to protect the graves of the fallen warriors that reside there. And each covenant will provide you a reward for killing players that can be turned in to the covenant leader for increased reputation that will in turn grant access to special items not found through normal play.

Removing your symbol will effectively turn off your involvement with that covenant until you put it back on. Only one can be worn at a time and it's great to be able to jump in and out at will instead of having to sign up and stay with one permanently like the previous games.

Graphically...

Dark souls 3 is pretty stunning. Lighting has a very real feeling as it comes through the clouds and holes in the landscape. Angle the camera just right and you can see the blue green glow of shallow water. Textures although not super high resolution are still very nice to look at, I didn't notice much tiling at all. Not that it isn't there of course, it's just well enough placed to be less obvious. The modeling team went the extra mile to actually make complicated, ornate objects like these doors in the image below.ornate doorThey could have just made a simple model with a nice bump map and most folks would have been happy, but instead they went to the trouble of creating things like this throughout the game. And man it adds so much to the atmosphere and helps make things that much more believable. My character's armor there has a section around the shoulders with fur and under that is a model of these individual leather strips shingled over one another, it's a great effect and one that's so much more convincing than just a texture map lain over a flat surface.lightingUp close things don't look quite as sharp but nothing looks bad in most respects. Occasionally you can pick out where a texture map may have been stretched a bit over a larger surface, but it's nothing detrimental to the overall aesthetics. This is a really beautiful looking game in basically every aspect.

Sound

Sounds and voice acting are pretty integral to a narrative story, even those as generally vague as the ones in Dark Souls. All characters you meet have a voice and they all reflect their personalities. Characters at the first look seem pretty shallow but even though not much is said, it is said very well.

For instance, the Handmaiden never tells you specifically that she has no faith in your chance of success, but her tone of voice sure states that she doesn't. She seems to imply that she wants to provide you supplies for as many souls as you can bring her before you fail and are lost to the world again. The Storyteller who couldn't become a Firekeeper is terrified of being alone and makes that clear, but underneath that projected fear and innocence is a hint of manipulation and darkness. Everyone has only a little bit to say, but say it in such a fashion that you can tell they're deeper than they let on.

Music is really only played a few areas and boss battles. All you'll hear outside there is the ambient environmental noise: wind blowing, rain falling, fires crackling, birds screeching, foot steps of enemies and at times nothing at all.

As far as general sounds go, weapons and armor rattle as you move about various areas. Leaves crunch under foot, stone echoes through halls, wood thunks under heavy boots, water splashes and swampy mud squishes and slops, it's all very convincing. Kudos to the folks that put this stuff together, clearly there was a lot of care and thought that went in to creating it all.

A major and very serious issue

Folks are getting banned left and right because of hacking. This is due to hackers dropping into a game and leaving items for people to pick up that turn out to be "illegal". Don't, for any reason, pick up an item left by an invader or phantom summon who is not a friend of yours that you know and trust personally. Make sure if you're setting up co-op games to use a secure password to lessen the chances of a hacker breaking in and causing you to get flagged yourself.

Issues also include needing a controller mapper to be able use a controller not supported by the game. Do yourself a favor and use a Steam controller or an XBOX 360 or XBONE controller. Or just a mouse and keyboard, honestly it works just fine. Using a mapper could potentially flag you as a hacker and cause an account ban.

Bandai Namco and Fromsoftware are looking at ways to better combat hacking and end the false banning of innocent players, but until then just play it safe and use common sense. Nobody is going to give away free items, there's no reason to anyway, don't pick them up. Use secure and obscure passwords to help ensure your game stays safe. And use proper input devices without the use of third party software, it's safer in the long run anyway.

Lothric Castle

Conclusion

Dark Souls gives us the perfect balance of risk versus reward and allows us to learn from our mistakes. It punishes us for overstepping our bounds, it harasses us with others who are looking for a fight and gives us a beautiful, dying, dark fantasy world to exist in with just a sliver of hope to save it, to uncover what bit of happiness there may be left. And for a world that feels so restrictive and threatening, there's a surprising amount freedom. It's lonely, but there are still friends. It's intimidating, making us think on our actions, but at the same it beckons us to proceed further. It piques our curiosity of what's around the next bend, in the shadows, down that cave. People like me who are hoarders of items and those who keep nothing will all find it appealing. The story is vague, like a fading memory, but it is there if you look.

Dark Souls 3 states that it's looking for one who will link the fire one last time, and if this is in fact the end of Dark Souls I'm both sad and happy for it.

On the one hand, I'm the guy who would play these no matter how many were released as long as the formula stayed the way it is. Each title is related but separate, and each one is new even though things feel the same. To me that never gets old and I look forward to the day I fire up DS2 to rebuild my lost characters because I know it will be just as engaging as it was before.

On the other hand, brands get stale, things start to change too much, people lose interest. And the reality of it is that if this installment is the last, it's a fantastic one go out on. Dark Souls 3 brings the best of its previous titles into a wonderful mix of beauty and sadness, friendship and betrayal, and light & dark. It would be a fitting end to what I would consider as one of the more perfect series of games out there.

Guys, I can't recommend Dark Souls 3 enough. It's worth every penny from the standpoint of great game design and play, as well as the dollar per hour ratio. My first play through has so far exceeded 110 hours at the time of this review and I plan on playing new game plus and perhaps beyond. But not just Dark Souls 3, the whole series is worth it. Do yourself a true solid and pick them up. Just be prepared to die... a lot.finisher

Update

Recent news has confirmed that the flame has finally been snuffed and DS3 is the last Dark Souls title in the series. Fromsoftware is focusing on a new IP altogether. Sad for us fans of the series, but they don't want to over produce titles and end up with a sort of Call of Duty syndrome; understandable for sure. Besides even if a Dark Souls 4 was in the works it wouldn't be likely to see development start for at least 5 years. Part of me says, that's plenty of time in between, give us Dark Souls4. But I do understand needing to draw a line and say "enough". Luckily for all of us there are plenty of games to play already: Demon Souls, Dark Souls 1 through 3, and Bloodborne. And who knows? Maybe we'll see something equally as epic and social life destroying come soon.

System Requirements for Dark Souls 3 are as follows

MINIMUM:

    • OS: Windows 7 SP1 64bit, Windows 8.1 64bit Windows 10 64bit
    • Processor: Intel Core i3-2100 / AMD® FX-6300
    • Memory: 4 GB RAM
    • Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce GTX 750 Ti / ATI Radeon HD 7950
    • DirectX: Version 11
    • Network: Broadband Internet connection
    • Storage: 25 GB available space
    • Sound Card: DirectX 11 sound device
    • Additional Notes: Internet connection required for online play and product activation

RECOMMENDED:

    • OS: Windows 7 SP1 64bit, Windows 8.1 64bit Windows 10 64bit
    • Processor: Intel Core i7-3770 / AMD® FX-8350
    • Memory: 8 GB RAM
    • Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce GTX 970 / ATI Radeon R9 series
    • DirectX: Version 11
    • Network: Broadband Internet connection
    • Storage: 25 GB available space
    • Sound Card: DirectX 11 sound device
    • Additional Notes: Internet connection required for online play and product activationDS_Datingsim1

12 comments

  1. brokedownsystem says:

    I’ve made this deal to Greywolfe (I’m not sure why he ended up not moving on it, it was probably the region compatibility issues and the like), and this offer still stands for him and you as well (and Thomas, if he is motivated). First come, first serve…

    I have a few of the Demon’s Souls collector’s edition that I have no real desire to speculate on. One of these is up for grabs at no cost t, b/c I see that you all can appreciate its greatness.

    I’m not sure how well it stands the test of time (I know its already somewhat of an eyesore compared to what’s on current-gen, plus the controls are really dated), but it’s still my favorite of the series. It’s the most fair…the battles can be earnestly fought, but also can be mostly bypassed as well. That open nature is intentionally built into the game (except save for one boss that can be exploited using errors in the environment).

    I believe in this title so much, I’m willing to cover the cost of a ps3 if that’s what it takes to enable you to play it.

    • Scrooloose
      Scrooloose says:

      That is extremely generous of you. I could never ask you to cover the cost of a console, It’s tempting to take you up on the offer for a free collector’s edition of the game though, maybe too tempting since you have more than one. Yoda has a PS3 and a PS4, maybe one of these times I’m at his place or he’s at mine we can give it a go. I do want to experience it, and Bloodborne. I keep hoping Bloodborne will make the leap to PC, I don’t think it’s supposed to happen though.

      • brokedownsystem says:

        “If you want play, you gonna pay” – me. XD

        Anyhow, let me know.

        I can provide the PS3 if needed, but it’ll have to be the non-cheese grater model. That design is an affront to the the eyes (and the ears, to boot).

  2. brokedownsystem says:

    I love this series for the art and exploration. A little bit less for the combat…I still can’t parry to save my life in these titles except for Bloodborne, and not even consistently in that title.

    • Scrooloose
      Scrooloose says:

      Oh man, those environments right? I think you’d be pretty hard pressed to find a better made dark fantasy world. Such great atmosphere, pretty tough to beat when all is said and done.

      Yeah, I never was good at parrying either. I think some PvP practice will help that. I’ve been joining some “fight clubs” in DS3 as of late and having fun there. Pretty balanced overall really, everyone has some type of counter, except to that damnable Estoc. I have a recent video of some of that up if it interests you to see me lose a bunch of fights.

      I was good at the PvP in DS2, but that title also had the shield break as an action to get around Greatshields. I also had the Curved Dragon Greatsword, so I could use it’s ability to knock people down from a fair distance. Just had to make sure I had lots of repair powder with me since weapon abilities cost durability.

      Sadly that’s the DS2 character that’s gone, along with 2 other lower levels.

  3. brokedownsystem says:

    Hey so…quick question (no spoilers, please!):

    I thought the Dark Souls titles were not actually connected together except for the cyclic nature of linking the fire. Is this something that’s resolved in DS3’s lore (I’m only at the watchers of the abyss so far).

    • Scrooloose
      Scrooloose says:

      Well, the only real connection I notice throughout is that they take place in the same general area.
      Like in Dark Souls 1, when you make it all the way down to the bottom of the castle and enter the sewer area that leads to Blighttown. That area is still in Dark Souls 2 accessed through a hole in the ground. There are hints that maybe the architecture that surrounded it before has fallen, or been moved, but it gave me this feeling: that this is an area that I, as a player, have been before. In DS3 it’s Anor Londo that’s the familiar location, you’ll see what I mean when you get there, it’s really great. And if you’ve made to Firelink, I’m sure you’ve noticed the connection with Demon Souls right there.

      Of course some familiar NPCs are still around, some aren’t, but overall DS3 still has connections to the other titles.

      Lore-wise, yeah I think if you read into it and really pay attention you’ll see some connections as well. A bit vague, but that’s some of the charm of it, being able to piece together your own interpretation of the stories all around you.

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