With Dark Souls II two years behind us, we’ve finally been given the third installment in the Souls series in Dark Souls III. With the time I’ve put into the game, there are a number of things that I can say that I firmly believe about it. However, none are quite as important as this: I believe that Dark Souls III is absolutely a worthy successor to the series, and is absolutely worth playing if you’re a fan of the series.
With that said, I also know many, many, many fans of the series will want to go into the game completely blind. If that’s the case, consider stopping here and avoid anything said about it. For those of you who aren’t looking to avoid everything about the game, I will try to keep spoilers to an absolute minimum so you should be safe to read through this pretty spoiler-free.
With that out of the way, let’s talk Dark Souls III.
Let’s begin with what is arguably the most important aspect – gameplay. Despite being fundamentally the same as previous Souls games for combat, Dark Souls III has made some pretty big overhauls to the system’s intricacies.
First off is the inclusion of a mana system called Focus Points. Rather than continuing the trend of having a certain number of casts for each spell you have attuned, you’ll now be able to cast spells you have attuned freely, as long as you have FP remaining. So, if you want to use all of your FP casting Soul Arrow to clear out enemies as you progress through an area that’s fine. If you need to spend them all casting Soul Greatsword during a PvP encounter, you can do that too.
Focus Points are also attached to the other big overhaul in combat – Weapon Skills. Each weapon will have a different skill available that can be used to certain effects. Some may give you an attack buff, while others can be a flashy attack or a shield-piercing attack. Skills are pretty widely varied and will definitely play a big role in selecting a weapon this time around. Skills require FP to use, and will vary in FP cost from skill to skill. This means that FP isn’t only useful for spell-casters, which is a great balance for both magic and melee focused players.
Many of the combat and gameplay changes are related to this system in some way. You’ll now be given two types of Estus Flasks – traditional Estus and Ashen Estus. Estus Flasks replenish HP as always, and Ashen Estus Flasks replenish FP. You’ll be given the ability to allot your total number of Estus Flasks between the two types. So, if you have 6 total, for example, you can carry 4 Estus and 2 Ashen, or 6 of one and none of the other, or however you decide to divvy it up. This allows for a lot of customization on the part of the player. You can throw all of your Estus at Ashen flasks if you carry healing spells with you, or put them all as regular Estus if you rarely use FP. It’s totally up to the player.
Another change is in the form of button assignments with shields. Weapon skills for main hand weapons have been assigned to L2, which is where the shield’s parry or secondary action has always been. And that’s unchanged for the most part. Shields now carry one more secondary ability – the use of a main hand weapon skill. So while some shields retain the parry ability, others will allow you to use your main hand ability without needing to switch to a two-handed stance (which is how you go about using it if you have a parry shield).
Another big change comes in the form of some special dual-wielded weapons. A few weapons, like the Legion Scimitars, have a dual-wield component built in that will give people that enjoy dual-wielding a few weapon choices that are specifically designed with that purpose in mind.
In fact, many of the big, and even smaller, design choices for this installment feel like they are catering more and more toward player choice and agency in how they want to engage combat. Weapons feel more varied than ever before with the addition of skills, the FP system used with magic allows players more freedom to fit the situation, and even niche playstyles like dual-wielding are getting love. I think a lot of the system changes added a lot to the gameplay overall.
As for the feel of the game itself, I would say it’s gotten faster. It doesn’t feel quite like the speed of Bloodborne, but combat is certainly faster paced than ever before for Dark Souls. It feels a bit tighter, and you’ll find that your mistakes get punished more efficiently too. If your guard is ever broken? Prepare for some follow-up attacks to your face before you’re able to react. The higher pace and quicker punishment makes combat feel more responsive and high risk, which will really keep players engaged.
Enemies have also been given a bit of an upgrade. Aside from the ability to use weapon skills from their weapons, many have unique movesets and varied attacks and patterns that are harder to read than before. Not a few hours into the game, and you’ll see typical knight enemies with attacks designed to punish back-stab fishing and turtling alike, which will be eye-opening for many newcomers early on.
Bosses, too, have gotten overhauls. Very few (if any) bosses are single phase fights anymore. Most transition to new patterns and attacks at least once, if not twice, throughout a fight. And even better for the atmosphere, the music will change with them. It makes the fights far more memorable and exciting than ever before for Dark Souls.
The last thing I have to say about the gameplay is a negative, however. While the game does run smoothly most of the time, I’ve definitely noticed that frame rate drops and slow-downs run rampant. I’m reviewing based on a PS4 copy, so while this may not be an issue in all cases, it certainly was noticeable. Especially transitioning between areas when not warping.
While on the topic of frame rate, let’s touch on graphics. The game has impressed me on more than one occasion with its locations and designs. In particular, the movement in cloth has gotten a massive upgrade, and cloaks / capes look great. However, there are definitely some vistas in the game that will cause a momentary lapse in judgement where you stare off into space to admire the architecture.
You’ll also find yourself occasionally admiring weapons and their designs. While the transforming weapons of Bloodborne certainly had a bit of a “wow” factor, Dark Souls III returns to traditional weaponry again with a number of exceptions. Of course Ultra Greatswords still exist and they are far from realistic, but the designs on many traditional weapons look great, and some are definitely beautifully crafted.
The variety of weaponry is back as well. One thing I loved about the game was looking at my inventory a couple hours in and already seeing a list of weapon options twice the size of Bloodborne’s total weapon list. And not only that, but plenty of fan favorite weapons make a return; Artorias’ Greatsword, the Dragonslayer Spear, the Black Knight Glaive, and more are all available in the game again. It’s great to see the list of weapons and magic as expansive as ever.
And if we’re on the topic of returning items from previous games…well, without spoiling too much, be prepared to see some familiar faces, and maybe even places. Dark Souls III hearkens back to Dark Souls more than Dark Souls II, though, so be prepared to see some old friends you probably didn’t even realize you missed.
This time, similar to Demon’s Souls and to a lesser degree, Bloodborne, you’ll be operating out of a hub. You’ll be given the ability to freely warp between bonfires from the get-go, and you’ll be given a Firelink Shrine to operate from. Characters you meet along the way will come and go from the shrine, and many stories will progress through actions there rather than in the world itself. While it’s hard to say this is a positive or bad change is tough, I will say that many character stories felt better put together this time, and maybe even more involved.
The last big topic to discuss is online and multiplayer. I didn’t get to engage in much multiplayer in my time reviewing the game, so I can’t speak much to balance and things like that. However, I can talk briefly on covenants. Rather than one at a time, covenants can now be switched out on the fly and controlled by equipping an item in a specific slot to essentially mark your allegiance. Some of the old covenants make a return like the Warriors of Sunlight, Way of the Blue, Blue Sentinels, and the Blades of the Darkmoon in addition to new covenants as well.
The switching on the fly mechanic will hopefully make multiplayer a more fun and flexible part of the game while adding to the longevity overall. But, it certainly seems like there is plenty offered in the way of multiplayer, co-op, and PvP.
And finally is a quick roundup of smaller details, both positive and negative, that didn’t quite fit elsewhere.
First is the world. Individual areas in Dark Souls III are much bigger than before, with a lot more verticality. However, there are less overall. While the game is probably not any shorter, it feels smaller somewhat, due to the smaller number of areas. Even if you can more or less tell that the amount of actual space is comparable.
A number of deeper mechanics have been added or altered. Adaptability was removed as a stat, while Luck was put back in. Also, Attunement has become the stat that governs your max Focus Points. Hollowing hasn’t been removed, but rather drastically altered – and I still haven’t quite figured out how it works – but it isn’t only related to deaths anymore. It’s more than that.
Overall, I think that Dark Souls III could easily be the best the series has had to offer yet. While it’ll be a while before the internet has truly had its way with the game to uncover the secrets and intricacies of the game, as it stands, Dark Souls III is a fantastic RPG and another great Souls game from FromSoftware.
Dark Souls III was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a retail copy provided by Bandai Namco. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 9
- Updated gameplay and tighter combat
- Works for more and better varied gameplay strategies and options for players
- Great boss fights, including music
- Average enemies have more intricate movesets and behaviors
- Multiplayer elements (Covenants, etc.) appear to have been changed for the better
- Other systems have been altered or made more intricate.
- Plagued by frame rate issues. Again.
- Fewer number of overall locations means less variation in locale.