Dark Souls III Review (XONE)

Another Great Entry For Dark Souls Fans

Dark Souls 3 screen
Dark Souls 3. Bandai Namco

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I feel like I’m coming into Dark Souls III from a different perspective than many players.  Unlike many folks, I happened to love Dark Souls II and like it better than the first game, so I approached DSIII not with hope that it “returns to form” now that the “A-Team” is back on the job, but rather that it didn’t stray too far from what I liked in Dark Souls II.  Luckily for all of us on both sides of the fence, Dark Souls III isn’t just a reset back to Dark Souls 1, but more a combination of everything From Software has learned from all of the previous games including Bloodborne.

  It takes the best parts of all of the games to make another fantastic adventure no one should miss.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Bandai Namco
  • Developer: From Software
  • ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Pros:  Fantastic art design; awesome music; satisfying combat; slightly easier than past games; side quests
  • Cons:  Performance issues; repeated encounters dull the experience; linear levels


One of the coolest things about Dark Souls is how mysterious its story always is.  Things are very rarely spelled out for you, so you have to read every item description and pay close attention to every line of dialogue and, even then, have to draw some conclusions on your own in order to figure out the real story, but also how everything is connected to the other games.  Basically, though, it is a pattern that goes like this – Kingdoms rise and thrive for a while, but ultimately fall to darkness and it is up to some cursed soul to fight their fate and save the world in some convoluted way that usually involves fire.

  In order to stop the apocalyptic darkness form swallowing the world in Dark Souls III, you have to seek out and kill the heroes, now known as Lords of Cinder, who linked the fires previously. 


With that vague nugget of info to go on, you’re dumped into the world and Dark Souls III immediately enters the familiar gameplay rhythm players have fallen in love with.

  Regardless of your build type, and the build variety in DSIII is as good as ever, the idea is always the same – any enemy can kill you at any time, so be careful and patient and you might survive.  I always go for a great sword + shield + bow build on my first playthrough in these games and then branch out in New Game+, and that plan worked just as well here.  From a purely mechanical gameplay perspective, Dark Souls III is easily the best playing entry yet.

One thing that is worth noting is that it seems like Dark Souls III is easier than past games, at least for the first half or two-thirds of it or so.  I still died a lot, of course, but I also powered through bosses that I don’t know I could have beaten on my own in past games.  I’m not a hardcore Souls fan who thinks summoning help is some great taboo.  I’ll always take help if I need it.  Since this review was done pre-release, however, there weren’t any players around to help (there were NPC summons here and there, but not as often as I would have liked), so I just had to “git gud” and fight through it.  And I succeeded.  Maybe it was because I have 500+ hours of Dark Souls II behind me and I’ve just gotten better at it, but Dark Souls III didn’t pose as much of a challenge as the past two games (at least not until the end when it does get crazy).

 For a different challenge, try Ori and the Blind Forest.

I think that last point is important.  For everyone pretending like Dark Souls II was somehow bad and doesn’t count and hoping that Miyazaki and the From Software “A-Team” working on Dark Souls III would make it more like DS1, Dark Souls III feels a heck of a lot like Dark Souls II as far as combat and enemy encounters go.  The series has evolved and is never going to be exactly like Demon’s and Dark Souls 1 again (Which are both pretty darn rough, looking back.  Yeah, I said it).  Dark Souls III does borrow some things from the first game, namely the return of item discovery as a stat and having more over the top monster bosses and fewer human enemies, but like I said above, the game overall is an evolution of the entire SoulsBorne series. 

That evolution is also readily apparent in the level design.  One of the coolest things about Dark Souls 1 was that the entire world was interconnected and spiderwebbed with shortcuts linking areas in surprising ways.  In Dark Souls II, the world wasn’t really connected and instead was a series of hubs and branching paths with dead ends.  Bloodborne returned to the intricately connected world once again.  Dark Souls III turned out to be a combination of all of the above.  The game world itself is actually quite straightforward as one area connects to the next in a mostly linear path (though there is a branch or two like Dark Souls II), but there aren’t really any shortcuts connecting one major area to another.  Instead, each individual area has multiple paths and shortcuts, but they all end up taking you to the same place, which is the linear path to the next major area.  The game also throws bonfires at you like they’re going out of style.  One mid-game area has three bonfires all within a minute from each other and only one optional enemy in between, which is just weird.

Some of the areas are massive and awesome, but even then they’re still mostly linear.  The first real area of the game, for example, is a huge castle (complete with dragon) that seems to stretch out forever around you like the first area of DS1.  It turns out that you only get to run around in a tiny section of it and the rest of the castle is just for show.  Exploration isn’t as satisfying, either, because most splits in the road from the main path through an area are much shorter than in past games and usually reward you with a simple item instead of something actually useful (though there are exceptions I’ll detail below).  Strangely, the game also has very, very few treasure chests scattered around the world, and almost all of them are easily identifiable mimics.  Granted, those mimics can have good stuff inside, but mimics are scary!     

Dark Souls III’s level and encounter design also has a strange habit of repeating itself.  There are multiple areas in the game protected by a giant or something throwing spears that you have to dash across before ultimately figuring out how to stop it for good.  The first time, it is pretty cool.  The second time, you’re like “Really?”  And by the third time it is just annoying.  Some boss fights, despite being different bosses / creatures, even repeat the same patterns and gimmicks as previous fights from hours earlier.  The game sometimes feels very formulaic and not as innovative and imaginative as previous entries.  It’s still a ton of fun, of course, and does have some truly impressive areas and encounters, but it won’t really surprise you with anything.  Like I said, though, maybe that has more to do with my own personal hundreds of hours of experience with the series, and not a flaw with Dark Souls III itself that makes it seem that way.

One thing Dark Souls III does bring back successfully that wasn’t in Dark Souls II is having super tough optional enemies scattered all over.  I loved it in Dark Souls 1 when a powerful black knight or other major enemy would be guarding an optional side passage or on top of a tower and you could choose to ignore them if you wanted and come back later because you knew they were probably protecting something good.  Dark Souls III does this with great effect as well.  Giant and aggressive crystal lizards, powerful knights, red phantoms, and even mini-bosses (that award you boss souls even though you didn’t know they were a boss) stalk out of the way areas of levels.  Dark Souls III doesn’t open up and reward your exploration to the same extent as previous games, but on the occasions when it does, it is usually pretty awesome.

Dark Souls III does its fair share of new things as well, of course, some of which are still mysteries to me even after hours and hours of playing the game like what your hollow level or curse level (both of which you can reverse but I don’t know why you need to …) actually mean.  There are more familiar takes on things too, of course.  Instead of human effigies or humanities to change your character from “hollow” to human, Dark Souls III uses embers.  Using an ember gives you significantly more health, but also lets you summon NPC or player help.  A new feature is that weapons have weapon arts now that grant you special power strikes or even magical attacks.  Weapon arts drain your magic, however, which now has its own meter you have to re-fill with a special second estus flask.  You now can choose to allot estus to either your health or magic flask, which will be an interesting strategic choice for casters.  I didn’t use magic, though, so I just put all of the estus into HP.

Something else that I like in Dark Souls III is that NPCs actually have quests you need to do in order to keep them around.  You meet a lot of characters while wandering around in the world, and many of them will return to the central Firelink Shrine hub to help you out.  If you do something they don’t like, however, like joining the wrong covenant or not doing something they ask, they’ll leave and you may see them later as an enemy.  You can even send a thief out into the world that finds useful stuff to sell you, but he might not make it back.  It’s very cool and an improvement on NPCs that were just sort of “there” in past games.  It will be interesting to see how successive playthroughs change by having different NPCs available to help you out. 

Also try Lords of the Fallen or DiRT Rally (the Dark Souls of rally games).

Graphics & Sound

Visually, Dark Souls III is a fantastic looking game.  Not so much because of pure graphical fidelity and detail, but an awesome and consistent medieval art style the game carries throughout.  The game is a little more gray and brown and gloomy and not as varied as past games (one early area literally looks like “Bloodborne Town”), but when it does throw something different at you it can be really impressive.  Irithyll of the Boreal Valley is just stunning looking when you first enter it, for example.  The enemy designs are a step up from Dark Souls II since there are a lot more monsters and crazy demons rather than mostly humanoids, and the bosses are nicely varied as well. 

The game does have some significant performance issues despite only running at 30FPS, however, that seem even more pronounced coming off of Scholar of the First Sin which ran at 60FPS on Xbox One.  The framerate regularly drops below 30FPS in Dark Souls III, even in areas that seemingly don’t have much going on.  The fluctuating framerate hasn’t really affected my gameplay, but it definitely isn't good.

The sound is up to the usual Dark Souls standard with some fantastic sound effects during combat and an awesome soundtrack.  The music picks up at all the right moments and really makes the game feel like an epic adventure.  Voice work for all of the NPCs is fantastically serious and sort of cheesy, but exactly what you expect in Dark Souls.

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Bottom Line

Everyone is going to come into Dark Souls III with different expectations of what Dark Souls “should” be, and I feel it does a good job of meeting those expectations by being a combination and evolution of what made previous entries in the series great to begin with.  The level design mixes both DS1 and DSII.  Gameplay feels like DSII.  Boss fights borrow from both as well as Bloodborne.  The inspirations from past games are usually incredibly obvious, almost to the point of fan service.  Because it tries to please everyone, however, it sometimes feels more like a Greatest Hits version of Souls rather than something new and special and unexpected.  It is still absolutely fantastic and challenging and awe-inspiring and a ton of fun, but not quite as thrilling as past entries.  Even with some criticisms, however, Dark Souls III still adds up to be an excellent game overall that fans of the series will have a great time with.  By being slightly easier (maybe just my imagination, though) it could be a good starting point for new fans as well.  All of the games are difficult and mysterious and confusing, so you gotta start somewhere, right?  May as well be Dark Souls III.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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