From Software’s Dark Souls franchise has become synonymous with punishingly difficult gameplay, ‘git gud’ mentality among its fans, and a polarizing opinion on what constitutes ‘tough but fair’ game design. While Dark Souls 3 in no exception to the rules, it takes the groundwork laid out by the prior Souls games as well as Bloodborne, and perfects the formula. Hailed by many to be the best in the Souls Series, Dark Souls 3 can be teeth-grindingly tense in its difficulty and punishing nature, but extremely rewarding as a result.
For those not familiar with the Souls series, Dark Souls 3 is an action RPG in which you play as a chosen undead, tasked with slaying the Lords of Cinder in hopes of bringing about the next age of fire, the next stage in a cycle that has perpetuated itself since the start of the series. While the game is technically an action RPG, the level design, enemy placement and traps make careful planning and planning your approach to each area a necessity. Rushing in blindly will only lead to a quick death, though sometimes rushing through an area strategically rather than fighting your way through is the best way to proceed.
The combat has been sped up from its predecessors, making the combat a lot more satisfying, and both the dodge and parry timing is a little more lenient to facilitate this faster combat. More enemies do have combination attacks, and it is a lot easier for both enemies and players to be staggered or have their attacks interrupted to make up for this, and since enemies generally come in groups, shields are not as effective as they were in the original, where you could just about tank your way through the game with little to no issue.
The multiplayer co-op and invasion system have been slightly improved upon, doing away with the soul level matchmaking from the second game. You can now summon or be summoned by players of any level, but you will be scaled down accordingly if you are of a higher level than your host.
In terms of the graphics, the game in absolutely stunning. It is the best looking souls game of the series, and much like its predecessors, lets you see areas you will travel to off in the distance as you make your approach. Sometimes I find myself just admiring the spanning landscapes off in the distance when exploring areas that I’ve either already cleared or that are just naturally devoid of enemies, especially places like Anor Londo that give a great view of the surrounding scenery far below the ramparts of the old castle, or High Wall of Lothric. The enemy and boss design is also top notch, with a few nods to the older games, like Aldrich being in the process of devouring Gwyndolin during the battle, forcing you to deal with both Aldrich’s attacks and Gwyndolin’s spells.
The DLC also offers some of the best boss fights in the series. While some of the areas suffer from some of the design flaws of Dark Souls 2 in that it just throws enemies at you left and right to overwhelm you rather than rely on strategic placement (The Dregheap is notorious for this), most of the areas are difficult but perfectly manageable with a little practice and foresight, and the main bosses of the DLC are absolutely worth the trouble.
While the first game in the series might be the best place to start from a lore and sequential standpoint, if you don’t mind missing out of some of the backstory and nods to the prior games in the series, Dark Souls 3 is a great place to start from a pure gameplay perspective. Also, they didn’t bring back Bed of Chaos or any similar gimmicky boss like it, so that’s a plus.