Your favorite punishing series is back with another installment. Two years after Dark Souls II, and one year after Bloodborne, FromSoftware returned to its beloved franchise with Dark Souls III. For returning players, new challenges await, but it also looks as if FromSoftware decided to make it an even more welcoming experience for new players. In fact, there are times when the journey to Lothric might be too inviting.
The Road Ahead
Dark Souls III is set in the land of Lothric, and you, an Unkindled, must defeat the Lords of Cinder to restore the Link of Fire. As is usual in the Souls games, that’s all you have to go on, and the rest of the lore and story is found throughout the game.
This desolate kingdom is crumbling as evidenced by the old castle walls, decrepit towers and abandoned homes. But compared to previous games, Lothric isn’t as expansive as you might think. There are more interconnected areas throughout the journey that loop you back onto the “main path," but other than that, there aren't that many new places to explore off the beaten path.
Granted, there are still a few places where a fork in road can lead you to an entirely new level, but there aren’t that many compared to previous games. I was lost more in Dark Souls II than I was with Dark Souls III. However, that isn’t to say that there’s absolutely no room for exploration. If you keep your eyes open, you’re bound to find a hole in the wall or a seemingly-impossible passageway between two structures that leads to more treasures or a shortcut.
Once again, the bonfires make their return, and thankfully, you can still warp between bonfires to save time. But it seems that the developers went overboard with the bonfire placements. There’s too many of them, and they’re not placed as far away from each other as they should be. I can recall one spot where I lit a bonfire, fought my way through some enemies, and then ten minutes later I saw another bonfire.
The enemies between the two bonfires weren’t difficult to at all, and the second bonfire led to another shortcut to a previous location. The series' bonfires signify a place of refuge, or a reward for beating a difficult boss. There are still some bonfires in the game that serve that purpose, but it could do without a significant number of them to give the game back some of its challenging characteristics.
Monsters And Monsters And Monsters, Oh My
Even with the high count on bonfires, Dark Souls III still manages to have some brutish foes. Most fall after a few hits from your favored weapon, but there are more than a few encounters — outside of boss battles — that will test your skills. Some of your enemies, despite their size, move incredibly fast, so you’ll have to react quickly and gain the upper hand in battle. Regardless, all of them are part of a collective nightmare of grotesque enemies that are designed with inspiration from past FromSoftware titles.
Speaking of combat and movement, both have been modified. For combat, there’s the new FP gauge, which is used for magic or Skills. If you’re a melee-based player, these Skills allow you to execute special attacks that consume both stamina and FP. Items such as shields will have certain abilities that either help you with a Skill attack or with the usual parry counter-attack. You can replenish the FP gauge with Ashen Estus Flasks, which are different from the traditional Estus Flasks. On top of that, you can even allocate the number of Estus and Ashen Estus flasks if you want to have more of one or the other.
Even though the FP gauge is ever-present between your health and stamina indicators, the game doesn’t really force you to use it, but it’s an interesting method to use, especially on enemies that charge towards you. With the many weapons, items and armor available, it’s only inevitable that someone will make a character build with the FP gauge and Skill attacks as its foundation.
Your character seems to have a faster movement speed overall, but that’s only because it can stay on par with some of the fast-moving enemies. More than ever, I found myself continuously rolling to avoid enemy attacks, and then I had to immediately put my shield up to deflect an incoming hit. The best way to describe it is a mix of Dark Souls II's and Bloodborne’s movement speeds, which makes for enjoyable and intense combat scenarios.
In the end, Dark Souls III seems to live up to the franchise’s reputation. It still features an open world for you to explore, the various monsters add to the game’s dark and terrifying atmosphere, and the boss fights can still make you throw the controller in frustration.
But at the same time, the overall experience didn’t give me a sense of dread as I approached a new enemy or explored an unknown passage that was present in past titles, because I knew a bonfire wasn't too far away, or the return to trip to where I died wasn't much of a trek. Don’t get me wrong, Dark Souls III is still a tough game, and I’m enjoying it, but I don’t fear dying as much anymore.