The Souls series has never been one that got my attention, not for any single reason, but for a host of them, with Dark Souls 3 though, I decided it was now the time to actually play a game to see what people were raving about.
Dark Souls 3 tells the story about how the world is coming to an end, but your player is the one to stop it and to do that, you need to ignite a series of fires, which you do by killing, lots and lots of killing. The story is not strong here, at least for me, coming into the series for the first time, I had no connection to the world, passed the experiences I had in it, nor did I have any desire to go and learn more about it, the world of Lothric is a harsh one to be sure, but it’s also a boring one. How you view the world will depend a lot on the character class you choose, depending on that, things might be easy or hard, veterans of the series are likely to have an edge in all of this as they get going, but the game does start off slow enough that newcomers like myself don’t feel to left out.
Sadly, though, the attempts at a tutorial are more of a pain than the actual game at times, with messages left across the ground, it is up to you to read them, so if you skip over one, you might not learn how to run, or block. In fact, the game does everything it can to be as vague as possible when it comes to everything related to itself, with no direction on what you are meant to do, nor how to decipher the status screen or anything else for that matter, new players are going to be stuck trying to get passed the first boss, let alone anything else. It is this, that I found the be the biggest roadblock to enjoying the game, letting players loose into a world is not unheard off, but no direction at all is strange to be sure, but with almost no guiding information, in any form, the game just feels aimless. After igniting the first big bonfire, I was not sure what to do next, I ended up spending almost 3 hours attempting to defeat a creature outside the shrine to access a door, when it turns out I was not even in the right space still, the game was not clear there, nor did it get better.
A lot of people like to go on and on about the combat of the Souls series, how it requires you to be more methodical in your approach, you can’t run in and expect to get away unharmed, in fact running will hurt you just as much as an attack as it depletes your stamina meter and without stamina, you can’t do powerful attacks, which means fights will drag on. Your best way to get through any fight is to first go in with your defences up, learning how the enemy will attack and then working out a way to get your attacks in. While you are on the defence though, your stamina will decrease as you protect yourself, which means you can’t just expect the enemies to wait until you are ready. Getting in and attacking is as required as standing back and waiting to see what attacks they will use, it is a risk/reward system that will really let players who understand it flourish, if you don’t understand it, there will be a lot of frustration to be found. The most frustrating element to the game is the need to revisit the same areas over and over again, to farm for souls, making your way through a hard place, only to have to rest at a bonfire and then make the journey back again, adds a level of monotony to game that it does not need, you can of course choose to ignore this, but as you need souls to level up yourself or buy new gear, it is not something you can ignore completely.
One area that the game managed to win me over with, almost immediately was with how the game looks, it sports a very medieval look, but with a lot of gothic elements attached. As my knight, I was equipped with the standard suit of armour for a knight, with sword in one hand and shield in the other and while the base gear was nothing special, the touches of the cloth that was fraying and smouldering was very welcome. All of that however fails to come close to the design of the enemies, from the simple monk like ones at the start to the large and imposing bosses later on, they all feel like a lot of attention was given to their look and it shows. There was an enemy that killed me a lot, but a few of the times I died, it was because I was distracted by the look of him, lots of subtle touches just made his look very impressive.
The world itself also sported some very nice design choices, from climbing up high to see mountains and locations sprawled around, to the catacombs with all the fun things one might expect in an underground space. There are plenty of castles and ruins that are in various states of decay, which helps to show how lived in the world really is, but for me the swamp was one of the best and the creatures that lived there. Sadly, it’s not all good news with the visuals, while the design of the world is top notch, there are some technical issues that mar the experience, slowdown is something I experienced when there was a lot happening, not enough to bother me greatly, but it was there. There was also this invisible line that stretched around the character, on one side of the line, there was details to be found everywhere you looked and on the other side, things were blurry, hiding details until you got closer. While you may not notice it when inside, or underground, when you are in the larger open spaces it’s pretty obvious and quite distracting, finally there is also the issue of the gear not having any impact to the world, swords would pass through doorways as I entered, shields when not equipped would clip through stairs, again it does not impact gameplay, it just serves as a way to disconnect you from the experience.
From an audial point of view, things are strange, the music was nice, offering up a range of tunes, each designed to suit a specific mood, but more than not, after repeated deaths from the same boss or in the same location, hearing the same tracks over and over, did start to wear on me. On the flip side of that though, there were times that, the music all but disappears, leaving you with this sense of grand nothing, standing in a large space, with the only sounds coming from the wind and yourself, it really makes one feel small. Creatures and enemies also found themselves grating on me after a while, but not to the point that hearing a growl or such made me angry. There is voice acting to be found within the title, but those characters don’t offer anything new that often, so it does become and exercise in futility when talking to them.
Dark Souls 3 is a game for fans of the series, newcomers like me are going to be overwhelmed with the amount of things you need to know, but then frustrated at the amount of things the game refuses to tell you. The combat is something that people can learn, given enough time and patience, but without clear directions or tutorials, it becomes much more hassle than it is worth.