April 19th, 2016

Time Played: 52 Hours (At time of writing)

Last Played: 4/19/2016

Dark Souls 3: The Sun Also Sets

If you’ve read my previous reviews then you probably know that I love really challenging games like Monster Hunter, Dragon’s Dogma, and Dark Souls. Or maybe I just like really good Japanese games…So it shouldn’t be much of a shock when I say that Dark Souls 3, the series finale, is incredible. I’ve basically shut myself in my room and played Dark Souls all week… I beat it on tuesday (which is why this review is late) and have since started again on New Game +. I’ve been both excited, and fearful of writing a review for this game. I have so many feelings about it, that I’m not looking forward to having to condense them into precise words. This is the reason I haven’t written a review for my GOTY of 2015, Metal Gear Solid V. Pico-review: Buy it.

As for why Dark Souls 3 is so good. Well, it’s kind of a long story. But I’ll shorten it by saying that: It’s the best ‘one of these’ they’ve made yet. Does it have some problems. Yeah. But they’re really minor compared to just how well put together this game is. It feels like it was made with love, like a good home cooked meal after you’ve been away for awhile. Now, let’s dig in.

I don’t usually talk at length about graphics in most of my reviews. Not because I don’t think they’re important; but because they’re usually not the first thing I think of when I’m talking about a video game. Which is how I try to write these– as if I was talking to a friend. But, with that being said… HOLY. MOLY. Does this game look good. It’s a great looking game in it’s own right, and on top of that it’s an incredible looking souls game. Which is a franchise that has never really looked that great… Over my time with the game I have taken almost 1000 screenshots. Last I checked I was at exactly 767. That’s… almost once every four minutes.

I found myself for the first half of the game stopping every twenty feet, and just admiring the visuals. The Souls games are known for their well thought out level design, and their spanning vistas. And boy, does this game deliver. There are some visuals in this game that I feel like I will probably never forget! Like looking out from Lothric Castle, and seeing every area in the game all at once. Surveying the land down below was a very cool moment. And sure enough, from almost every area in the game you can see Lothric looming over you in the background. A constant reminder of Lordran from the first game. Dark Souls three manages to balance the surreal nature of it’s predecessors with a new, more apocalyptic, End Times feeling. The game’s atmosphere lends itself to the idea that the world is ending. And I’m not entirely convinced there’s anything that you can do to stop it.

There’s also that time when the sun died and started melting into the earth… But we don’t talk about that.

One thing to note, is that the Dark Souls franchise has been rather notorious for having poor performance on the PC. Whether due to a bad port, or just poor optimization. And added to that, Dark Souls 3 has some rather high system requirements. My computer is somewhere between minimum and recommended requirements on everything, but only just barely on the graphics. I have a GTX 760ti, up from the minimum of a GTX 750. I was able to play the game comfortably on my system with a mixture of high and medium settings at a decent framerate. It felt like 60, but I never got a counter to confirm. There were some areas that tanked my frame rate at times. But it was usually only a dip. I never felt like the game was ‘chugging’. Usually I noticed the game would hang a bit when loading something in.

The most egregious performance I had in particular was one boss fight wherein the entire arena would catch on fire. And the area’s transition from ‘normal’ to ‘on fire’ would absolutely destroy my frame rate. I put everything on low for that one section and it still caused it to drop significantly. Once the transition was over the frame rate would stabilize once again, but it was noticeably lower. Luckily the game appears to scale very well. Even with everything on ‘low’ the game still looked very good. So if your computer is on the lower end of the spectrum you can still enjoy all the wonderful environmental detail!

Also I will assuage any fears you might have. This game is not as linear as people have made it out to be. However, it isn’t the vertical, self layering Escher painting that was Dark Souls. It’s a nice mix, an in-between. Instead of traversing a single fallen kingdom, Dark Souls 3 has you traverse a fallen land. Something Dark Souls 2 tried to do and failed. Dark Souls 2 lacked a sense of scale as there wasn’t anything there to ‘place’ you. It felt more like a fever-dream rather than a actual place. This is something that Dark Souls 3 does magnificently. Although you might not cover an entire continent by the time you finally find the enemy you pursue for the first half of the game. You feel like you’ve traversed to the ends of the Earth to get him. Every time you enter a new area, Lothric is your sense of place. As it steadily becomes farther, and farther away you know you’ve traveled quite a distance.

And thankfully the level design is really, really, good. I got lost, multiple times. And there are enough layers, folds, twists, turns, shortcuts, and crazy architectural, spatial, and geographical wizardry to boggle your mind. I still haven’t figured out how some of the stuff in the Cathedral of the Deep was supposed to work.

But good level design is only half the equation. What about the enemies? Thankfully you’ll find that the game offers some really well designed encounters. Almost every enemy in this game feels pulled from a previous ‘Souls’ game. Even going so far back as to Demon’s Souls! And a tad of bloodborne for flavor! And the new additions certainly feel right at home.

I don’t remember feeling like any of the enemies were ‘cheap’ or broken in anyway. I did, however, feel like they did WAY too much damage in some cases. Towards the end of the game it was not uncommon for a single enemy to kill me in two or three hits. There were multiple occasions where I thought to myself “Am I in this area too early?”  It got to the point where I was legitimately afraid to fight some of them. “Well I only have five Estus, I don’t know if I want to engage the Lothric Knight.”   Which, is a nice change of pace for sure. But, sometimes it’s just annoying.

There are some enemies that I would say I distinctly disliked and would prefer to never have to fight again. Luckily there are maybe eight of them in the whole game. As a whole, enemy balance is very well done. Nothing is without a weakness, or some kind of ‘flaw’ that can be exploited. And the game certainly gives you a plethora of healing. So you’re usually capable of springing back from a bad fight.

Even the harder bosses in the game become manageable once you find a strategy that works for you. I spoke with some players about a particularly hard boss, and each person had a slightly different method for taking him out. Which speaks to good boss design in my eyes. He provided a challenge to everyone, while being able to be beaten with a variety of methods.

There are a few incredibly difficult bosses in Dark Souls 3. But looking at the entire game, I would say they’re is a decently smooth difficulty curve. Only a few spikes. Not including optional bosses.

Now, if you’re a fan of Dark Souls you’re probably interested in what’s happening from a lore perspective. And having finished the game, let me tell you that… So am I. I feel like I have a decent grasp on what the events of the game entail. But I can’t be sure for certain. It’s rather ambiguous. Or at least the ending I got was. I have my ideas as to what happened. But I don’t want to spoil anything.

There were multiple times during my playthrough that I thought I had a grasp on what was happening and then I would be presented with something that would rattle my understanding of the game’s lore. Dark Souls 3 is full of little nods to every game in the series. Even the Sony IPs, Demon’s Souls, and Bloodborne. Some overt, some subtle. But events, areas, enemies, and bosses all feel like a massive combination of every game into one “final” souls game. There are many times where you’ll feel like you’re playing one of the previous games by way of Dark Souls 3. Through their special use of vague hinting and convoluted story telling they make it all work.

A lot of times in souls games you’ll have this feeling of, “Why am I even doing this”. I think Dark Souls 3 gives the most lasting incentive, and your actions really do seem to cause ripples through the world. Everything feels like it comes to a head. But what comes of it, we’ll have to wait and see what the interpretations are.

Dark Souls 3 is exactly what you want from a Souls Game. Fantastic level design, great visuals, fun combat, well balanced, and great multiplayer. It’s really the full package. And it only took seven years worth of games to get here. I’m really glad that it did, and that I was able to go along for the ride. This is the first souls game since Demon’s Souls that I’ve really wanted to dig my teeth into. I feel like I’m going to be playing this one for awhile.

Dark Souls 3 is an amazing game, and you should definitely buy it– even if it’s your first souls game. It deserves to be experienced.

And if you’re into the multiplayer it’s the best it’s ever been! Invading has never been more fun. (I have changed my opinion, go read this.)

Although, on occasion, lag can be a real pain.

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