I have spent hours playing Dark Souls III. To be specific, as of this writing, the in-game counter puts it at just over 30 hours. I am, I both rejoice and fear, nowhere near the end of the game. Thirty hours and nowhere near the end of the game. In fact, I’d wager that I’m far closer to the beginning of my journey than I am to my end. And yet, while 30 hours isn’t enough to discuss the entirety of the story the game offers it is enough to be well aware of the game’s feel, to know whether it has been 30 hours well spent or 30 hours wasted.
The 30 hours in question are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, 30 of the best videogaming hours I have spent in a long time. They are 30 hours that make me want to spend another 300 in the world and to fear that said 300 will indeed be required before finish my time going after the Lords of Cinder. These Lords of Cinder appears to be the big five bosses in Dark Souls III, but I wouldn’t be surprised if doing the work of ending them winds up with the rug getting pulled out beneath my feet and something far different being required.
In short, this then shouldn’t be seen as a completed review. It is entirely possible that once I put in the 300 hours I will lament my ever having picked up Dark Souls III. That, at this point, seems like an utter impossibility, but it exists as a hypothetical and, should it occur, you can expect an update to this piece.
Dark Souls III will be instantly recognizable to any player of a previous Souls title (and this review will take it for granted that the reader is more-or-less broadly familiar with the franchise). While there is the addition of an FP (think magic) bar, the basic stamina and HP bars remain constant. There is no hollowing this time out – you can get a longer HP bar (until you die) by killing bosses (this longer bar is igniting one’s ember, which also allows you to summon other players), but once you die (and obviously you die), it goes away. It can be brought back using an ember (or killing another boss), but subsequent deaths without reigniting your ember won’t result in a repeated diminishment of your HP (thank goodness).
And now that I have delved into this change early on – one of the biggest changes from Dark Souls II, I can’t help but feel like I’m saying that any and all other changes are tinkering around the edges. The graphics are better. The world here feels so much more massive, the target-lock is improved, and the risk-reward calculations one has to make as to whether to proceed or go back can be stupendous (guess who lost 75,000 souls earlier this week?).
But then, it strikes me – while the land is different and there are tweaks to gameplay and there is a new story, Dark Souls III is very much the same as what has come before. It isn’t a reinvention of the wheel, but rather a precise calibration of it, taking everything that was learned from the first three games (because I’m counting Demon’s Souls) and melding them into the perfect Souls experience. It is painfully hard, but it is never hard without a purpose. It is painfully slow, but then you’ll zip along for 30 minutes without an issue. There are moments you feel as though you’re never going to pass an area only to find a little trick you missed previously.
This last is true of bosses as well. There is, quite regularly, a trick to defeating them. There is something you didn’t see at first and you will die a dozen times because you missed it but then, poof – stand in this spot and do that before running over somewhere else to hit something else and… you win, the massive, towering, creature goes down like a sack of potatoes.
And, that’s just one reason why Dark Souls III is great. You just keep plugging away over and over and over again. You despair that you will never find a way to win, and then, somehow, you do. The incredibly exhilarating feeling that comes over you at that moment, when the boss fades into oblivion, is worth every frustrating moment, every near win, and every loss of thousands and thousands of souls.
Another reason why it’s great is that it stays with you even after you’ve put down the controller. Every night for a week, I have lain in bed, eyes closed, and seen the game. I have run through a level in my mind, I have questioned my strategy approaching a boss, I have cursed myself for killing someone who was apparently a friend. And, yes, I have come up with ways to proceed that I didn’t see during the day.
Okay, so, I gush. I gush about how much I am enjoying my time getting my butt handed to me for forgetting—on my 15th time through an area—that there is a guy hanging on the ceiling who is going to drop down behind me. He didn’t get me the first 14 times through, I was ready those times, but on the 15th shot I put too much thought on the other baddie at the end of the hall, the one with the two spinning knives, and forgot about the guy on the ceiling. The easy guy on the ceiling who needs but two swipes with my sword before he turns to a puddle of goo. Not easy on this try. Not easy on the 15th time. On the 15th time, I’m the goo and I have learned my lesson (for the moment) and just love it as much as I hate myself.
If you have played and enjoyed the first games in the series, you’re going to love this one. Sure, you might dislike the hub where you can go and buy stuff and level up (if you’re not stupid and kill some of the folks you need), but it’s a quickly forgivable and forgettable thing (and I like it). Less forgivable is the ability of some baddies to manage to traverse the corners/edges of some solid walls, hurting you when it ought to be impossible. Perhaps we’ll get a patch down the line to fix that.
Even that problem, however, doesn’t diminish Dark Souls III all that much. It is a deep, difficult, all-consuming adventure and a game well worth the incredible amounts of time and effort it requires.
Dark Souls III is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox One and Windows PC.