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SummaryBe sure to bring more souls!
The GoodI don't know about you, but I'm steadily losing interest in modern games. I'm sure that there are many great titles out there, but most of them feel like flashy cinematic exercises to me; I just wish they'd shut up and let me play without feeding me gimmicks at every corner and holding my hand through the process. No wonder the indie industry is flourishing now, with their nostalgic games that bring back memories of yore.
Dark Souls was a straw I was grasping at to make myself stay involved in modern gaming. To me, it was a recreation of old ideals, but one that took full advantage of modern technology - a deep, challenging, massive game that demanded to be studied and understood, just like old games used to; yet one with an excellent modern 3D engine that made one of the best action combat systems around possible.
Then came Dark Souls II, which was more of the same; and now, Dark Souls III, which is... more of the same. I know, this is milking the system, exploiting the formula, etc.; but I really don't care when the formula is so good. I have to admit, I was weary to try the new Souls after I'd been told that it didn't add anything at all to the concept and even was simpler and more linear than the previous games. Well, the first of these statements is certainly true; but I don't think that the second one applies. Dark Souls III feels exactly like its two predecessors: gameplay-wise more similar to the second game (having a safe "hub" area and teleporting bonfires), atmosphere-wise more reminiscent of the first.
I don't think it's a more linear game - it starts that way, but deceptively so. After the prologue, Dark Souls III displays the same attitude to level design as the other games in the series: it's all about meaningful exploration. Each area is beautifully complex, full of different paths that may or may not lead to your eventual destination. You can skip not only segments of a level, but even entire stages. There are generous amounts of optional battles, including bosses; secrets, shortcuts, and what not. It is a pleasure to just run around the game world and study its intricate geography.
Dark Souls III has a plethora of options concerning character customization - there are interesting weapon affinities to attributes, magical damage and resistances, weapon range, speed, and combos, etc. to consider. I feel that there is a certain bias here towards regular swords, because fighting with other, heavier weapons led me to quicker doom more than once - but perhaps's that's just me. What is certain is that the game lets you experiment all the time. Constant trips to the Firelink Shrine result in long minutes of contemplation staring at the menus while the indispensable blacksmith Andre politely waits for our decision.
The joy of discovery and the joy of gradual progress - both of those cardinal psychological building blocks of role-playing games are captured magnificently in Dark Souls III. You clap your hands when you narrowly defeat a horde of vicious scythe-wielding undead and reach a trembling hand for that precious Esper upgrade. You get that warm, fuzzy feeling when you spot a cozy bonfire nested between a yet-impossible special enemy and a poisonous swamp. Dark Souls III is neither condescending nor unfair; it's just challenging, demanding to be taken seriously.
Combat is somewhat faster than in the previous installments, and feels even more vicious. Enemies are relentless and hit very hard - dodging and blocking is absolutely indispensable. In particular, the bosses have become more merciless than ever before. They now have two forms, the second one being more unpredictable and brutal. You will die in this game; you will die a lot. But all the frustration is somehow worth is. Nothing can compare to the feeling of triumph when you defeat a boss during your twenty-first trip, because you've finally mastered his patterns and your defense - or, perhaps, because you are a cowardly RPG player who prefers to overlevel rather than train his non-existent reflexes (me! me!).
Like before, the atmosphere of the game is incredible. Dark Souls III is set in a sinister fantasy world that conveys resigned desolation and unsettling horror at once. Whether on the sunlit streets of an abandoned city or in a damp, skeleton-infested castle basement, you are surrounded by enchantingly dark, melancholic imagery. There are many absolutely spectacular vistas in the game - especially the panoramas that you are exposed to at tower tops.
The BadThe guys at From Software are a stubborn lot. Just as they used to press on and on with their criminally overlooked King's Field series, they keep pushing variations on the same soul-collecting theme with impressive regularity now. However, each subsequent King's Field brought something new to the table; not so with Dark Souls, whose installments resemble each other like Chinese pop singers. I feel like an ungrateful bastard when I voice this complaint, but I do believe that three times is enough, and hope that the next installment of the series will be more innovative.
Don't get me wrong, I love Dark Souls III, but I still think they could've tried a tiny bit harder. The game is not larger or more intricately designed than its predecessors; it doesn't feature any genuinely fresh ideas; and its conservatism can get a bit irksome. Also, they still have those console buttons representing every command, forcing you to figure out which key might represent the "A button" in a tutorial. I know, this is bitching, but I've already typed that in.
Of course, it also goes without saying: the game is brutally, cruelly hard. You have to dedicate all your time and effort to it, just like you used to do with those ultra-tough games of the past.