This review contains spoilers
It took me a long time to truly appreciate Dark Souls III.
Admittedly, it is not nearly as good as Dark Souls I, but that's saying a lot since I am still giving it a 10/10 score. On the other side of the coin, it isn't nearly as divisive and unique as Dark Souls II was. III is a rethread/combo of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, in that it references and incorporates multiple aspects from DS1 with an aesthetic reminiscent of what you would see in Bloodborne. In no way am I saying it isn't unique in some aspects, but the influence of the success of those games is definitely felt all throughout.
The gameplay is not much different from past games. The 30fps restriction on most consoles adds to a bit of jankiness, but overall the menuing and navigation feel the best they've ever been. When it comes to challenge, I feel like Dark Souls III stumbles in some aspects. I do see how the game might be easy for players of the past games, as the combat we have mastered has not changed much, but there is room to criticize the over-abundance of checkpoint bonfires. Some bonfires are so unecessary that they could be taken out and the game would be better off without them. Overall, the gameplay is more of the same but with more room for customization and experimentation, which I welcome albeit not at the cost of challenge.
Dark Souls III almost feels like the peak of the series, and not necessarily in quality but in ambition and themes. Although I vastly prefer DS1, I have to admit it does outshine its predecessors in themes, narrative and imagery. The world of Dark Souls III is one of sickness and fire, with disgusting monstrosities at every corner, some unwilling to fight in a world where nothing is worth it anymore. You are the only hope for this world to thrive, and if you are as thematically involved with these games as I am you will slowly realize that you are merely perpetuating the cycle that has led the world to so-called "peace" that permeates the world with sickness and death. All of the bosses represent this sick and painful world, with some not even fighting you at first and others bestowing upon you the weapon required to slay them.
It's all topped off with the best DLC in the series, that only adds to the already beautiful and vast land of Lothric. The atmosphere and world design feel like a blend of Bloodborne and Dark Souls I with not much interconnectedness and a lot of linearity but with beautiful landscapes and excellently designed enemy encounters. The music and art just add to the beauty, with some of my favorite areas being Irithyll of the Boreal Valley, The Painted World of Ariandel and the Ringed City.
This is a section of the review with spoilers as it details the final boss of the main game of Dark Souls III.
Your entire journey through this sick and terrible world reaches its climax with a battle against the Soul of Cinder. Your final obstacle is no dragon, monstrosity or giant, but a duel with a knight. You recognize he fights in a way very similar to you, and performs moves that other classes possess. The music swells up as you seem to defeat him only for him to raise his blade a final time and challenging you, as the boss theme for Gwyn from DS1 plays. Albeit, not subtle, it is made clear that Soul of Cinder is an amalgamation of everyone who linked the First Flame. In other words, everyone that throughout the Dark Souls series completed the ultimate challenge. You are fighting the Chosen Undeads, you are fighting all of the players, you are fighting... yourself. The true ending comes as you finally defeat the Soul of Cinder, and considering the state of the world perpetuated by this cycle you decide to let the flame die out. Humans reject change and some are even terrified of it, but sometimes we have to let go of the past, accept change and move on.
The fire fades... and an age of ash begins...
I don't really know what they tried to accomplish with that combat. As simple as Dark Souls 1's combat was, it was still engaging through its weightiness and the fact that the enemies attacked slower in general. In Dark Souls 3 everything is amped up except the combat mechanics remained as simple as it was in the first installement. So what you end up with is kind of an aberration that doesn't know what it wants to be, you have a more elaborated moveset at your disposal but the way the encounters are designed doesn't let you use that efficiently as one over-extension by trying to be fancy will end in a death more often than not. Instinctively the player will want to backpedal, bait an attack and then counter with simple R1 mashing or a R2/Weapon Art if the window is big enough. Rinse and repeat until the game is over. Same for the bosses, their moveset, the damage they deal and the speed of their combos will make the player play very defensively until it's safe to push R1. That's fine and dandy except the defensive options in DS 3 are very limited, if you don't use a shield to block/parry, all the player is required to do is either run around or abuse the generous i-frames by spamming rolls and this no matter what attack the boss tries to do. Overall the combat feels very one-dimensional and weirdly floaty, only the patterns of the enemies make things engaging in a subpar rhythm game kind of way.
not bad but doesn't have the level of creativity the non-DS2 titles have. lots of areas and bosses that'll make you go "yeah, that was okay" but don't do a whole lot on their own to stand out and aren't super memorable as a result, aside from the ringed city. also i might be crazy but i thought it was a lot uglier than the first game.
Pai Nosso que estais nos Céus,
santificado seja o vosso Nome,
venha a nós o vosso Reino,
seja feita a vossa vontade
assim na terra como no Céu.
O pão nosso de cada dia nos dai hoje,
perdoai-nos as nossas ofensas
assim como nós perdoamos
a quem nos tem ofendido,
e não nos deixeis cair em tentação,
mas livrai-nos do Mal.
Deus livre todos dessa maldição
Remember when people who don't really watch movies but are very vocal about them anyways claimed that the Star Wars prequels were a disaster and literally ANYONE could do a better job? And remember how terrible what they were asking for actually was? Welcome to the sequel trilogy of the Dark Souls trilogy. Also, the netcode is literal malware. Don't buy this.
I honestly didn't expect any game in the Souls series to surpass Dark Souls for me in large part due to an awareness that the most compelling aspect of that game, its rich, deeply interwoven world that is so well realised that it sears every corner of its map into your memory, is something I wouldn't again find in quite that form in any of the other three Souls games.
Dark Souls III knows it can't really compete on those terms, so instead does something completely different. It accepts a more linear path, much more linear than any of the other three Souls games by a fair margin (though still with a great deal of exploration to engage in within each individual area, never sacrificing the sense of intrigue, mystery and discovery), and engages in this style with intent; Dark Souls III is the most narrative of the Souls games, taking you on various emotional and thematic arcs in your journey across this waning land, arcs that can only exist with as much potency as they do thanks to the game knowing the order everything will be seen in. Rather than trying to be what the other games are, Dark Souls III gets it is best to be something proudly distinct.
The obvious retort here is how can you say Dark Souls III is interested in being something distinct when it has such a deep attachment to the past, bringing back so many places and characters from former games, how can that be consistent with all these references that are littered everywhere. But again, just like with the game's more intense linearity, Dark Souls III ending up this way isn't due to being lazy or cashing in on the success of the Souls series, this is intentional. These references are serving a very particular effect. In its dying days this world is crashing in on itself, colliding with other worlds, time and space becoming unhinged as this age approaches its final moments, and these echoes of former games, so many of them off-putting or bizarrely, indescribably nonsensical, are the most unsettling way to make this felt. There are so many moments where these references put a smile on my face, only to be followed up with the feeling that it doesn't feel quite right, this sense of unease creeping up on me.
The feelings this game engenders are so intentional, and so powerful, and I think thematically it ends up being the richest, most fascinating entry in the series as a result.
Even beyond all of this, beyond all the ways the game's seeming weaknesses somehow act as marked strengths, and beyond the depth of emotion found within all of it, Dark Souls III is also just fun. It is the most refined of the four Souls games, learning a lot of lessons from what came before it. There's still some amount of arcane nonsense that is hard to ever really work out on your own, secrets within secrets, but importantly this stuff doesn't touch the actual mechanics of the game of the game so much anymore. In terms of understanding how to play the game Dark Souls III ends up being the most accessible of all the Souls games and is all the better for it, with a bunch of quality of life features present also that manage to make the game more pleasant to engage with without ever compromising the game's emotionality or sense of fascination.
Dark Souls III has easily the highest floor of the Souls games, with a level of consistency that is wildly unheard of in the series. Meanwhile the high-points for me rank as the very peak of the series partly due to the stellar art direction, partly due to the game taking Dark Souls' macro-world design and trying to apply it on a more micro-level to fit within this linear approach (everything about the design of the Cathedral's map is just a work of art), and partly because Dark Souls III's increased sense of narrative spreads to boss fights also making so many of the best fights into actual stories packed with emotion, awe and fascination, with the mechanics of these fights complimenting the stories being told so beautifully.
It's genuinely amazing to me how Dark Souls III manages to all at once iterate and develop on what came before it in a way that fully understands it could never exist without these earlier entries, whilst also keenly charging forth as something so different from these earlier entries, boldly and unapologetically.
tedious & overlong (same with DS1, needs to be about 20 hours shorter), I wish it did more to set itself apart from the first game, and Undead Settlement & Irithyll are the only memorable areas. core gameplay loop rules pretty hard though, so it's fine.