Dark Souls III Review
Developer FROMSOFTWARE and director Hidetaka Miyazaki - who returns fresh from his time on Bloodborne – are back with Dark Souls III, the latest instalment in the hard as nails series; which is available on the 12th April for the PS4, PC and Xbox One version (reviewed).
I was lucky to get access to the game early i.e. before its initial release date, though I must point out that I had the day 1 patch installed so this is the same version you guys will be playing.
Speaking of which the game itself roughly takes up 17GB of hard disk space on the Xbox One version I reviewed and then you have to add on the 1.1GB day one patch on top of this; which is a must! So if you have read any early reviews based on the bodge of getting hold of the Japanese version then take any criticism, score lines or whatever is mentioned in these reviews with a pinch of salt!
Of course being the third title in the series the game is supposedly setup for fans of the originals i.e. with the game's gameplay design following closely from Dark Souls II.
At this early stage I need to hold up my hands and confess that I have never played the previous two games, so my thoughts are from a unique (naïve) perspective here! Experienced players will most certainly be laughing at this point or uttering the words you poor poor man! Yep, its madness really, because I have had my balls literally handed to me on a plate during the 17hours of gameplay that I’ve amassed so far!
Then again while I’ve certainly made mistakes in my catch-up and I’ve died so many times that I’ve lost count, I would still say that from a newcomer’s point of view it’s a superb game that you can enjoy (albeit in between the moments of pain) even with the lack of background knowledge of the previous titles.
I suppose this is mainly because the storyline is done in drips and drabs (with a few cut-scenes here or there) in order to help you focus on the game’s core function which is the excellent combat system! I will pop back and discuss this in a moment.
Before you head into one the toughest challenges of your gaming year or perhaps life, there is a small process of picking your character’s class and appearance. I can’t quite remember which comes first but I have to admit to spending over 30 minutes fine-tuning my character’s appearance! Compared to Fallout 4 the number of customisation options seems vast and at first you would think totally unnecessary i.e. you can tweak your body mass, face colour, nose width and facial hair, the list goes on!
Yet it’s alarmingly addictive once you get into it and when you are going to die a lot in this game you certainly want to form a connection with your character and this is why I spent so long in this section!
Note: You can also save your customisation to apply to other classes.
With this being the third title in the series the class system provides a variety of choice. Interestingly all of them (bar 1) are equipped with a moderate skill level from the start i.e. the Mercenary is at level 8 and has a solid set of standard RPG attributes to begin with i.e. from strength to luck.
You also have a base level 1 class; a blank canvas, which I eventually ended up with (there was a reason for this) and all the attributes here are even across the board i.e. 10.
Each class comes equipped with various pieces of armour and defence shields, plus of course attacking weapons. With the exception of the level 1 character who has a mere loin cloth for covering his/her modesty!
I did originally pick the aforementioned Mercenary class to begin my adventure - because it matched my style of play - but due to my lack of experience I was forced to start the game from scratch and pick a different one! I'll explain all about this decision in a moment.
I’m jumping ahead of myself here, but I must admit that alongside your early look at character attributes you are also provided with a comprehensive list of stats - that you can access at a drop of a button - for various EQ items and weapons/defence items. Some of which you can buy/discover on your adventures.
At first this stat list seems pretty daunting for a newcomer, but thankfully after a fashion it proved easy to follow. For example they have colour coded system in place with stats in red showing which attributes are required to utilise a weapon or wear a piece of armour properly. You also get real-time comparison of weapons that you want to equip i.e. is it better or worse than your current item. Likewise you get stats on your resistance to magic, such as poison and fire.
There are various stat views you can tap into as well, so switch to a simple view to see your character on the right with the stats on the left.
I really liked the options on offer, mind you don’t look at these stats outside combat situations because the game does not pause while you are viewing them!
Learning on the fly
When you first start playing the developers have added a few markers on the floor, that you can read, which governs the basics i.e. moving, defence and attack. More experienced users will skip these, but for newcomers it kind of helps. Then again in the long run you are better off learning the hard way i.e. on the fly!
For example there were a few options, such as manipulating the equipment menu and doing basic jumps that took me a while to work out. No doubt experienced Dark Souls players will probably already know how jumping works, as you need to hold B down (or the equivalent button/key) used for dashing and then press the left analogue stick down to initiate the jump. Even so it’s not easy to master for newbies, yet it is a useful skill for reaching ledges that could contain a vital item that will aid you in battle!
New Combat Weapon Skills
Combat quickly follows and while it can be slow going to start with once you get into the dynamics of the one/two handed combat (including stringing combos together) it offers an extremely rewarding experience that keeps the game interesting despite having to replay sections over and over game; due to death or by choice.
Most of the combat is melee based (with ranged attacks being possible with magic or finding crossbows). However one of the new features of Dark Souls III is the weapon skills function, which at first I thought was tied into your attributes, but it turns out it has nothing to do with them.
Basically you normally have a set amount of combat moves (alongside a focus option which allows you to center on a particular foe), these can include lighter attacks, stronger attacks, blocks, swiping blocks, rolls and dash moves. Yet with the shield unequipped you can press the left trigger to activate your weapon skill set.
If we take the club for example this will boost the weapons damage by 10 or with the Katana sword you enter a Samurai style stance and from here can unleash some devastating attacks (albeit until your endurance runs out).
The offset here is the AI is superb (ambushing is also a speciality) and foes will sometimes back off from confrontation when you are in this stance or if you mistime your attacks you are defenceless and open to killer blows! So there is a subtle balance to combat which I had to learn the hard way i.e. knowing which combat type works best for each foe.
However this dynamic approach also makes the combat more enjoyable when having to re-face foes - which is a common occurrence in this game. By this I mean it feels as if combat is unique each and every time you play even though it technically isn’t.
My Reasons For Switching
Enemy classes also differ/vary depending on how far you get into the game, but even the basic set of foes can whip your ass at a drop of a hat if you are not focused enough on the task! Especially if they double team you or you make a mistake when circling around, blocking and so forth.
Anyway the main reason I switched from my Mercenary character was due my lack of experience with looking after weapons and of course discovering my first boss!
Boss makes me cry!
I’ve never played against a Dark Souls boss before and boy did it show. I made the mistake of using brute force attacks at first which subsequently got me killed within moments! You then have to retrace your steps back before confronting them again!
I did learn that your one area of defence here is the roll move, which I found allows you to leap out of the way of their attacks! Even so, the attack patterns do vary and the timing of each roll is essential.
Of course because I was dying so much I forgot to keep an eye on my weapon damage meter, so the primary weapon broke and while you can still use it the attack strength bottoms out! Which made the task of defeating the first boss almost impossible for my skill set!
At this junction and without giving too much away you will eventually discover bonfires which will automatically repair your weapons if you rest at one in time. It has greater uses later on such as offering the ability to store items, fast travel and attune magical items. Yet it does have a side effect (which you can use to your advantage later) in that it re-spawns all the enemies/bar the bosses each time you use it.
My weapon of course was beyond the help of the bonfire and while there are other ways to fix the problem I can’t really mention any more about this because it will give some of the game-play mechanics away.
Let’s just say I decided to quit the game and choose a different class. Now my thinking was to choose a level 1 class here as it had a strong set of attributes across the board and naively I thought choosing level 1 would make the gamer easier (hangs his head in shame), Wrong! The game does not give two hoots if you are level 1 or level 100 as the level only effects your attributes and not how much damage the bosses deal out. Though in fairness with improved attributes later on you can become a better fighter and your weapons can kill quicker.
Yet despite me being a loin cloth wielding bad-ass I did have a strong primary attack weapon and more importantly I had agility!
This helped a touch with rolling away from danger and with this skill, plus being more patient with the boss, after 4 hours of trying I got past it!