“Only embers remain…”
Dark Souls 3, the latest and assumed last in the series from From Software, is an action RPG set in the fantasy world of Lothric. With Hidetaka Miyazaki back at the helm after his ferociously well-received Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3 attempts to resolve the seemingly boundless narrative that has spanned the previous two games with an almost lethal dose of nostalgia. You play as a ‘Champion of Ash’ whose purpose is to defeat the Lords of Cinder; powerful beings who created the world you explore. Imposing landscapes stand between you and your quarries – ashen moors, ruined citadels, miasmic swamps and forgotten crypts. The variety of enemies and bosses throughout these environments will test you even further.
The Dark Souls series, along with its predecessor Demon’s Souls and Victorian era cousin Bloodborne, is renowned for its storytelling, deep gameplay and tough-but-fair difficulty. Dark Souls 3 remains faithful to this. The gameplay is brilliant – every weapon is swung or fired differently and is equally capable of felling the savage beasts of the game world. Each of your many deaths, however costly, seems deserved and an opportunity for improvement. Every completed boss fight is a genuine triumph and every new environment an explorer’s Christmas. The multiplayer capabilities present throughout the series are at their best here – connections with cooperators and invaders are consistent and there is even more room for chaos with the ability to allow up to five other players to enter your world. Environments are beautiful and weapons and armour, for the most part, are a joy to equip.
Dark Souls 3, visually and mechanically, is a treat, but the soul of a Dark Souls game is in its story and the rich lore supporting it. Each instalment of the franchise has the same basic plot – the light of the world is fading and must be rekindled, else dark consumes all. In each game, a seemingly unfamiliar land experiences the phenomenon in a very familiar way – either through similar NPCs, zones or bosses. These epic stories are told not through audible exposition but the subtle details of the game world and the descriptions of items found within it. A generic corpse found in a cave is given a name, life and purpose by the items and enemies found around them.
While Dark Souls 3 achieves this level of detail and depth, it lacks the magic of the previous games due to its reliance ON the magic of previous games. Fan-favoured characters make inexplicable returns alongside blatant copies of weapons and bosses and recycled locations from not only the Dark Souls games but Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne as well. Some of these inclusions are charming and could be justified by their story significance but it gets to a point where one wonders what new material Dark Souls 3 brings to the table; what it can offer outside of its predecessors. As the probable final instalment in the series, a degree of fan pandering and reminiscence can be expected but in a gaming landscape as barren as the present – a series with a track record like Dark Souls’ can and should offer more.
Regardless of any untapped potential, Dark Souls 3 is a pleasure. At worst, it is more of the same rich gameplay offered by its prequels and at best, a loving finale of one of the greatest series of games in history.