The familiar chorus of voices swirl into my room with a new aria of respect for the dead, and immediately I am filled with a variety of emotions that call for the sun from the pits of the dark underworld I am about to enter. I sat staring at the title screen through the entire song, and although this isn\’t a music review, I feel compelled to inform everyone that they should listen to the soundtrack.
Lothric. The ancient city of the lords of cinder calls to me. But not before I spent 20 minutes fine tuning my character I\’ll never see under his armor. I choose a pyromancer class, out of respect for the game and the world of ash and flame, it seemed fitting. I\’ve played a knight and sorcerer, and typically like to end up as a blend of those builds, so pyromancy\’s starter build seemed to hint at leveling that direction the fastest.
I awaken as the bell tolls in the cemetery of ash. The standard proving grounds for all new players to get their first taste of the controls and the game\’s unforgiving nature. I dispatch a few hollowed creatures before discovering a much larger Crystal lizard that shouldn\’t be messed with at my current level. It gives chase and I manage to escape with my life when I realize my fireball isn’t even scratching it’s hide. This is the dark souls I remember.
I easily dispatch some more hollows (lost souls with no direction or purpose) as I progress through the first area with my fireball and axe combo. It\’s easier than I remember, shouldn\’t I be getting destroyed? I suppose it is the training grounds after all. As I move forward, I come across a large knight with a sword in his chest unmoving. There\’s a door behind him that doesn\’t budge when I try to activate it. I debate for a moment and then take the only available option; removing the sword that pins the knight. It immediately disintegrates into dust once pulled. As he stands, I begin to regret my decision, and immediately get wrecked with the first swing of his massive spear.
\”YOU DIED.” This is the dark souls I remember.
I stay close to the knight on the next run, never getting further than 3 feet away. Rolling and then slashing as he recovered from his attacks. Halfway through the health bar he morphs into some disgusting rat king blob (which scared the s**t out of me), and I use the opportunity to hack him down to his last before he can deal additional damage to me. He dies. I stand victorious. My embers are restored, but I don\’t know what that means. Neat! I\’ve got a really awesome ember glow effect on my clothes, and I\’m loving it. This turns out to be Dark Souls 3’s version of restoring humanity. The effect of which can be replicated by consuming an “ember” item, which boost your health back to full effect and allows you to strengthen the bond between worlds. (Meaning you can summon allies for fights, or be invaded by those less friendly souls.)
Dark Souls 2 had a particularly punishing system for when you died. Not only did you lose all the souls you painstakingly accumulated through the levels (Hoarding them to spend was always a risk), you would also lose a percentage of your health bar\’s capacity, that made it more difficult to proceed. You might be able to recover those souls by touching where you died last, but the loss of life bar made it that much harder to get back to that area again. When it got too difficult or challenging to make progress, players could consume a rare item called a \”Human Effigy\” which would restore your human form – health bar to maximum capacity and provide a link between worlds that was stronger than before. This \”link between worlds\” would allow players to be summoned into other player\’s realms and help them make progress, or, invade another\’s world uninvited with the hope of killing that player and taking some of their souls and loot. The more you died without using a human effigy would bring your character closer and closer to becoming a \”hollow\” – a lost soul without purpose or direction. (Effectively losing the game).
Dark Souls 3 by contrast has removed the loss of health capacity on death, but maintains the loss of souls when you die, which has some gamers upset about the difficulty adjustment. I felt similarly until I started playing a few levels deeper than the start areas and became VERY appreciative of this change. Every time your character dies or visits a bonfire to replenish health, every monster you killed wakes back up (excluding bosses). Meaning if you managed to make a huge amount of progress clearing a path to a boss before dying, you\’d need to clear that same path a second time in order to recover your stash of souls. Now try doing that with minus 10% health on the second go round.
Players can still take advantage of a rare drop consumable item called an \”ember\” which will provide your character with a large percentage health buff until your character is killed, and strengthen the link between worlds. This item effectively replaced the human effigy from previous games. The ember also adds a pretty awesome glowing effect to your character that looks like you\’ve walked through a fire pit very recently.
Let\’s talk controls. The game plays tight and fast. Very responsive. The game has never been forgiving, and so I was unsurprised when I misstepped and fell off a cliff, or swung my sword too early and got punished for it. It\’s a game in which calm and collected minds are broken. The controls take some getting used to if you’re familiar with other sword bearing games. The bumpers and triggers control the weapons, shields and spell-casting catalysts you hold in your hands, whereas the buttons (on console) are responsible for item use and actions. Because the game plays so tight, there\’s never a moment where I felt that I was cheated into death by the game, it\’s always my fault. The game does troll you into making really big mistakes though, so watch out for that.
You die a lot. You lose your souls a lot. It\’s painfully slow going, and it\’s beautifully well designed. Dark souls has never been a game for those weak at heart. It\’s literally a slog through hell and I’m loving it. Unlike other games where challenges and difficulty of this scale create rage-quit storms of epic proportions, Dark Souls has always balanced that anger with great loot, amazing rewards for defeating levels and bosses, and an overall sense of accomplishment.
I found myself continually drawn toward the awful abominations that lurk in the deep underground crypts and decaying ruins of the world. There are a plethora of new creatures and hellish abominations roaming in the dark to give you waking nightmares for weeks to come.
There are a few very distinct differences between dark souls 3 and dark souls 2. The first of which is that you have a mana bar. As opposed to specific spells having their own usage meter or indicator of how many uses are available, your mana depletes at a rate related to your intelligence and faith. Basically this equates to me dumping loads of points into intelligence so that my pyromancer can lob 10 fireballs instead of 5 before having to refill the bar.
A unique mechanic to this game is the change in the way characters regain health. In prior dark souls games, your character could either drink from a flask of glowing golden \”Estus\” that is automatically refilled each time you sit at a bonfire, or, consume a \”life gem\” that would provide a small health boost for a few seconds and slowly refill your health bar. In Dark Souls 3, the Estus flask is still available, but life gems have been removed from the game, meaning no additional ways to regain health other than drinking from the flask or sitting at a Bon fire. Estus is limited, so this adds a level of difficulty to the game that previously could be overcome by buying 500 life gems with souls before a difficult Boss fight.
You may refill your mana bar by drinking from an Estus flask as well, but instead of the Estus giving you both mana and health, in Dark Souls 3 there are two flasks. You may either place all your Estus into healing, meaning no mana refills during your adventures, or you can take some (or all, but that might be a questionable decision) and split your uses into the mana Estus flask. You can only alter this layout with the blacksmith in Firelink Shrine (the main hub), meaning you\’ll need to determine how best to proceed before venturing into the deep.
There are several new consumables, as well as a huge variety of new weapons and abilities to take advantage of. Similarly, the merchants have all gotten an overhaul, and once spoken to or helped when found out in the wastes of Lothric, will teleport back to the Firelink shrine so you can visit all of them in one central location. Each merchant also has the ability to buy your items as well, which for those of you unfamiliar with the series is a HUGE change. In Dark Souls 2, there was only 1 merchant in the entire game who could buy your items, and he was found in a dark corner of a dark level. If you missed him, or mistakenly attacked him because he was standing rather close to enemies that did attack you, he would grow hostile, and once killed never re-spawn. Meaning you get stuck with a huge inventory of junk that you could have pawned for more souls and resources. I suppose the developers determined that might be a tad difficult, and removed that factor from this game.
Overall, Dark Souls 3 has some of the most amazing boss fights, the most glorious battle mechanics and just generally feels badass to play. It\’s the kind of game that when you go up against a dragon, it feels like you made a terrible mistake. When you kill said dragon, you feel unstoppable. I can\’t tell you to go out and buy this game without first telling you that it\’s really difficult and not everyone will enjoy it. I\’d recommend watching some YouTube playthroughs (skip ahead so you don\’t spoil the story for yourself) to get a feel of the kind of game that it is. If you played dark souls 1 or 2 and enjoyed them, you absolutely will love this edition. If you felt that those prior titles sucked or were too hard for your liking, this game will likely feel the same to you. But IF you enjoy a challenge, and IF you enjoy feeling like you accomplished something when you game, then definitely pick this up.