My character stood atop a roof, peering down at a patrolling enemy. As I planned the best way to dispatch the hulking knight blocking my progress, a knot began to form in my stomach. Out of Estus Flasks, out of ranged weapons and nursing a health bar on the wrong side of fucked, no part of me wanted to continue, but something primal told me I had to. And it was in this moment, I realised just how spectacular Dark Souls III can be.
Coming as the finale (if you believe the hype) to the Dark Souls universe, Dark Souls III is a true testament to everything sequels can, and should, be. Fans of the series will feel quite at home in Lothric’s twisted and bloodied locales, while newer players can jump straight in and get as frustrated as the rest of us. Welcome to the party, pal.
As is tradition in Souls games, the story is cloaked in mystery. You’re awoken from your eternal slumber to track down the some pesky Lords of Cinder who’ve gone and buggered off from their regal duties. If that’s all the motivation you need, then you can be on your merry way through the land and sleep tightly happily ever after.
If you’re not adverse to a little digging however, then the lore goes deep. Pieces of dialogue may be seemingly mundane on the surface, but can have far reaching importance to the plot, so you’ll want to keep your ears and eyes firmly pinned to the screen.
Make no mistake, Dark Souls III will not hold your hand. It’s much more likely to hold your hands behind your back while kicking you repeatedly in the shins. Its uncompromising brutality will have you shaking your fists at the sky and screaming profanities louder than Samuel L Jackson at a motherfucker shout-off.
Though you may feel cheated by the punishing difficulty in places, it’s rarely ever that the game is unfair – it’s your fault for sucking. The sooner you accept these harsh facts of Dark Souls life, the sooner you can achieve that state of dodge-roll to backstab nirvana.
It is, however, completely possible to ‘git gud’ through repetition and careful planning – indeed, your progress depends upon it. Each time you die (and you will die many, many times) you learn a little more about your opponents and yourself, which pushes you to try just one more time to see what’s around the corner. It’s an addictive catch 22 that will keep you perpetually locked to the screen.
It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re in a feverish death-spiral, but taking the time to look around will reward you with a painstakingly put together world. The crumbling high walls of Lothric Castle, the sticky, sludgy swamps of the Crucifixion Woods to the eerie warmth of Firelink Shrine – this game will constantly impress you if you let it.
The main stars of Dark Souls though, are undoubtedly the multitude of enemies. The twisted, ghoulish creations that are queueing up to take a swing at you may sometimes look familar though. While there are admittedly a few re-skinned Bloodborne baddies, it never takes you out of the fight when you recognise an (un)friendly face.
The bosses too, are suitably unsettling masses of trouser browning material, and the game revels in throwing one at you barely 20 minutes in. The one complaint is that the bosses aren’t always as challenging as in previous instalments. Granted, newcomers will always find a way to struggle, but those familiar with the mechanics of the game will suss out moves and patterns pretty quickly.
Dark Souls is a very particular fetish. If you’ve been turned off by the other games, then 3 is unlikely to show you anything new to get you excited. If you’re a seasoned veteran or a fresh-faced squire with even a passing interest, then you’ll find more than enough to keep you hooked for at least a week or two.
Add in a healthy dose of challenging PvP, multiple endings and enough exploration to shake a Curse-Rotted Greatwood at, and you’re looking at a truly satisfying conclusion to one of this generation’s most enveloping games.