Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Dark Souls 3 Review

I have pushed through a poisonous swamp for hours, I've died more times than I can count, I reach a new bonfire and see a large gateway guarded by poison inflicting monsters and two Dark Wraiths, I let them skirmish before I jump in to finish the job, but the Dark Wraiths won't go down easy. I separate one and defeat him quickly, but the other is much stronger. We weave in between each other’s attacks like dancers of death, anxiously swinging our weapons, using every tool in our arsenal to deal the final bloody blow, I prove stronger and he falls. However he was just a basic enemy merely testing to see if I was prepared for the true challenge, a fog gate stands before me with a boss enemy waiting behind it, ready to show me how truly weak and feeble I am. I prepare myself, take a breath, and step through, and after an amazing cutscene, find out exactly what I had to fear. This is just one example of what you will encounter in Dark Souls 3. To say this game is a masterpiece feels like an understatement, and even as someone who never played the previous titles I can see this game is the sequel this series deserves, a truly magnificent crescendo to a line of games that pushes whoever partakes its challenge to their absolute limits. This is not a game for the faint of heart. It will make you angry, it will make you cry, it will test your patience, but when you finally triumph, it will reward you ten fold for all that you have endured.

Dark Souls 3 is set in the fantasy Kingdom of Lothric, where there is a curse of the undead that has spread throughout the realm. The fire that had once brought the land peace and prosperity is now fading, and the Lords of Cinder that had linked the flames have abandoned their thrones and retreated to their own Kingdoms. It is your duty to hunt them down and return them to their throne, by any means necessary. This is all explained in the gorgeous opening cinematic that truly makes you appreciate the dark and dilapidated state of the world From Software has created. There is truly no happiness in the land of Lothric, and this is something you discover quickly as you journey through its lands. The game is graphically stunning, crisp scenery and colors despite the dark state of the world catches the eye quickly, as you navigate through the many areas such as swamps, kingdom walls, cities, dungeons, and more, they make every bit of it a sight to behold. The art design is where the visuals really shine. From the grotesque monsters, undead knights in shining armor, spine shivering catacombs, and numerous other beasts and atrocities lurking around every corner and at the end of every corridor, From Software shows an impressive amount of detail to every bit of Dark Souls 3 which is something I would love to see more developers learn from. Nothing makes you appreciate this more than climbing to the top of a tower or mountain and gazing out on the absolutely gorgeous landscape, knowing not only does it look breath taking, but more than likely you will eventually travel there. 

There are tons of shortcuts that not only will lead you back to a earlier bonfire to avoid traversing through the dangers you just faced, but intertwine the entire world, waving areas together and leading to completely different areas you have progressed though. The art and graphics aren't the only things to get this level of attention; all aspects have including the story. With multiple endings, tons of intractable NPCs with side quests and full quest lines, and tons of items each with descriptions helps unravel the tale of Dark Souls 3, and elaborate on what's really happening. One of the key things is that, like everything else in Dark Souls 3, nothing is handed to you. You can go through the entire game knowing nothing more than kill the Lords of Cinder, link the Thrones, and link the Flame. From Software leaves it to you the player to un-earth the truth behind the veil, which is ripe with lore for those willing to take the time to learn its secrets. It's something I appreciated when I played their previous title Bloodborne, finding new items and equipment and sifting through the item descriptions, hidden texts, and speaking to NPCs at the right time to learn more about the world and story. It is something that is really rewarding in a unique way. If you want to just run through the game and kill some bosses, Dark Souls 3 will satisfy you fully, but for those like myself who appreciates and craves a good story, Dark Souls has that in spades. You'll not only discover critical facts and details about the current game, but all the ones before it.  Even visiting familiar feeling areas that will make veteran players jump for joy (I'm looking at you Rowboat (Rory)(I hate saying his name)). One thing is a staple with this series, and that is there in no happiness in the land of Lothric. Death, despair, betrayal, suffering, and utter darkness await all who reside here, which is a path most games don't dare tread. 

In a world cluttered with media of designated heroes, villains, morals, and "the good guy will always come out on top", it's refreshing to see a title that is truly ambiguous. You never know who is good, evil, right, wrong, telling the truth, deceiving you, or even if you yourself are a hero or just another poor soul destined to be driven to the darkness that swallows this land and its people whole. This is something that draws me in to learn more about its story.  I want to turn over every stone.  I want to know every detail and what is the truth behind all truths, but From Software opts out of straightforward answers and instead allows the audience to draw their own conclusions. They truly believe the player to be intelligent, and respects that part about us all, allowing us to rack our brains and unravel the mysteries, as we believe them to be. This leads to a huge community of people creating fan theories and sharing them online, allowing all of us to exchange ideas and learn more about the title, I can safely say I know of no other game that has this type of community and I absolutely love it.

 Arguably the biggest draw to this title is the gameplay itself, and the immense challenge it presents to any who dare cross its threshold. This is not a game for the meek or weak willed. Dark Souls 3 will punch you in the throat, kick you in the face, and beat you mercilessly with absolutely no remorse. Dark Souls 3 is like an abusive relationship that we keep coming back to over and over again and no one really understands why, oh wait yes we do, because it's great. Dark Souls 3 is appallingly hard, but rarely fair, nine times out of ten if you die it was your fault. You didn't time your dodges correctly, you were over aggressive, to passive, allowed yourself to get outnumbered, etc. Now that's not to say there isn't some cheap deaths here and there, after all no game is perfect and Dark Souls 3 is no exception. There were several times a ridiculous attack from an enemy would connect that shouldn't have, or hit even though I dodged correctly, but these are so few and far in between (and I mean REALLY REALLY few and far in between). It never frustrated me too often. When you die however you do lose all your souls you have accumulated, as well as all enemy NPC's excluding a certain few respawning to give you hell a second time. Don’t fret now though, because when you do inevitably die all of your souls you lost are dropped at the location of your untimely death, allowing you to retrieve them if you can reach them. As terrifyingly strong as your foes that litter Lothric are, you are a force to be reckoned with yourself.  After all, you are the Ashen Champion. When you start the game you choose your characters name, ethnicity, looks from a deep customization system, your class, and a starter item. You can be anything from a valiant knight, a furious pyromancer, a deadly dual wielding mercenary, a powerful sorcerer, and many more. This not only allows you to get a solid start to your play style with proper armor and weaponry, but also allocates your starting stats accordingly. You can always shift your spec points via leveling up later on, but it's best to dabble with the starter classes and pick whichever one suits you best, because believe me levels are not something to waste. I personally started with the mercenary, a close quarters fighter with a pair of quick and deadly scimitars. Every weapon not only has a unique move set, but also comes with a weapon skill that adds a bit more depth that is new to Dark Souls 3. The paired scimitars I started with had the ability to perform a quick spinning slash with both blades, and when followed with a heavy attacked would perform a second spin that did even more damage that staggered or knocked back any foes who had the misfortune to be part of my onslaught. 

Dark Souls 3 also fused both the original Dark Souls and it's more recent title Bloodborne. With faster combat and more aggressive enemies, it allows you to play more defensively with a sword and shield, play back with magic, or be the aggressor yourself. This is something I really appreciated seeing as how not every situation required the same approach. I would consistently switch between watching and waiting for my enemy to make the first move so I could deliver a quick counter-attack, or rush down a lesser enemy to catch them in a stagger lock until death whisked them away from the battlefield. No one ever complained from being given more options, and this is something From Software has excelled at. You not only have a variety of play styles and approaches to any situation, but there is a plethora of weapons, armor, magic, and miracles for you to procure. Some can be bought from vendors, Most are found littered throughout Lothric, and some of the strongest are found on world bosses or even worse, the bosses themselves. All bosses drop their soul for you when they finally fall after bashing your head against the brick wall. These gift you with their weapon, armor, spell, or ones themed from them. One I currently use is a greatsword with a dagger that I can use to parry, but when I dual wield them I jump and use the dagger as an anchor as I spin and slash at the heels of all enemies in my vicinity.  Like a wolf prowling my prey always just out of their reach, but always in mine. All the weapons in this game are unique and cool in their own respective way leaving something for every individual to find and enjoy, and more importantly carve through the hordes of adversaries standing in your path. The armor plays a huge roll in the way you play as well, each one greatly enhancing damage resistance, magic resistance, poison, fire, lightning, etc., every piece is good for one thing or another. There are pieces of armor that are just better then others as you get further through the game, which is good as it adds another element that makes you really feel like you have progressed. 

This is also not a title you can sit for a half an hour and play for a bit, kill some stuff, and drop. This game requires long periods of time to push through and progress through each area, and since all enemies respawn when you rest at a bonfire or die, it takes a lot of patience and mental fortitude to get through. At the end, and sometimes even throughout, there will be a boss waiting for you to test all that you have learned thus far, and for the most part, they deliver. You will be faced with a teleporting sorcerer, demons, a gang of swordsman, giants, and many more. Think Shadow of the Colossus on crack and you have the big baddies of Dark Souls 3. These bosses are no joke, and I can clearly see why some say this is the hardest Souls game yet. In particular there was a boss that spawned additional look-a-likes that would attack you and sometimes each other, and once you think you have beaten him, his weapons light on fire.  Because a crazy fast and strong swordsman isn't bad enough, no NO that's too easy, let's give him fire too! From Software sure does love giving things fire, and you will discover this quickly as you face its many challenges. This made the less then stellar boss fights even more disappointing, I'm sure some were easier because of the level I was at when I faced them.  However, some were just downright easy, which is not what I come to expect from a From Software title. One in particular was horrible.  I faced a huge boss who struck fear into you the second you saw him. There was a special weapon you had to use to kill him, which literally downs him in four swings, it wasn't even hard to charge making this the easiest thing to do in the game to that point. This was the one moment I was truly angry with Dark Souls 3. All the anticipation I had waiting to face him, all the fear I felt, all the admiration for his design and mechanics felt wasted. Thankfully this was not repeated any more, and every other boss delivered on the soul crushing challenge I craved. The feeling of absolute satisfaction and true elation after downing a boss you have struggled with for so long is what really sinks its claws into you, and exactly why I got hooked on Bloodborne, and now Dark Souls 3. I have not felt a feeling of pure ecstasy from something other than a From Software title since I beat Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts back in 2002. A title that truly challenges you, your intelligence, your reflexes, your ingenuity, everything you have being pushed to the absolute limit and draws you to the very precipice of anger and fury is all given recognition when you finally see that "VICTORY ACHIEVED" text across your screen. No other title I have played in years has given me this feeling, and being able to share your water cooler stories with all of your friends who have faced the same challenges as you is an entirely awesome thing in itself. Sharing horror stories, tales of triumph, swapping strategies and character designs, and much more is something I haven't done since I played World of Warcraft. When you defeat a boss you also become embered, which can also be done using an item that increases your maximum health and allows online play. This allows you to recruit other players or your friends to assist you in your quest for glory. Be careful though, as this also allows other players to invade your world and hunt you down. Dark Souls 3 has an interesting PvP element, you can pledge yourself to one of several covenants, that can be changed at any time, and fight other players around the world. Some people even summon several players in certain areas and host "fight clubs" where you fight until you are defeated. You can also leave or read helpful notes that that will assist you in your journey, something that had saved me numerous times from well-hidden ambushes and pit falls. Some are even funny and clever, such as an item on a corpse hanging off a ledge with its backside facing you, with a well-placed note that reads, "finger, but whole.".

Dark Souls 3 offers a unique experience no other developer can offer, at least not at the quality From Software presents it at. This is not a game for everyone, it requires a tremendous amount of time and patience that not everyone can offer, but for those who are able, they are gifted with a journey unlike any other. The juggernaut series known as Dark Souls has received a incredible sequel and the best send off that I could possibly think of, one that make me want to go back and venture through the prequels I missed. If you are looking for a great game, a true challenge, or an amazingly dark story that sinks its claws into you and won't relinquish you until you have done all that it has to offer, then I beseech you, pick up a copy of Dark Souls 3. Now Champion of Ash, you are the only one that can return the Lords of Cinder to their abandoned thrones, so go, because the fire is fading, and the age of darkness is upon us.


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