The flame has been reignited as extinguished time and time again for millennia, leaving the world covered in layers of fine, gray ash with each passing fire. A new, and possibly final, hero is born from this ash with the ringing of a bell, hopefully to end the cycle for good. Dark Souls 3 takes you through the new kingdom of Lothric, one that has been accustomed to the rise and fall of new Lords of Cinder – those who set out to seek the flame when the world begins to fade. It is a kingdom like Lordran and like Drangleic, yet there is more to it than those previous. It feels like the world is finally fading for good rather than for a subsequent time. Dark Souls 3 is the final game in this magnificent series, and not only does it build upon what came before, but expertly captures the themes of the previous games and brings them to a perfect conclusion. This Dark Souls 3 review will contain SPOILERS.
It is a story retold from the previous games – the hero fighting their way to the First Flame in order to make a decision and kindle or extinguish it. But this time there is a difference – a call back to those same cycles previous to it. While some may call that “nostalgia bait” I feel like it perfectly encapsulates the feel for the final chapter of the story. It reintroduces Andre who has been hammering away, assisting those Lords of Cinder to continue the cycle since the first one began. It has Seigward, a descendant of Seigmeyer, now not simply seeking glory, but seeking to uphold his pact to put a dear friend out of his misery. We once again visit Anor Londo, still shrouded in darkness as if Gwynevere’s illusion were just shattered, yet also now covered in mild frost and remnants of the abyss. The world is quite obviously the same world, with stories upon stories built onto it. It shows how there could have so easily been an intermediate game where Aldrich was the main presence, or another game where Irythyll was equivalent to what Anor Londo once was, or even where Ludleth, now frail and hushed on his throne, was a boisterous and formidable figure.
The lore is, as usual, steeped in mystery that can be explored to whatever depth the player wants. It could be the simple hero’s journey from start to finish, or one could uncover the melancholy backstory of each NPC, each boss, each area and how it relates to those past. There are factions built out of previous ones, new factions which add to the lore of the world’s downfall, spells and weapons which allude to different moments in worlds we have and have not seen. It is simply another beautiful trek into the mysterious world of storytelling FromSoft always tends towards, yet this time is succeeds even further due to the base it was built on.
The final moments of the main story are perfect in their own right. The Lords of Cinder, now seated or dead on their thrones, being burnt to ash, allowing the new chosen undead to once again access the First Flame. The Souls of Cinder’s being an amalgamation of all previous lighters of the flame is a beautiful and emotional last battle. Two of the endings are familiar, but there is now another brilliant one in which the chosen undead ascends to become the Lord of the Hollows, possibly signifying some change in the cycle or maybe only a momentary blip in what will one day even out and start again. And none of this is to mention the brilliance of the two DLCs (I’ll talk about them more below) which leave the series on an even more surprisingly brilliant note.
Dark Souls 3 seems to have taken notes from the success of Bloodborne‘s combat, now allowing for much faster and more aggressive gameplay as opposed to the previously slower defensive styles of combat, but forcing the player to fight carefully as if it is certainly still Dark Souls. Because of this, all of the combat mechanics feel familiar but improved. The game teaches you early on how to attack more and defend less or else you will be in for incredibly long fights with even the simpler enemies. It gives you more reasons to rely on backstabs and parries, to use item and player buffs, and to create a build that better balances certain aspects of combat.
Which, speaking of character builds, Dark Souls 3 has now simplified the leveling system. It removed any skill that in previous games would have gone completely unused (or caused regret if it were used) and narrowed it down into level types that are necessary. Weapon scaling, infusing, and leveling was also vastly upgraded and allows for more interest in experimenting with different weapon styles. The use of weapon art and the incredible care put into weapon (and armor) design has also made it more exciting to try out new weapons independent of how often they would end up being used.
The enemy design was also astounding in this game. From the more standard-type enemies, like the sewer centipedes and evangelists, to the NPC style fights, like Knight Slayer Tsorg and the trio in the Grand Archives, to the mini-boss type enemies, like Sulyvahn’s Beasts, the sandworm, and the deep accursed, almost all enemies require new and innovative tactics, are fun to fights, and are a joy to look at. The bosses themselves are also, by far, the best that the series has to offer. Out of the 25 bosses in the entire game, there are only two that I don’t care for, and only four I would consider less than great.
Finally, for the main game, the level design is also the best that Dark Souls has ever achieved. The kingdom of Lothric is a massive, gothic inspired castle and city, Irythyll is one of the most gorgeous places I have visited in any game, Archdragon Peak feels like an ancient forgotten land which has been untouched by the outside world, Anor Londo is crafted perfectly to induce both nostalgia and awe, and of course, the Kiln of the First Flame has one of the most original designs in a Souls game yet. There are of course some minor missteps such as The Road of Sacrifices and Irythyll Dungeon, but even these areas are above average and have their unique and enjoyable aspects to them. The world takes the verticality of Dark Souls 1 and the horizontal adventure style map of Dark Souls 2, and combines them to allow for the best of both. And of course, the views of the world, how you can see nearly every area you will eventually reach, is achieved to the highest degree.
The first DLC – a call back to the Painted World of Ariamis, now seemingly rebuilt and similarly overcome by a sort of plague. The world is beautiful, and ranges from vast snowy landscapes to infested towns to the cathedral littered with paintings and books. Remnants of Ariamis are hidden on the surface (the bridge leading to the main building) and deep below (Priscilla’s boss arena). The area has some wonderful enemies such as the tree women and Corvian knights, however, some iterations of the Millwood knights were a bit cheap (for example, when they shoot arrows at you while climbing down narrow roots) but that is a minor issue. The story unfolds nicely with the revelation of the painter attempting to create a new world due to the current one’s rotting away, similar to what was happening in Dark Souls 1. The lore that is hidden within this world (along with the next DLC of course) is some of the most dense and important lore the game has ever offered, and serves as the most effective way to understand the series as a whole. And finally, while there could have been at least one more boss, this DLC has in my opinion, the best and most challenging boss fight in any Dark Souls game, Sister Friede.
The Ringed City – this is the best and most important “level” in the Dark Souls series. It has two of the greatest bosses ever created by FromSoft along with another outstanding one. The enemies are all fantastic with the Ringed Knights and the Judicators being some of the more unique and fearsome enemies yet. The world is truly as beautiful as a game can get – with the first area building upon that upturned city structure of the Kiln of the First Flame, and the second area being one of the most expansive and mysterious fantasy cities I’ve ever seen. Both the base story and the hidden lore of this world, when tied together with Ariandel, reveal so many secrets of the entire Dark Souls cosmos but still leaves and builds upon mysteries that will never go answered. The finale fight with Gael ties all the games together; it brings back the concept of humanity and a dark soul, gives reason for the entirety of the series, and when defeating him and bringing back the blood to Ariandel, provides one of the few hopeful moments in the series’ history.
Dark Souls 3 easily takes the top spot in the trilogy for me. It has the best mechanics in terms of combat and leveling, the best and most well-designed areas, my favorite overall lore and story, the most fun and unique enemies, the most epic soundtrack, and in my opinion the most inarguable part, the most consistently brilliant bosses. With very few exceptions, every single aspect of this game took what was previously done and perfected it. Most importantly to me though is the sense of nostalgia and emotion it achieves. No other Dark Souls makes me tear up (maybe other than two specific NPC deaths in Dark Souls 1) as many times as this one does. It is beautiful how the game uses allusions, music, and area to evoke the memories you had in the previous games without relying on simply pure “nostalgia bait”. Dark Souls is likely one of my top game series of all time (and quite possibly takes the #1 spot), and this game not only perfectly caps of the series as a whole, but blows the rest out of the water.
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