PS4
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
List Price
$59.99
Amazon
$48.99 (18%)
3rd Party
$38.49
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
4.5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
4 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
4 Stars
Replay Factor
5 Stars
Bonus Content
3 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Dark Souls III

Street Date:
April 12th, 2016
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
April 14th, 2016
Game Release Year:
2016
Platform:
PS4
Publisher:
Bandai Namco
Developer:
From Software

Editor's Notes

PS4 disc version reviewed with full online enabled. This is the Day One Edition, which includes a CD soundtrack and a brief Prima quickstart guide.

Introduction

From Bandai Namco and the now legendary FromSoftware comes 'Dark Souls III,' which in a five game series that also contains last year's 'Bloodborne' and PS3 exclusive 'Demon's Souls,' represents its own special genre. These 'Souls' games are known for their challenge, their lack of hand-holding, their combat systems, their low-key lore, and their all-around unique style in nearly all aspects.

This time out, the player seeks to be the Champion of Ash, and in turn, must return the Lords of Cinder to their thrones. Any concerns over the cyclical nature of this existence will hopefully be extinguished once the rekindling has been done.

More importantly for some, this is the first 'Souls' game to be developed with the PS4, Xbox One, and PC in mind. On the PS4, that means sharing the stage with both 'Bloodborne' and 'Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin.'

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

For the third year straight, I find myself reviewing a 'Souls' title, and I think anyone reading this review should know how I reacted to the launch versions of both 'Dark Souls II' and 'Bloodborne.' Likewise, I want to point out that the first time I played 'Dark Souls II,' back when it was still far from shipping, remains to this day a high water mark for both my personal and professional game experience. I don't know that I've ever been as under the gun while playing a game as I was during those short hours, desperate to do well in order to see more.

Dark Souls III PS4 review

But that was then.

Post- 'Dark Souls' and 'Demon's Souls,' getting a taste of a new 'Souls' game early was a very special circumstance. Fast forward, and reviewing 'Dark Souls III' is a very different story. Three games in three years (plus DLC) has spoiled me in terms of the series' special qualities, while at the same time, lessening my desire to systematically pursue certain quests, bits of story, unique items and so on.

To be perfectly fair, my absolutely favorite part of these games is the early going. Before I get comfortable, when each enemy can end me, when each shiny piece of loot could be a big deal and when I dread stumbling onto a big doorway, or worse, some crazy, relentless enemy that I'll struggle to beat some 20-40 player levels from now.

Dark Souls III PS4 review

In 'Dark Souls III,' the rewarding challenge is often times, very much undercut by my past experience. A transforming boss? Typical. Opening up a shortcut? That means a boss is near. Found an Estus shard? I'll be warping back to Firelink soon. Large enemy mobs? There must be a dragon nearby, or else some exploding barrels. (In a similar way, annoying NPCs shooting at me from across the map or fake invasions require even less recognition on my part.)

What's worse, it's impossible for me not to see each courtyard, or parapet, or overly large enemy, and think, I remember this from 'Bloodborne' or from 'DS2,' or 'DS1.' And yet, 'DS3' let me be a pyromancer, miracle user, and a dexterous fighter. That kind of accommodation let me act more cavalier when it came to certain endgame type things. Crafting and questing, then, was more casual, and in some ways more automatic. If I had a strong feeling at a given a moment, I plunged on, damming the permasave consequences.

Dark Souls III PS4 review

In an even bigger surprise after 'Bloodborne's bell system, playing online in 'Dark Souls III' means that a ready crutch is always nearby. Every boss and every tricky area can be faced with multiple allies, who as it happens, often know what to do when I don't. I found 'Bloodborne' to be much a tougher adjustment for this shield user, and to be full of more drastic changes. Many of those special enemies have been folded into 'Dark Souls III,' and the combat is sped up but not to the 'BB' degree.

It's staggering to me that the developer still allows for coop players to swarm bosses, and I'm embarrassed to say that I faced multiple bosses just one time, with others online. If anything, I was tempted to hop into other games just to see the boss patterns and to see how haphazard we could be and still win. This is a far cry from 'Dark Souls',' where nearly all my online coop was covenant based.

Dark Souls III PS4 review

This more casual play on my part extended to other areas as well. Where in 'Bloodborne' I had to try each trick weapon, each gun, and nearly each consumable and costume set. In 'Dark Souls III,' I was content to mainly ignore all the advanced weapon maneuvers. I do really like the FP system with its dual flasks, and I like that there are some nuances to the weapons beyond what was in 'Dark Souls.' But like a smorgasbord, I took double helpings of what I wanted, and let what wasn't immediately attractive.

Dark Souls III PS4 review

This all likely sounds like complaining and dissatisfaction, but that's not intention. What I really do now playing these games is tap into a special part of myself that I honed years ago. I know that the next doorway is a likely ambush point, and beyond that visible enemy on the ridge are two who I can't see. That break in the railing is either a spot I want to try jumping off of, or it's another place to die. I know better than to hit that obvious NPC and possible merchant, and I know that I'll probably ruin his questline unless I do some wiki type research. If the boss is destroying me at long range, then I need to get close, maybe even haunch close. That enemy I just lost sight of? He's not forgotten me, so I better I keep my guard up.

And these are characteristics that I love and crave. I find 'Dark Souls III' special in the way that I once wanted from 'The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess,' and later, post GBA, from both 'Castlevania' and from 'Metroid.'

But yeah, I also know that the far off loot I can't get right now is either a crafting item (which I'll save), a consumable (which I'll also save), a trash piece of weapon of armor, or, in the very rare case, something I really want, like an awesome ring (love those four ring slots).

So then, what I'm left with, is a game which is a masterwork, and which has an experience that will endure even if played years from now. It's the best 'Souls' game since 'Dark Souls,' and I write that while knowing I can pick up 'DSII' right now and enjoy it. (Ditto, the more radical 'BB.')

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Since I clearly can't stop referencing the other 'Souls' games, I am very tempted to give 'Dark Souls III' the visual edge over 'Bloodborne.' I continue to be more taken with the more diverse fantasy setting, but it's not all good news. Certain things I didn't love in 'BB' make their return here, like the player's face and the excess clutter (which I have to role through at least once). Fortunately, there's no distracting drop in quality a la the Chalice Dungeons or various areas in 'Dark Souls II.'

On the PS4, the framerate can get unsteady in certain areas, but is still more stout than 'BB.' Happily, the load times (not to mention the mechanics of needing load/warp) are quite tolerable. The PS4 version is crisp, however, there can be noticable pop-in here and there. At its best, 'BB' is better demo material by a freaky nose.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

I think the sound of the game has progressively turned more bombastic over time. Nevertheless, I do enjoy the symphonic presentation apparent in 'Dark Souls III' soundtrack. In what cannot be a shock to series' veterans, the game plays very fast and loose with sound design. Small, weak, and recently dispatched enemies can still make one heck of a jarring racket. Enemies on the other side of a wall also tend to be on the loud side.

Here again, the performance issues that made for audio distortion in 'BB' were not on display here.

Both voice acting and the ambient chatter of enemies great and small is well executed. I admit that this time out, the main story's lore sounds a little too 'Mad Libs' for my liking, but that's not a fault of the voicework.

Replay Factor

Dark Souls III PS4 review

Simply put, the online performance thus far is the best I've seen in a 'Souls' game. I think the covenants are much more encouraging as well, and I think most players will dig playing with Mad Phantoms. The online accessibility alone makes for better replay value. I miss some of the quirkier ways of 'DSII,' but playing with the freedom and abilities in 'Dark Souls III' may make it hard to go back (not unlike truly ascribing to the rally system in 'BB').

The multiple endings are a plus in theory, but I'm not so patient about wonky NPCs. Trying different character builds and boss weapons and so on is a bigger draw in my eyes.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

The CD soundtrack is no sampler, and contains a full 25 tracks. In the past, I've found that the music blends in so well in the games while teasing certain tensions didn't translate to listening later. 'Dark Souls III's soundtrack has some legs in that respect, and I look forward to making it the soundtrack to other activities. (It's a nice inclusion to have without any kind of price increase.)

The little Prima starter guide is extremely basic, almost like a manual with a brief control/HUD explanation. It does mention FP, but that's all I noticed that might interest a veteran player.

Final Thoughts

'Dark Souls III' delivers. It scratches a special itch that only its developer has managed find. So while the bounty of 'Souls' games in recent years has spoiled this reviewer, it's impossible not to enjoy, and recommend the game to both new and returning players. In fact, only 'Bloodborne' players seeking that game's particular speed and setting may be an exception.

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Co-op
  • Online Versus

Motion Controls

  • No

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List Price
$59.99
Amazon
$48.99 (18%)
3rd Party
$38.49
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»

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