After the messy but still great Dark Souls II, expectations for Dark Souls III were enormous. Hidetaka Miyazaki, the director of the first game, had returned to the series after finishing his work on Bloodborne and the marketing emphasised the finality of Dark Souls III, that it would be the final entry in the series. Given the level of hype leading up to its release, the question is how does it stack up compared to the previous two games and I hope to answer that today.
After a countless number of times lighting the First Flame, the fire is going out for seemingly the last time. Various Lords of Cinder have been resurrected but most reject their duty to kindle the flame. Instead, an Unkindled, an undead who failed to become a Lord of Cinder, is resurrected and tasked with hunting down the Lords and taking them back to Firelink Shrine by force.
As is the standard for the Souls series, the story is conveyed to the player through item descriptions, environmental details and little bits of dialogue from the NPCs. You will spend quite a bit of the first part of the game unsure of what exactly is happening and who certain people are but, as you continue to gather details of the world and its inhabitants, you slowly begin to see how everything links together and even begin predicting some of the places you'll go and the bosses you'll face. While the story and world are much stronger and more interesting than in Dark Souls II, I do confess that you don't really come across any revelations as grand or impressive as in the first game. Additionally, much of the story and lore of Dark Souls III is highly reliant on your knowledge of events from Dark Souls. While I've no problem with this personally as I played the Dark Souls series sequentially, I still think this is worth pointing out as many people may be tempted to begin with Dark Souls III due to several changes in mechanics but, if you want to appreciate the world and story, I'd recommend only playing Dark Souls III once you've played the original. It's also worth noting that this is the only Dark Souls game that features more than two endings, in this case four, with them not simply being choices you make at the end of the game but, instead, requiring the player to progress several questlines in order to be able to access. All of these endings are fascinating in their own way and, while it's obvious that people will have their own preferences, each leaves their impact and serve well as the ending to the series.
NPCs are a mixed bag for me as many of them feel quite shallow compared to the NPCs of the first game but I must emphasise that this game has one of my favourite NPCs of any game ever. Siegward of Catarina is basically Siegmeyer of the first game with the same armour set, personality and voice actor. Considering my adoration of Siegmeyer's optimism and light humour in the original Dark Souls, you can imagine that I was overjoyed to see him return, albeit with a different name, in Dark Souls III. However, the reason that I love him so much has to do with his questline. Throughout the game, you'll encounter him in various predicaments which you can assist him in. While worthy in and of itself by spending time with such a pleasant character and some surprisingly good rewards, the conclusion to his quest is one of the most memorable moments I have ever had in any game. Truly, I fully encourage everyone who plays Dark Souls III to do Siegward's storyline because it is simply a masterpiece.
While the core concept of the gameplay is the same as the other two, you dodge, you parry, you attack, the implementation of it has had an overhaul. Clearly developing Bloodborne, know for its fast-paced combat, had a great impact on Hidetaka Miyazaki and FromSoftware as they brought some of it to Dark Souls III. Movement feels snappier and attacks, both from yourself and from the enemy, are much quicker. While this may sound quite intimidating, it actually works really well and I'd argue that, across the three Dark Souls games, Dark Souls III has the best combat system. In addition to magic such as sorceries, pyromancies and miracles, Dark Souls III also introduces weapon skills which are abilities associated with equipment that you hold in your hand. Using one of these skills will cost Focus Points (FP), the same resource used for casting spells, and can prove to be very helpful in combat. Shields are also broken into shields that allow you to use the skill of the weapon you're using in one hand or shields that allow you to parry. While it's certainly true that these skills are not entirely equal with some proving to be much more useful than others, it's another great way for you to develop your character and a clever way for those who aren't interested in using magic to actually spend some time developing their FP.
The level design of Dark Souls III is quite interesting to look at. Compared to the original Dark Souls, it's a much more linear experience with only a few opportunities to break off and explore an area off the beaten path. However, these levels are beautifully constructed with plenty of exploration within each area rewarding you with new equipment, fascinating items, new bits of lore etc. While still implementing the teleportation system of Dark Souls II, something which would become standard in later FromSoftware games like Sekiro and Elden Ring, they still manage to find interesting ways to unlock shortcuts that help the player to navigate the levels more efficiently and, while they don't feel quite as impactful as in Dark Souls, it's still very satisfying to realise "Oh, now I can reach this area without having to go through all those hallways and enemies".
The Dark Souls series is known for its spectacular boss fights and Dark Souls III does not disappoint. Barring a few bosses which can feel a little lacklustre, the quality displayed in the boss fights is truly remarkable with excellent arenas that assist the player for those eagle-eyed, varied bosses that feel unique and different in both their visual designs and how they must be approached and help to expand the world with their rich lore. This results in Dark Souls III having arguably the best lineup of bosses in the Dark Souls franchise and serves as a benchmark for many other games to develop interesting and engaging bosses.
Multiplayer is quite similar to previous implementations with players able to summon others for assistance, invade others to take souls and trophies and leave messages for other players which may be either helpful or deceptive. However, Dark Souls III made various improvements such as being able to have six players in a session rather than just four, password matching which helps players to summon their friends if they wish to play the game cooperatively and a refinement of the covenant system which now allows you to switch between covenants on the go.
The art direction is utterly brilliant with some of the most memorable shots in video games I've ever seen. Additionally, the visual designs of bosses, enemies, NPCs etc. are truly remarkable. Additionally, the technical side of the graphics has had a drastic improvement with much greater levels of detail, even more stunning lighting and remarkably detailed animations which give subtle hints as to what the enemy is about to do. While it's true that the technical aspects of the graphics are still not on par with the most graphically impressive games ever made, it serves its purpose incredibly well in allowing the superb visuals and designs to stand out.
The music continues the Dark Souls tradition of being spectacular with it seizing the player's emotions in exactly the way that the developers want them to feel whether that be excitement, fear, awe, tragedy etc. I absolutely love the soundtrack and I was always excited to get to a new piece of music and regularly listen to the soundtrack on my own time.
I've debated in the past whether I like Dark Souls or Dark Souls III the most and, while I ultimately settled on Dark Souls due to the lore and level design, that shows how much I admire Dark Souls III. It's another masterpiece of game design and artistic vision from FromSoftware and serves excellently as the finale to one of the greatest video game series of all time.