Dark Souls III Review By Marc Hollinshead, 11 Apr 2016 CommentsBack in 2009, the PlayStation 3 was host to a unique exclusive that asked players to overcome huge challenges and explore a dark and diseased world while dying a tremendous amount in the process. Demon's Souls, FromSoftware's début title in the acclaimed Souls series, paved the way for Dark Souls, where Xbox gamers got the chance to join in the fun of dying over and over again. Fast forward a few years, and Dark Souls has well and truly established itself as a set of games that aren't for the faint of heart. Dark Souls II split opinion in the community and has been said to be a weaker title in the series, but now that Dark Souls III is upon us, the third and last game in this series, is it a worthy final outing in the Dark Souls universe?For those who aren't acquainted with the world and lore of Dark Souls, you probably aren't alone. The games ooze tales of death, decay and despair and the lands that you explore are forever locked in this miserable cycle as people rise up in an attempt to bring forth a new age or prolong the age of fire. This doesn't even make a dent in beginning to explain the story of Dark Souls, and the cryptic way in which it is told continues in the third instalment. Item and spell descriptions reveal titbits of lore. Once you start to piece together what it means, it really is fascinating. Characters that you meet along the way also help to do this but, of course, only through extensive exploring and researching will you fully grasp the history behind linking the fire and the undead curse, amongst other stories. This method of storytelling doesn't appeal to everyone, but for the world of Dark Souls it couldn't be done any other way without ruining the brooding atmosphere.Dark Souls III is set in the kingdom of Lothric where only embers of fire remain and the world is struggling to hold it together as ash reigns supreme. You are the Unkindled One, set on a path to destroy the Lords of Cinder, characters who previously were destined to link the fire. This time around, the game is clearer, be it ever so slightly, in explaining the fire and what it means for this decaying world. Nonetheless, you are still left in the dark on a regular basis and only through experiencing more of the game will the bigger picture unfold. Despite the land's dank state, FromSoftware has created a beautiful looking game with Dark Souls III. Previous titles struggled in the graphical department but that's not the case here. You'll regularly find yourself looking out to glorious views. Blood will splatter from enemies as you strike, akin to Bloodborne, and it's definitely impressive. While graphics obviously haven't been the focus throughout the series, there are some stunning visuals here and some of the best set-pieces ever seen in a Souls game.Lothric may be decaying, but it still manages to look fantasticAs you journey through the game's locations, you will be constantly exploring every inch of ground that you discover. The Souls games have always put an emphasis on exploration and Dark Souls III is no different, placing treasure just out of reach or locking doors that entice you to search for the key just to find out what lies on the other side. Every area holds secrets of some sort and there is an ever present desire to uncover absolutely everything that you possibly can when coming into a new area. Coming back to a previously visited location will occasionally yield even more rewards if you search further and it's this exploring that makes Dark Souls III so enthralling as you play. Unlike the first two games, though, you only seem to be presented with one given path at the beginning of the game, and this continues throughout a lot of the locations, taking you from once place to another as you progress. It means that the game doesn't quite have the interconnected world of the original Dark Souls, and there is a slight linearity because of the way in which you just go from place to place, but you will still discover plenty of useful shortcuts and hidden paths throughout. This exploration is made easier through the use of warping from any of the game's bonfires, and it comes in handy when returning to the main shrine of the game where you level up and get general rest. This hub mirrors the rest of the world, being covered in ash and being inhabited by lonely and crestfallen souls. However, you'll regularly be wanting to come back here as the game gives you plenty of reasons to do so. Apart from levelling up and buying merchandise, you will find new NPC's setting up shop and telling you tales of their own lives. Ironically, it feels more alive than the likes of Majula in Dark Souls II and you'll find yourself wanting to make another trip there just to see what's new and if there are any new goodies on which to spend your souls. Don't be reckless around the Fire Keeper. You'll need her.When you aren't exploring the world, admiring the view or resting in the hub, you'll more than likely be engaging in combat. Fans of the series will immediately be familiar with this aspect of the game, evading or blocking and then only attacking when the time is right. Combat can sometimes feel faster and more fluid than previous games, though, as your character looks and feels less clunky when moving around the battlefield. Souls veterans shouldn't see this as a bad thing, though, as the mechanics are more finely tuned and so are more responsive as a result. A huge strength to combat in Dark Souls III is the weapon arts. As well as attacking regularly, every single weapon, when two-handed, can activate its own special skill. These skills can range from sharpening a machete for extra damage, charging with a spear or polearm for added aggression, or even engaging in a combo when wielding two weapons at once. It adds an extra layer to the somewhat heavy-handed combat and it can even help to turn the tables in your favour in some fights. Weapon arts use up a portion of the game's FP gauge, a new feature in Dark Souls. Sorceries, pyromancies and miracles now also function through this and special ashen estus flasks replenish the gauge. It's an interesting feature and is very helpful for mage focused characters. The fact that melee characters can also utilise the gauge with weapon arts means that it's useful for everyone. You don't need to partake in weapon arts if that's your wish, but it's still entertaining to experiment with all of the weapons that you'll acquire in the game, which are numerous in number.With these newly found weapon arts and combat mechanics, you'll be taking down the many enemies and bosses in the game. Oddly enough, and especially for fans of the series, the game can occasionally feel inconsistent with its difficulty, sometimes feeling easier than it should in some places. This could be more apparent for veterans as they know the ins and outs. Despite this gripe, the game still does a lot to pull you in and get you killed. Shields aren't quite as reliable this time and aptly timed rolls will most certainly be needed. This adds a regular danger element to the game and so you'll always be on the move. With all this in mind, there are fewer cheap deaths in the game and every mistake is entirely your fault. It feels like a fairer challenge while still retaining the overall theme of the series. The bosses of the game also present some brilliant fights. While some may be taken down only in a couple of attempts, every single boss is memorable and exciting. The game throws you into a boss fight merely minutes into the playthrough and from here on out, you are subject to some superbly executed encounters. Their designs are all unique and different, and they have interesting attacks and movesets to keep you on your toes. The best aspect of all, though, is the way in which every boss has a second phase. Usually halfway through a fight, the boss will change its attacks and add a whole new tactic to the fight. For us, this means that an unexpected death may occur, and our own tactics will have to be altered. The outstanding soundtrack helps to add passion to all fights, and the music intensifies when the second phase begins, which fuels adrenaline for the player. Many bosses are introduced extremely effectively, and a couple are even thrust upon you without warning to cause a sudden panic. The developers definitely eased the qualms of fans in regards to bosses, and they are easily one of the best parts of Dark Souls III.Be ready for something special whenever you encounter a new bossOnce again, covenants make a comeback in Dark Souls III but work a little differently. Instead of pledging your allegiance to one covenant through someone or something, you now gain an item that, when equipped, will be a sign of your allegiance after discovering it through various means. This makes this part of the game much easier to play around with. The same idea still applies, though, and so invasions, co-op and saving another player from an invasion will be part of playing with covenants. Unfortunately, the game's servers were not live at the time of play, so the online portion of the game could not be examined in greater detail.The Dark Souls games have always had a fairly uncreative list of achievements, but still ask you to play the game to the death (pun intended). Dark Souls III, as you might have guessed, shares this similarity and has a simple achievement list. Simply playing through will net you a decent amount because there are a lot of boss related achievements, but you will need to hunt down all of the spells as there are achievements for all of those. Whereas the previous titles needed around two and a half playthroughs, this will seemingly need three full playthroughs, because there are three separate endings to the game. This means a lot of death and a lot of time, so for something quick and painless, this is not what you're looking for in the achievement department.SummaryDark Souls is a bit of a "marmite" franchise in the gaming industry. While some absolutely loathe it, others adore it and can't get enough. The series had a rocky road with Dark Souls II and had some fans questioning design decisions, but Dark Souls III has reminded the community of why the series has the reputation it does. The game is an undeniable treat for both eyes and ears, and uncovering the lore as you explore the darkest depths is an experience that is unparalleled in many other games. The new FP gauge and weapon arts are great new features, aiming to excite new players as well as to help veterans to discover new ways of fighting, and these are used to great effect in the incredible boss fights. The game might stumble slightly on the way with occasional difficulty changes and linearity of some areas, but this will be quickly overshadowed by the many things the game gets right. It's a challenge that, when overcome, will invigorate your desire to keep going, and when you do, you will be glad you did. Prepare to die once again, Unkindled One. It's a dangerous world out there.4.5 / 5Positives Visually and audibly brilliant Boss encounters are memorable and highly enjoyable Weapon arts add diversity to combat Enthralling exploration Rich in lore Negatives Inconsistent difficulty Slight linearity in some areas EthicsThe reviewer spent 28 hours braving the kingdom of Lothric, gaining 16 of the game's achievements. He also saw the words "You Died" quite a bit. A physical copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.ReviewXbox One Written by Marc HollinsheadTo summarize Marc in two words, it would be "Christian Gamer." You will usually find him getting stuck into story heavy action-adventure games, RPG's and the odd quirky title when he isn't raving about Dark Souls and Mass Effect. Outside the world of gaming, Marc attends and helps out in his church on a regular basis and has a not-so thrilling job in a supermarket.