It seems strange to be reviewing the third game of a series without having even touched the previous two. My main concern was that I wouldn’t understand what was going on story wise, seeing as this was meant to be the triumphant end to a trilogy, but the plot is literally nonexistent from what I can tell. I was told that the game would be a fun and teeth-grindingly frustrating challenge, and that is exactly what I got.
Now at this point, I would go over the story, but to try and do that at this point would be pointless. The game is not forthcoming with its story at all, leaving it to meander about the side whilst you steam through all of the action and beautiful locations. Here’s a rundown of what I think the plot is (Note: if you know anything about the games, this might be considered spoilers, but the fact I don’t even know if they’re spoilers just goes to show how obtuse this game is): You’re an unkindled(?) who has to go and kill the Lords of Cinder because they are blocking you from getting to some place of fire, and by killing them you can collect their ashes which allows you to go to a different world which allows you to stop the world ending. Notice how there are no names, no proper nouns that I’m sure I can use properly – this just goes to show how reluctant the game is to divulge its plot to you.
This doesn’t make the game ‘bad’ in any way though. You don’t need to understand the plot in order to enjoy the game, you’ll just feel like a passenger of a rollercoaster, rather than the pilot who knows what they’re doing. Of course, there quite clearly is a plot – grand events are happening around you, key characters come and go and react to your behaviour and the truly momentous boss battles all go some way to explaining who they are and what they do, the most notable for me being Oceiros, The Consumed King, a crazed, demon dragon type monstrosity that attacks you whilst begging to know the location of his “dear little Ocelotte”. It is a chilling fight where, although you don’t know the much larger framework in which this character existed in, feel the pang of guilt for murdering a beast that has lived such a tumultuous life. In fact this entire theme of despair and a world meandering around, expecting its demise is constant throughout. In several areas fractures have opened up the earth to reveal black bottomless pits below, rats constantly hassle you that have gone feral, with growths spewing from their bodies. The main enemy you’ll come across are skeletons and zombies, or possessed suits of armour. This is a world run amok, with no order, much larger machinations in power, forces of nature, that simply cannot be controlled or wielded. The world is just so beautiful though. Although destroyed be a cataclysm, what remains has been artfully crafted to a faultless point. Irithyll is of particular note: a snow peppered fortress, a once grandiose place that has been overtaken by evil spirits.
If you understand the basic drive of your character to simply fix this broken world, it answers a lot of the questions I had. Why did I have to put a bowl under a statue, that statue cut its neck bleeding into the bowl, then defeat a random boss that turns up, and then climb the ladder that miraculously appears? “Because you need to save the world”. Oh. Fair enough. This doesn’t make the plot “bad” as such (and make those inverted commas particularly exaggerated), it just means that at points you have to just go with what the game is doing in order to enjoy it.
Where the game truly hooks you though is just how technically deep that the combat mechanics actually go. The game is just as obstructive about this than it is about the plot. When you go to the level up screen, you are bombarded with numbers that make no sense. Why does “attunement” mean I can do more spells, but “intelligence” doesn’t? It’s impenetrable. If you’re coming to this game as a newcomer be prepared to do your research. Make sure you understand the importance of your Equip Load and what that does to your ability to dodge, and several other similar intricacies. And that’s just your character. Every single weapon is unique and that’s no exaggeration. Every weapon attacks at different speeds, some poke and some swing, some require two hands on a single hilt, and some come as a pair. It goes on and on. And on top of this, every weapon has its own special ability whether it’s sending out a long beam of fire or unleashing a speedy flurry of swipes. And further further furthermore, you can specialise in weapons, pyromancy, miracles or spells. Although the latter three all morph into one, they each control in different ways and do different things. My point is the combat is ridiculously difficult to understand. It took me until my second play through of the game to realise what parrying did and how to use it properly. But once you do understand it, the combat is incredibly rewarding. The highlights are most certainly the boss fights. Artfully crafted setpieces, each boss battle being unique. Each boss character as well as the way you have to fight them. Whether fighting a sweeping behemoth where you have to destroy its weeping abscesses, or a deranged priest wielding magical swords. But wow are they hard. And you will die. You will die a lot. You will rush into the boss fight on your thirtieth go expecting to win, only to die again. But the feeling of victory afterwards is one that can only be equated to pure ecstasy.
But if a boss battle is a little too much for you (which many of them were for a newcomer like me), then the multiplayer is a welcome element. Other players at the same place as you in their respective game can put down a summon sign which will appear in your world and through that you can summon them to your world to aid you through tricky areas and take on boss battles with you. It’s a genius way to bring the Dark Souls community together and the person gets rewarded for helping you too. It’s frankly perfect. What isn’t so great is that if you are “kindled” when you are playing through your game, a random person can invade your world, kill you and erase all the progress you have made up to that point. And in particularly heinous areas this is frankly ridiculous. Seeing as I played the game several months after it was released, I was constantly invaded at the least convenient times and each and every invader would completely destroy me. It’s a tedious feature that I didn’t understand the joy of until I was powerful enough to invade others. As soon as I was good enough to invade someone’s world and kill them, the sinister joy you get from backstabbing someone who was just about to complete a tough area is a reward that made me keep on doing it. So it’s a feature I’m torn on, on one hand knowing that I’ll die if I get invaded, but if I invade, you can bet I’m going to get a particularly sinister joy out of backstabbing a player.
This game is incredible. How everything comes together and creates an experience that is not only enjoyable but keeps you coming back is stunning. Seeing as this is the third in the trilogy, no doubt many of its flaws had been polished up in the previous two, resulting in what must be a Greatest Hits compilation for the games many fans. Even if you haven’t played any of the previous games in this trilogy, give it a try, but just be prepared for someone to invade your world and immediately push you off a cliff.