Dark Souls 3 reverses nearly every change made by Dark Souls 2 to deliver a game that is as direct a sequel, narratively and thematically and mechanically, as director Miyazaki will likely ever make. It also bears the influence of his PS4 exclusive Bloodborne, ramping up the slow pacing of Dark Souls with faster movement and more fluid animations for both players and enemies. The result is a game that still requires caution and patience, but weapons feel more satisfying to swing and enemies are all the more terrifying as they dash towards you with blades drawn.
Where Dark Souls felt fiercely, defiantly original and Dark Souls 2 felt scatterbrained in its attempts to cover new ground, Dark Souls 3 pays homage to the first again and again. At times this feels disappointing, retreading environments and enemies that feel familiar, but this theme of recursion is embedded deeply in the game. Lore is doled out in item descriptions and environmental storytelling and vague NPC dialogue, making it easy to miss. But when you grasp the history of this place and the purpose of your journey, understanding the ties to Dark Souls’ Lordran imbues the last hours of Dark Souls 3 with the greatest sense of majesty and meaning, of coming together, in the entire series.
Dark Souls 3 benefits greatly from newer console hardware, adding depth and beauty and scale to its familiar castles and undead settlements and hellish underground worlds. It’s the most grotesque and grandiose, with more processing power to fit more enemies into the world without performance drops. And it’s certainly the most player-friendly, amply doling out bonfires to warp between and return to. Again, like in Dark Souls 2, a tiny bit of the magic is lost, here. The world is intricate and hides so many secrets, optional areas big and small, but you’ll spend less time discovering honeycomb links between new and old.
It feels right for Dark Souls 3 to sit in the middle. It corrects mistakes and missteps and is absolutely the most fun of the three to play. It runs like a dream at 60 frames per second. Duels with knights are tense and exhilarating, mobs are balanced to be overwhelming but rarely unfair, bosses are breathtaking and creative. Changes to the weapon upgrade system and equip weight encourage more experimentation with builds, and the world is so gorgeous it compels exploration. Its NPC storylines are fascinating, though near impossible to follow without a guide. An action game everyone should play.
It’s just no Dark Souls.