The Souls series has had a lot of digital ink spilled over it in these parts. I was the lone fan of Demon's Souls until our good friend Andrew Gaskill came along and penned tens of thousands of words about that game and Dark Souls for us. His enthusiasm snared our editorial community, drawing in our own Locke Vincent and eventually Jason Love joined the fray in Dark Souls 2. The release of a Souls game has become a hotly anticipated event for us, and we always end up pre-planning characters and organizing co-op runs, streams, and the like.
Dark Souls 3 feels tailor made for players who fit our mold, but at the same time it’s probably the most accessible that the series has been. While the difficulty will vary from player to player, things like where you’re supposed to go, what items do, and how to solve environmental puzzles are made very clear.
While all of the games have always been thematically related, direct connections between any of them are usually found through the existence of similar equipment and factions; the nature of the series’ storytelling keeps a lot of that buried under the surface. Dark Souls 3 still does most of its storytelling through sparse NPC questlines and item descriptions but the connection to every other game in the series (including nods to Demon's Souls and Bloodborne) is front and center.
It’s appropriate that much of the Souls’ stories have been about cycles as this time around you’ll end up traveling some very familiar paths. Your character is referred to the Unkindled Ash and you must restore the Lords of Cinder to their thrones. There are very direct ties to the previous games and throughout your journeys in Lothric, you’ll cross paths with some familiar faces and places, although you might not recognize them at first.
For veterans, this can lead to Dark Souls 3 feeling like a bit of a greatest hits collection of the rest of the series, but it stands quite well on its own. I’d hesitate to call the nods to other games fan service, but it’s probably about as close to that as a Souls game possibly can be.
From Software appears to have taken the criticisms of Dark Souls 2 to heart - while the intertwining level design from the original isn’t quite on display here, the world feels a lot more connected and less linear, especially once you get further along. Bosses also have more complex mechanics, and most of them have a second phase which forces you to react and and adjust your strategy. This is evident from the very first boss in the game, which goes from a standard ‘beat this big-ass knight’ fight to a frantic fight a giant enemy who explodes from the inside of your original foe.
The biggest addition is the Weapon Art system - each weapon in the game offers an extra ability that consumes Focus Points, which also fuel your spellcasting and miracles. Most early weapons offer an alternate stance that you can unleash powerful attacks from, but some allow for self buffs, or even bursts of magic. Finding ways to mix Weapon Arts into your bag of tricks is a great way to feel more powerful, but as with all things in these games, make sure you aren’t leaving yourself wide open to a counterattack afterwards!
The standard Estus Flask that allows you to heal has a new twist - you also have an Ashen Estus Flask which refills your FP. An NPC at the Firelink Shrine lets you choose how many drinks from your flask go to each type. Feeling confident? Toss everything into the Ashen Flask and go nuts with spells and Weapon Arts.
The Souls games have always had very fun and rewarding co-op, but until the release of Bloodborne last year, there were always hoops you had to jump through if you wanted to partner up with a specific friend. Rejoice, for Dark Souls 3 not only marks the return of the password-based matching system from Bloodborne, it also removes the obtuse level/soul-based restrictions on who you can summon.
In most areas, you can summon up to two partners, but some areas will restrict you to one unless you meet certain conditions. My personal M.O. is to explore areas on my own, offer my services to players attempting bosses, then take the big bads on in my own game, but you should be able to find players near any bonfire in the world.
You’ll still need to be in Lord of Cinder (human) form in order to summon friends or NPCs for jolly co-operation, but you can regain it by either defeating a boss or consuming an ember. While in this form, you can summon friends and strangers, but you also open yourself up to having your game invaded by enemy players, a hallmark of the series.
As a general rule, the more dramatic the scenery, the more likely you are to find other players wanting to invade you. If you see a bridge with a stunning backdrop, you can bet that you’ll be seeing plenty of players who want to duel.
Covenants are still a huge factor in the multiplayer aspects of the game. Familiar ones like the Warriors of Sunlight exist for the cooperative-minded player, while others like the Mound Makers allow you to choose to defend your summoner (or backstab them at an opportune time). Revealing too much about the covenants can tread into spoiler territory, but rest assured - if you feel like defending other players or invading people who tread in certain zones, there will be a covenant for you.
Dark Souls 3 feels like a fitting ending to a remarkable trio of games. From Software says this will be the final Dark Souls game, and while I’m sure they’ll keep making games in this style, it’s going out on a very high note.
Locke’s Message (26 appraisals)
The co-op experience in Dark Souls 3 brings together everything FROM has learned since Demon’s Souls. Each iteration in the series has made it easier to join in jolly co-operation, both with random phantoms and directly with friends. My playstyle always utilizes the unique summoning aspect the Dark Souls series has relied on for nearly a decade. I’m eternally fascinated with the design choice of having random strangers invade, help, and asymmetrically communicate with the tools given in the series. Dark Souls 3 is no different and the streamlined summoning has made my time in awesome in Lothric, especially when I have a couple of my closest Sun-bros sharing the wonderment of discovery in this beautiful world.
Jason’s Message (5 appraisals, 23 fouls)
Beware of nostalgia ahead. Mike’s description of Dark Souls 3 being a kind of “greatest hits collection” is very accurate, almost to a fault. I didn’t get into the Souls series until Dark Souls 2, but I went back and played through a chunk of Dark Souls and all of Bloodborne. While it’s nice to see all of those titles recognized in the latest, at times it felt like nostalgia for the sake of it. At a certain point in the game, From Software seemed to be yelling, “you want Dark Souls?! FINE! HAVE SOME FRIGGIN DARK SOULS!” For me, nostalgia is a narrative device best used to move forward some new idea by invoking an old/familiar feeling in a different way. It’s the difference between looking at a photograph of a particular moment in time, and using that memory to color your current perspective. From Software certainly uses this opportunity to close out questions from the series, which for many longtime fans provides a feeling of closure and that’s not a bad thing. There are other times, though, where it feels like certain things exist just to be a nod; a thing to point to and say, “hey, they brought this back! Cool!” I suppose having everything old cycle back through for one last hurrah is only fitting given the the cyclical nature that’s been something of a hallmark for the series, but I can’t help but feel there was a missed opportunity to really twist things on their head for the finale.