Game Review: Dark Souls 3: The Fire Fades Edition

Alan Stock Alan Stock
Expert Contributor
July 22nd, 2017

I'm a lover of travel, photography and video games, from the UK. I have worked in the games industry and very passionate about games and their design. Never get bored of them!

Price:
Superb

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On July 22, 2017
Last modified:July 22, 2017

Summary:

A deep, challenging adventure that will test your skills to the limit, but is full of wonder and personal triumph. Fans of previous Dark Souls may feel a little let down by the familiarity and callbacks, but as a stand-alone game, this is a fantastic experience.

Price:
Superb

Reviewed by:
Rating:

5
On July 22, 2017
Last modified:July 22, 2017

Summary:

A deep, challenging adventure that will test your skills to the limit, but is full of wonder and personal triumph. Fans of previous Dark Souls may feel a little let down by the familiarity and callbacks, but as a stand-alone game, this is a fantastic experience.

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Dark Souls 3: The Fire Fades edition is the Game of the Year version including both DLC expansions; Ashes of Ariandel and The Ringed City. It’s available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Alan Stock, a newcomer to the series, has to “git gud” in this review for ComiConverse.

Game Review: Dark Souls 3: The Fire Fades Edition

Firstly, fair warning. To do justice to a huge, deep and complex game, this will be a long and in-depth review, mostly spoiler-free. I’ve put nearly 180 hours into Dark Souls 3 and so I have a lot to talk about. As a Souls newbie, I have a fresh perspective on the series. I didn’t play Dark Souls 1, which became a multi-million selling hit with a rabid fanbase, or the less revered Dark Souls 2. I did however, try Demon Souls, the first Souls game, years ago - which I found clunky, obscure and very difficult. I gave up half-way through out of frustration. This experience put me off Souls for good, until a friend persuaded me to try Bloodborne. Also by developers From Software, it’s the same formula but with a new setting and a faster, more aggressive playstyle. I struggled with the difficulty, but I was hooked. After finishing it, I decided to give the Souls games another chance. I was recommended Dark Souls 3 as a good entry point to the series.

Dark Souls 3 High Walls of Lothric

CreditL: From Software

Dark Souls 3 is an adventure RPG focused on combat and exploration. You play as an undead “Ashen One” in a dark fantasy world, fallen to decay and chaos. Your mission: to rekindle the flame that holds this world together. To do this, you’re tasked with taking down four Lords of Cinder, essentially gods, who are introduced in a stylish opening cinematic. The world of Dark Souls 3 is huge and unforgiving. You will die many, many times, even standard enemies can easily kill you, deadly hazards and ambushes are commonplace. You’ll make progress inch by inch, encountering new, complex environments riddled with secrets and shortcuts. They’re populated with hostile creatures, from the humanoid to the monstrous. Frequent and notorious boss fights bar your path; extremely challenging tests of skill and endurance. Like all Souls games, the plot and NPC interaction is on the surface unintelligible, and it’s down to you to piece together the stories for yourself and interpret what’s really going on.

Dark Souls 3 Abyss Watchers Intro

Credit: From Software

From Software learned well from creating Bloodborne - technically and artistically Dark Souls 3 is a marvel. Loading times aren’t oppressively long, which is good, because you’ll be seeing a lot of them when you die repeatedly. In the game there are virtually no loading screens except when you die - in theory you could run from one end of the world to the other uninterrupted, aside from all the pesky things trying to kill you. Dark Souls 3 looks gorgeous and I was continually wowed by the environments. It has some great reveals where you emerge from interiors to be rewarded with jaw-dropping landscapes where you’ll stop just to soak in the view. Up close there’s a lot of detail and smashable clutter, although it’s not as considered or plot relevant as Bloodborne. The game’s atmosphere is superb; art direction making even the grotty areas appealing in the right way, and good sound design adds the right air of isolation or menace. Enemy and boss designs are strong with striking appearances and memorable animations.

Dark Souls 3 Deacons of the Deep closeup

Credit: FromSoftware

Dark Souls 3 gives you plenty of options in developing your character to fight these horrors. Defeating foes gains you souls, a currency which can be spent on items, or to level up your stats. There’s a huge array of weaponry, spells and armour to collect. Weapons include daggers, swords, pikes, huge hammers and specialised dual wielding weapons, all of which can be upgraded. There are bows and bombs for ranged combat, and spell casters have sorceries and pyromancies accommodating a variety of playstyles. Most weapons have a 2-handed stance which allow for different move-sets, and a new introduction to Souls is weapon skills, which add special attacks or abilities to almost every weapon in the game. The depth and variety is truly impressive, mastering weapons and spells takes time and skill and can radically change your combat experience.

Dark Souls 3 Dragon Greatshield

Credit: FromSoftware

The traditional Souls character build is to equip a strong shield which can withstand most attacks, and a sword or heavy weapon for attacking. This is still one of the most viable and easy options to go for, which encourages a passive, conservative playstyle. But From Software have also made a more aggressive, risk-heavy Bloodborne approach feasible in this Dark Souls - where rolling or parrying avoids damage, instead of just holding up a shield. Spellcaster’s experience can vary - some magic is powerful, but in some circumstances, especially for boss fights and multiplayer, you can feel very punished. Long wind-ups on attack spells, slow projectiles and the need to sacrifice healing for mana make a caster playthrough a much harder challenge compared to the “sorcery = easy win” days of Demon Souls.

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Dark Souls 3 Pyromancer Flame

Credit: FromSoftware

The amount of combat options here is great, it encourages experimentation and repeated playthroughs of the game on New Game+ to try out different equipment, playstyles and character builds. Unfortunately though, like other Souls games it’s easy to inadvertently hobble yourself by spending souls on the wrong stats for your build. With prior knowledge from other Souls games, you probably have a good idea of how best to develop your character and what playstyles and weaponry work for you. For new players though, it can be very confusing, and many core aspects of the mechanics, like gem upgrades stat-scaling, are poorly explained - or not at all. That’s fine for players experienced with the game from multiple playthroughs to provide variety and depth, but not for fresh meat. I played as a pyromancer, but I didn’t know how to spread my stats properly and ended up underpowered. It’s possible to re-spec your stats from a hidden NPC, but only a limited number of times, even then, you may not even know how. I’ve always had an issue with this mechanical obtuseness in Souls, and it’s still an issue five titles into the series.

Dark Souls 3 Character Class Selection

Credit: FromSoftware

 

The malleability in character build and kit affects how difficult your Dark Souls 3 experience will be. The first byword to Souls games is “difficulty” - it’s a series known for its punishing, “take no prisoners” approach. Enemies hit extremely hard, often fatally so, and the environments are filled with hazards, devious monster configurations, ambushes and bosses. You have a limited number of health potions to complete a section of the game. You can refill these at bonfires, the game’s checkpoint system, but doing so revives all the enemies in the area. Any souls you got from defeated enemies are dropped at your location of death, and you’ve one chance to fight your way back to that spot and retrieve them, or they vanish for good. It’s a nice risk/reward system; you decide when to press on holding many souls, or when to call it quits and warp back home. But a Souls player expects to die, it’s drilled into you from the start. You progress by learning from your mistakes, finding shortcuts, collecting items and fighting enemies repeatedly until you know how to tackle them efficiently. You will die, a lot.

Dark Souls 3 You Died Screen

Credit: FromSoftware

Having played Demon Souls and Bloodborne, I knew the difficulty would be high. Apparently, this game is even harder than Dark Souls 1 and 2, and yes, I found it tough most of the time. In places it’s totally brutal and seemingly impossible. Some fans of the first Souls games bemoan the increased challenge, saying it’s gone too far. At times I definitely agree with them. However, once you understand the flow of the game, you learn to accept the difficulty. Despite it, you’ll make slow but steady progress. There are multiple systems to give you a helping hand, if you think to use them. You can go exploring elsewhere and return to a challenging part stronger - maybe levelled up, or wielding new, better equipment. You can learn where the enemies are and how to fight them better each time, or use different tactics.  Once you know the level layouts you can run past foes to progress faster (in some areas this is actively encouraged) -  you don’t have to fight everything. You can also use ember items to extend your health bar and summon in allies, in the form of NPC or co-op players (more on this later). Yes, Dark Souls 3 is hard, but you usually feel you’re making some headway, and getting to each bonfire when you’re out of healing flasks is supremely satisfying.

Dark Souls 3 Forest Swamp Crab

Credit: FromSoftware

The difficulty and combat mechanics are well introduced in Dark Souls 3 though the first area, with weak enemies who hit hard. It cumulates with a challenging boss - only about ten minutes into the game - which can kill you in a few hits and who you must face alone. At first this is a big shock, but it does a really good job of teaching you the fundamentals. Dodging, reading attack patterns, getting you used to the idea of dying to learn, and persevering to defeat a foe which, at first, seems ludicrously hard. It’s also somewhat of a safety barrier - if you really can’t beat this boss; it makes you too angry, or you can’t make progress against him, then maybe Dark Souls 3 isn’t the game for you - but at least you knew early on!

Dark Souls 3 Iudex Gundr First Boss

Credit: FromSoftware

 

As I mentioned, the difficulty can vary quite a bit depending on your character build, and it’s here that the balance somewhat breaks down. Some sections and enemies favour ranged characters, or alternatively can be a nightmare for someone without a good shield, large health pool and solid armour. I really struggled in places that shield/great sword characters breezed through, but found other parts easier thanks to my long range fireballs and a spell which turns enemies into allies. The Souls meme of “git gud”- taunts made to people who moan about Souls difficulty - falls especially flat in this title. Your failures could be from any number of factors; poor skill, your character build, your level, a lack of range, slow weapons, no shield, not parrying, weak armour, over-encumbered, lack of upgrades, wrong tactics, elemental weaknesses - I could go on. With so many factors at work, figuring out where you might be going wrong (without just grinding souls to level up) can be disheartening and confusing. Often the challenge comes from your character setup, rather than the encounter, but knowing how to fix it isn’t clear enough.

Dark Souls 3 Spider

Credit: FromSoftware

These difficulty factors also apply to the bosses. Notoriously hard in Souls games, in Dark Souls 3 they’ve have been turned up to eleven. They come in many flavours and encounter types range from “puzzle bosses” to huge monsters or fighting multiple opponents at once. Presentationally they’re a triumph, with epic arenas, stirring intro cutscenes and action accompanied by an explosive orchestral score. The best bosses to fight are usually the humanoid ones, which not only look cool but have attacks that are easy to read. Others bosses can be immensely annoying, especially huge ones like dragons and demons, where camera issues, off-screen attacks and difficult to read movesets can drive you to insanity.

Dark Souls 3 Boss Ancient Wyvern

Credit: FromSoftware

These bosses can be real show-stoppers for some players. Most of them have very large health pools and can kill you in one or two hits with some attacks. Many are super-aggressive with long, devastating combos, or huge area of effect attacks. Often there are only tiny windows in which to heal, and you’re often punished for doing so by being attacked as you’re locked into your potion-chugging animation. Most bosses have a second stage where they become more aggressive and have expanded, deadlier movesets. Or worst of all, their health bar refills for a totally new encounter - classic Dark Souls “screw you, player” moments. If you die during a final stage, you still have to beat the first stage again. The bosses are certainly spectacular and very satisfying to beat, especially if you manage to do it alone, but you need to have a great deal of patience and perseverance if you’re struggling. It can be incredibly frustrating when one mistake can mean death. To add insult to injury, when you die you’ll respawn at your last bonfire, but inexplicably most of them are not positioned right outside the boss arenas. If you die, you must endure a loading screen and then a run through part of the level before you can even try again. This becomes maddening for hard bosses, though thankfully in the DLC expansions they usually corrected this flaw.

Dark Souls 3 Ashes of Ariandel Final Boss Sister Friede

Credit: FromSoftware

I killed almost all of Dark Souls 3 bosses solo, mainly out of stubbornness, just to prove I could do it to myself. But with my weak pyromancer hero, who could die from one or two hits from a boss, it often took twenty to fifty attempts to beat them. This could take hours. One, the notorious “Nameless King” (widely considered the hardest boss in the base game), took me about 5 hours to beat, partly because the fight takes so long. To defeat bosses alone is all about learning their attack patterns, dodging or blocking at the right times, and only attacking when you have a safe window to do so. Although it often made me furious and fed up, usually the pay-off of huge personal triumph was worth it. These battles require intense concentration, observation, skill and timing, and made me feel like I’d earned my reward. Sometimes I’d have no health potions left, a sliver of health remaining, and manage to dodge multiple deadly attacks before striking the final blow - heart pumping, adrenaline surging. This is the rush that attracts many players to the series, for good reason. There aren’t many games in my long gamer history that I’ve been so challenged by or had to focus so intensely, but that’s what makes it so rewarding.  

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Dark Souls 3 Phantom Boss Fight Dragon King

Credit: FromSoftware

It’s possible to summon in NPC or player helpers, called Phantoms, in Dark Souls 3, and this many of the bosses much easier (and fun). Co-op give enemies and bosses more health, but the main advantage is that allies provide a distraction, giving you breathing space to heal up, or get in extra attacks. Bosses can even be a walkover if you have a particularly good player helping out. Co-op prevents most bosses from being total roadblocks (though some are still very hard), but it’s disappointing and frustrating that for solo players, and certain character builds, the boss fights can be so punishing. Some of them seem explicitly designed with co-op in mind, but the game should fairly accommodate both styles of play. It’s also a shame that after victory, you can’t resurrect bosses to fight them again for fun, as you could in Dark Souls 2 - although at least you can help out other players with bosses in co-op.

Dark Souls 3 PVP Multiplayer

Credit: FromSoftware

Dark Souls multiplayer is a strange, complex, but brilliant affair. At this late stage in the game’s life-cycle though, be warned that most players will be much stronger than you in both skill and gear. Prepare to die in PVP encounters if you don’t have backup. Like other Souls titles, players can join covenants which allow for different multiplayer interactions. These can be switched at any time, not tying you into being a “bad guy” or “good guy”. The most basic form of multiplayer is through summon signs. Players who want to help others as Phantoms in co-op (to beat areas or bosses) can leave a shining rune on the floor. Any player who has used an ember item (which increases your health bar to maximum size) can see those runes, and use them to summon Phantoms into their world. NPC characters can also be summoned in this way, so you don’t have to be online to get help. Co-op play’s great fun, and the Phantom gets a reward if they help the host beat a boss. Communication is all done through character emotes, which removes the language barrier and is a great laugh to boot.

Dark Souls 3 Invader

Credit: FromSoftware

The next layer is invasions. A player who has used an ember item, or just beaten a boss, gets a bigger health bar and becomes a “Host of Embers”. Although doing this lets you summon friendly Phantoms, it also opens the door to be invaded at any time by hostile players. They’ll teleport into your world - enemies don’t attack them - then they can try to take you down for a reward or just the sheer fun of it. Invasions are great, adding fun and tension to normal playthroughs. You can’t use bonfires whilst an invader is present so there’s no easy way out, you have to deal with them to progress. Invaders often avoid outright duels and instead will use the environment and enemies as their shield, ambushing you at the worst moments or trolling in imaginative ways. There are also NPC invaders who tie into the side-stories and drop unique loot.  It’s fun to play as an invader too, but don’t expect much success due to the Dark Souls 3 “police”.

Dark Souls 3 PVP Invader Outnumbered

Credit: FromSoftware

Some covenants are defenders, who will automatically be pulled into a Host of Ember’s world if they’re invaded. These players get a reward for killing an invader but fail if the Host dies. This is great when you’re the Host if invaders are spoiling your fun. But multiple “police” can be automatically summoned in quick succession, and the Host might also have other Phantom helpers. This makes invasions extremely difficult as there’s a maximum of two invaders allowed in one world, often facing double their number. This makes the life of an invader a hard, if fun, challenge. In previous games, invaders could make life a nightmare for players but they’ve swung too hard in the other direction in Dark Souls 3. The imbalance has put a lot of players off invading as it’s just too hard to win those battles, which is a shame.

Dark Souls 3 Farron Watchdogs Swamp PVP brawl

Credit: FromSoftware

Things get really hectic in two specific areas where players can join covenants to defend those zones. When players enter them, defenders are summoned to their worlds automatically. Anyone not of their covenant counts as an intruder, whether that’s Hosts, Phantoms, invaders or the “police”. This can make for some great multi-man brawls with new players constantly being summoned in to join the fray. Finally, the most fun covenant is the Mound Makers. This hard-to-find covenant is a wild card - you can summon these players to your world but they have no affiliation and they’re also unpredictable. They can help you or fight you. They’re great if you want to add some spice, they might be a great help or attack on sight, or they could assist you through a level, and then randomly kick you off a cliff with the next bonfire in sight! There’s also an active PVP (player vs player) community with organised “fight clubs” and a multiplayer DLC arena in Ashes of Ariendal. The gear in the game has been balanced for multiplayer and there’s a surprising amount of depth in the game’s combat mechanics. This makes a lot of different builds and playstyles viable in PVP and it’s good fun, although not for the faint-hearted. Overall, the multiplayer adds a great deal to Dark Souls 3 and its smooth and clever integration into the single player experience is a stroke of genius. Play offline and you’ll miss a great part of the Souls experience.

Dark Souls 3 Lothric view vista from High Wall

Credit: FromSoftware

Dark Soul’s 3 world design is more linear than Dark Souls 1 or Bloodborne - a branching structure rather than the complex, shortcut filled hubs of those games. There aren’t as many “ah-ha” moments from clever shortcut placement either. Still, although you don’t have as much route choice, the spectacle and sprawl of the areas are impressive. They’re themed around the usual Souls fantasy staples - ruined settlements and castles, forests and poison swamps, mountain tops and dungeons - all in varying states of decay and corruption. Levels are huge and dense, with lots of hidden secrets and little side paths. The individual level design is often excellent, with devious enemy placement and memorable set pieces throughout. There are stumbles with difficulty spikes and annoyances at times, but they’re mostly a joy to discover and scour in detail. The views are incredible and like previous Souls games you can spot far off landmarks you know you’ll visit eventually, and trace your own route. It really helps the world feel like a consistent space.

Dark Souls 3 Funny Message

Credit: FromSoftware

Whilst exploring, if you’re playing online, you can see bloodstains on the floor which show the ghosts of other players in their final moments. These are sometimes useful to warn of upcoming hazards and sometimes just plain funny. There are also notes left on the floor by players with helpful, or trolling, comments. These can offer advice, make amusing observations or perhaps will just wish good luck or leap with joy at beating a boss. Of course, they’re not all innocent, they might lead you off a cliff promising “try jumping, treasure ahead”, or the classic troll “illusory wall ahead”, as you trust it only to smack your sword off yet another solid wall. If someone up-votes one of your messages whilst you’re playing, you get a real-time health refill, a nice little touch which has saved me more than once. And you’ll come to appreciate these messages, because Dark Souls 3 and its DLC has some of the most obscure hidden paths, quests and puzzles to date. Some major optional areas and bosses can easily be missed without the help of player messages or guides.

Credit: FromSoftware

NPC’s can be found at your home base and around the world, and their quest lines are often extremely convoluted. This isn’t new for Souls games but Dark Souls 3 takes it to a whole new level. It’s certainly designed to reward multiple playthroughs, but it’s frustrating on a first run for many NPC’s to wind up dead or their quests failed because, for example, you joined a covenant out of curiosity, or didn’t backtrack to an area you cleared already. The increased levels of obscurity in the game as a whole is possibly an acknowledgement by From Software of the large Souls community. They quickly uncover all the secrets and hidden lore and share them with the world. Dark Souls 3 is one of the few games where you can read guides or ask on forums for advice without feeling guilty. Online collaboration and knowledge-sharing to progress in the game and uncover its secrets is an accepted part of the experience. For players who don’t want to resort to this kind of help, they’ll likely miss a lot of what’s on offer here unless they play through multiple times.

Dark Souls 3 Greatwood Boss

Credit: FromSoftware

This obscurity extends to the story, which is probably Dark Souls 3’s weakest point. In Souls games, the plotlines have always been deliberately vague. NPC dialogue and cutscenes are at first incomprehensible nonsense. Relying just on them and the environments alone will usually leave you in the dark about the story. What’s really going in Souls games is instead pieced together by reading item text descriptions, which provide snippets of plot, and applying that knowledge to everything else you’ve learned. Environmental storytelling is also used to great effect once you have an idea of the events at play. After discovering all these, much of the stories, subplots and characters can be figured out, with deliberate gaps remaining left open to interpretation.

Dark Souls 3 Item Description Aldritch Ring

Credit: FromSoftware

In Dark Souls 3 though, the lore in general is a bit of a mess. Aside from one noteable boss who’s well developed throughout the game, there’s far too many story gaps, conflicting themes and contradictory information, making lore detective work largely hopeless. You might not care much about the story, but it plays a big part of Souls appeal for many players - who feel let down Dark Souls 3. With other Souls games, Youtubers and fan theorists have mostly “figured out” their stories (or at least have plausible theories). But in Dark Souls 3 the loresters agree that much of it simply doesn’t make sense or isn’t explained well enough. It’s not helped by the “converging worlds” premise of the game, which can make the game’s areas seem disconnected from each other and adds confusion to the chronology. It seems that “too many cooks spoiled the broth” when it came to development - there’s many similar ideas, visual motifs and connections in the story that are never properly explained and only serve to muddy the narrative waters. I was confused about much of the story and the characters in the game, even after doing plenty of “detective work” and theory crafting. In Bloodborne, I managed to figure out most of its story this way, but Dark Souls 3 lore is frustratingly messy and unsatisfying -  rare misstep for From Software who are usually masters of storytelling.

Dark Souls 3 Firelink Shrine

Credit: FromSoftware

Another thematic issue is Dark Souls 3 constant callbacks to Dark Souls 1, and to a lesser extent Dark Souls 2. As this is supposedly the last Dark Souls of the series, the developers have gone overboard to please Dark Souls 1 fans and make constant reference to places, characters and stories from the much-beloved classic. Of course, this was all lost on me at first, and it was annoying to know that I was missing a lot of references. But I did my research, mainly from the excellent, in-depth Souls Bonfireside Chat podcast. I learned the level of “homage” (to put it generously) here is pretty ridiculous. Dark Souls 1 characters are arbitrarily connected to almost everything in Dark Souls 3, whole areas are mirrored or heavily reference the first game. NPCs and their questlines are recycled, bosses are deliberately made to recall beloved Souls 1 fights, and so on. The side-stories and item descriptions needlessly try to tie up loose ends from earlier titles or make contrived connections to them. In some cases the callbacks work well, pulling the heart-strings for fans, but overall they’re lathered on way too thick throughout the game, at the cost of new ideas and stories. Dark Souls 3 struggles with its own world building and identity, so eager it is to pander to the Dark Souls 1 fan-base.

Dark Souls 3 Funny Mimic eating Phantoms

Credit: FromSoftware

A mention has to go to the sense of humour in the Souls games. Despite being set in such a serious, dour place, with its po-faced, muddled storytelling, these games always have plenty of chuckles, both intended and borne from coincidence. Often it’s masochistic. Being mercilessly killed by a devious trap or ambush, like the Mimics which look like treasure chests but munch you to death when you reach inside them. Silly deaths: forgetting to pull the call elevator lever and then running off to fall down the elevator shaft. There’s always a fine line between comedy and rage when you botch up a boss on his last few hit points, or roll off a cliff with the next bonfire in sight. Some NPC’s and enemies are mainly there for comedic relief (anyone who has been to the Catacombs of Carthus will recall a certain hazard with glee!). Ridiculous and outlandish gear can turn your character into a visual abomination. It’s multiplayer though, that usually provides endless laughs - stupid blunders, funny roleplayers, invaders messing around, ingenious trolling, the emote system used to its full, taunting potential and player messages throughout the game making witty jokes. I’ve probably laughed playing Dark Souls 3 as much as I’ve screamed in frustration. Souls isn’t all doom and gloom after all.

Dark Souls 3 Funny Multiplayer Moment

Credit: FromSoftware

 

Invested players hoping for Dark Souls 3’s dangling story threads to be resolved or explained in the DLC are also sadly disappointed. The DLCs add negligible substance to the main game’s plot, instead focusing on side-stories. Where they do reference the main game, they introduce more clutter to its story strands, rather than provide answers. Lore aside, the DLCs are pretty good and worth playing. Both are intended to be tackled when you reach the end of the main game and so are suitably difficult.

Dark Souls 3 Ashes of Ariandel DLC snow view

Credit: FromSoftware

Ashes of Ariandel looks great, being set in a snowy mountain realm, and this gives it a different feel to the rest of Dark Souls 3. It’s fairly short, but introduces some interesting level design and tactical encounters. There are new, interesting enemy types, although some are frustratingly overpowered, and two bosses. One of these is optional and unlocks a multiplayer arena on completion. At this stage in the game’s lifecycle the arena is only really used for 1 vs 1 duels. The other boss is brilliant in its presentation, but ends up being a frustrating and very difficult encounter, especially if you attempt it without co-op help. And just when you think you’ve achieved victory, From Software mocks you by revealing a final, brutal, third stage of the fight. Boss issues aside, Ashes of Ariandel is an enjoyable experience, even if it doesn’t “wow” too much - and adds a bunch of new equipment as well as upgrade materials.

Dark Souls 3 The Ringed City DLC view vista

Credit: FromSoftware

The Ringed City is a much better DLC, with spectacular visuals, atmosphere and set pieces. There’s a number of breathtaking vistas rivalling the main game, and it’s significantly bigger than Ashes of Ariandel too. The environments look great and are visually distinct from the main game. They introduce new ideas whilst also being fun to explore, with the exception of a number of ill-conceived and overused “run from the magic missiles” sections. Although initially cool, these soon turn to frustration when poor signposting means death through trial-and-error. New enemy types are a good challenge and fun to fight, except at one notoriously difficult staircase which is even very hard in co-op. The Ringed City is a great fun place to enjoy with Phantoms, it’s still very active with players, with plenty of invaders and co-op action to be found, and is a fun brawling area.

Dark Souls 3 Demon Prince Ringed City DLC Boss

Credit: FromSoftware

There are four new bosses in The Ringed City, each impactful and impressive, but frustratingly overpowered - with too much health and some dubious movesets. My experience of the Ringed City bosses is mired as they’re extremely resistant to magic and fire, making my pyromancer’s spells useless against them. I had to fight them with my weak melee attack, or be forced to re-spec. It was another slap in the face for magic users who already struggle against many of the game’s bosses - punishing some playstyles for no good reason. One boss brings in an enemy player as their guardian, which is a great idea, but this makes its difficulty random. The final boss though is a fantastic set piece battle and considered by many players as the finest in Souls games. There are lots of new gear and upgrade materials to find, allowing you to experiment with different builds in this farewell to Dark Souls 3. Overall, outside of some of the bosses, The Ringed City is a success which has some very memorable moments, even if it left fans bitter that it didn’t clear up the story and characters from the main game and series.

Dark Souls 3 Dragon bridge Lothric Castle

Credit: FromSoftware

Despite its hiccups and frustrations, muddled lore, difficulty spikes and obscurities, Dark Souls 3 and its DLC expansions are a brilliant and incredibly meaty slice of gaming. Freed from expectations as my first Dark Souls, I wasn’t troubled so much by the callbacks and unfinished plot threads, just appreciating Dark Souls 3 for what it was. And that is a very challenging, but satisfying, adventure - with deep combat and lots of freedom. The world’s a wonderful, atmospheric place to explore, the enemies are great, and the multiplayer is inspired. Few other games have managed to match the sheer sense of achievement you get from progressing through challenges that, at first, can seem impossible. It certainly doesn’t wrap everything up satisfactorily from a story perspective, but ignoring that, Dark Souls 3 is still a great game. With nearly 200 hours on the clock, I’d compare Dark Souls 3 to a fiery relationship - I might hate it sometimes, but a passionate love burns deep. What more recommendation do you need, Ashen One?

Dark Souls 3: The Fire Fades Edition

  • 5

Superb

A deep, challenging adventure that will test your skills to the limit, but is full of wonder and personal triumph. Fans of previous Dark Souls may feel a little let down by the familiarity and callbacks, but as a stand-alone game, this is a fantastic experience.

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