Making a game based purely on combat immersive enough to make you want to pour hours into is difficult, especially for a game as unforgiving – and generally downright abusive – as Dark Souls 3. Why do people keep coming back to it, again and again, despite the fact the rage-inducing frequency with which the screen displays YOU DIED, just to make sure you understand that the decapitating swing of that Hollow Manservant’s saw did, in fact, rupture more internal organs than swallowing a fistful of razor blades would? After playing Dead Souls 3 for a while, it wasn’t hard to see why. The environments are stunning, the enemies – if you can get past the fight or flight instinct when you see one lurching towards you – are brilliantly designed, fitting perfectly into their environments. Killing the Crystal Lizard in particular was almost a shame – but not really, as it pretty much one-shotted me whilst I was busy ooing and ahhing over the blue crystals sprouting from its skin.
In the High Wall of Lothric you’re faced with hollow men wielding broken swords, both the sword and the hollow men’s body shattered remnants of the battle that took place amongst the stone. Knights wearing armour that is (somehow) still shining walk the courtyards, their attacks devastatingly quick and beautifully animated. This is praise I give through gritted teeth, as I experienced these very lethal attacks once too often. The Undead Settlement – by far the creepiest area in my opinion – was filled with rustic ruined hovels, dead trees, and wandering amongst them were scarecrow-like peasants and the unforgettable Cathedral Evangelist, with her damned (in both senses of the word) spellbook and haunting, hysterical cackle. Despite the fact that I am expecting to see the Cathedral Evangelist in my nightmares imminently, the fact that you could hear her reciting chants and see her reading from her spellbook, flipping it open when she was ready to unleash her attack, gave our fights a depth which can so often feel lacking in games based purely around combat. You get a sense of the enemies having their own routines which you are interrupting, adding to your immersion, as you often come across them with heads bowed against the walls or crouched on the floor, praying to something which I expect would give Cthulhu the willies. Their weapons too only add to this sensation, as they’re taken directly from their surroundings: in the forest you get lycanthrope hunters attacking you with sharpened branches whilst their prey, the lycanthrope, wears one of the hulking crosses on its back that you can see stuck into the dirt between the trees. Occasionally you get a glimpse of the enemies fighting amongst themselves, whether it be a dragon burning a handful of hollow men into oblivion or skeletal dogs ripping out their throats.
It feels as if you’ve intruded into the world of Lothric as the levels aren’t overtly railroaded, instead presenting you with sprawling, ruined castles where you can traverse courtyards or roofs, and forests where the ruined cathedrals and looming trees easily distract from any kind of path you might expect to be following through the level. The design of these sprawling areas is incredibly clever as your surroundings tell a story without having it shoved down your throat, like the fact that in the High Walls of Lothric you loot empty suits of armour rather than barrels. Visually, they’re spectacular, if your console or PC can handle 60FPS. Eerily the NPCs who litter the landscape don’t seem to mind that the world around them is about as friendly as a piranha is to a chunk of bloody meat, which adds perfectly to the idea that you’re interrupting Lothric’s routine.
I have to mention the design of the female knight. Her breastplate, to my delight, doesn’t have breasts moulded into the steel – instead it’s virtually impossible to tell the male knight and the female knight apart. Practical armour design for us ladies has finally triumphed! The messages glowing in orange runes from other players on the ground are a friendly reminder that you’re not alone, you’re not the only one who sprints to bonfires as if your feet were on fire. Having read this review it’s easy to see that I haven’t spent much time on the rage-inducing difficulty of Dark Souls 3, but that’s because the enemies and the environment makes it worthwhile. When you’re content to sit back, read YOU DIED and retrospectively admire the animation and design of the death blows being thrown at it, and then strive to be better the next time you’re resurrected, you know you’re playing a brilliant game.
Image courtesy of www.polygon.com.