PRICE: $79.90 (PS4, version tested, Xbox One), $59.90 (PC)
GENRE: Role-playing game
My journey in the Souls series of action role-playing games started in 2009, with Demon's Souls for the PlayStation 3. It introduced me to the brutal and unforgiving gameplay that would become the hallmark of this series by Japanese developer FromSoftware.
For most players, the first boss in Demon's Souls was virtually impossible to beat. Even if you did manage to defeat it, your character would be subsequently killed by another omnipotent boss.
This is the most important lesson in the Souls games: death is inevitable. Unlike other games where you simply restore your character at a previous save point, dying in the Souls games means losing all the souls you have gathered from beating enemies. These souls are the currency and are used to level up your character and purchase items.
If your character is killed, you get one chance to run back to where it died and retrieve the souls. If you fail, the souls are lost forever. Unsurprisingly, this mechanic is extremely punishing for novices and is probably the reason the Souls games have become known for their difficulty.
Yet, I kept playing because the game always seemed fair - the hardest enemy could be taken down with the right strategy. More importantly, victory tasted especially sweet after besting a tough boss. This sense of accomplishment is all too often lacking in modern games.
I never did complete Demon's Souls, a game which inspired the three Dark Souls titles set in the same world and last year's gothic-themed Bloodborne spinoff. But I have learnt to cope.
Dark Souls III is the final chapter in the series. It takes the best bits from previous entries to create a memorable and nostalgic finale.
You do not need to have played the previous Dark Souls games to enjoy Dark Souls III, though you will miss out on the numerous references and nods to the older games.
That said, the polished gameplay and superior graphics in this game will make it difficult to go back to the five-year-old Dark Souls. The graphics and art design, especially the outdoor areas, look amazing.
Dark Souls III does not feel as tough as previous games, at least in the beginning. It helps that FromSoftware appears to have made the game more accessible to novices by explaining basic mechanics such as upgrading your weapons. Bonfires, which act as save points, also seem more numerous this time round.
Combat has been improved. It feels faster than Dark Souls, but not as aggressive as Bloodborne. Weapons have unique special attacks that are useful and add variety to combat moves. Gone is the ability to upgrade your armour, which means players can try out different armour sets without having to stick to one.
Bosses now have a second phase, usually midway in a fight, that introduces new attacks. But some bosses feel too similar in style to those in previous games.
Much of the dialogue in Dark Souls III is couched in riddles, which is typical of the Souls games. But the game's objective is straightforward enough and you can finish it without really understanding the backstory.
There are four different endings, though the one widely considered to be the best is complicated enough to require an online guide. The game's many interesting non-playing characters also have their own stories, which may be missed without a guide.
Dark Souls III has its own brand of multiplayer gameplay. Your character can enter the games of other players, either to kill them or to help them with enemies. Summoning another player can make all the difference when faced with a tough boss.
For veteran Souls players, the novelty of the series' gameplay is long gone, but Dark Souls III's nods to past games makes it a fan favourite. Newcomers will find Dark Souls III the easiest to get into.
This article was first published on April 20, 2016.
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