Dark Souls III is developer From Software's return to the Souls series after the eldritch madness that was Bloodborne. In fact, the newest Souls game incorporates gameplay and design elements from virtually all of the team's recent titles.
As a result, the gorgeous and action-packed Dark Souls III feels highly familiar, yet fresh and content-rich at the same time. Like all of From Software's launches, however, this PC game is in need of a few patches to adjust weapon balance. Nonetheless, Dark Souls III is easily one of the best games in the series, and one of the year's most outstanding titles thus far. I played Dark Souls III on a gaming desktop, but the action-RPG is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Dark Souls III incorporates story elements from both of its predecessors to tell of the cyclical struggle between fire and darkness. You play as a lone, undead warrior, and venture out to retrieve the souls of the violent and chaotic Lords of Cinder. As is From Software's pedigree, the story is told through bits of flavor text in item descriptions, and through the environment itself. Players who are not invested in the game's lore have plenty of beautiful, macabre fantasy setting to explore.
Those who enjoy piecing together each game's history will be pleased to see how Dark Souls III incorporates the lore of past games. You select one of a various preset character classes at the start of the adventure. Each class has unique starting stats, which gives them a slight edge over other classes. Knights have high strength and dexterity, while sorcerers start with higher intelligence, for example.
As you level up you can augment whatever stats you choose, so you can compensate for the starting differences relatively quickly. But if you're aiming for a particular weapon build, taking advantage of a class' stat boosts means fewer wasted levels in the long run.
Dark Souls 3 re-imagines Izalith as it should have been, a descending stone labyrinth riven with fire and heat, filled with the detritus of ancient war. Rooms are piled with the corpses of demons, former citizens are now so feral they move on all fours, and intricate corridors criss-cross each other with countless dead ends and hidden routes. You push on to find goat-like pyromancers lurking around corners and blasting fire from huge distances and, if you can find them, there are even yet remnants of the black knights charged with holding back the flood.
The black knights also introduce one of Dark Souls 3's more curiously prevalent tactics - for a first run-through, at least. In several sections you can drag different types of enemy together and, with a bit of luck, get them fighting. Enemies have always been able to suffer collateral damage in the Souls games but this was more about AoE attacks from bosses.
Here it's not a foolproof strategy, because aggro-ing multiple enemies is always risky, but there are many opportunities to do it with tough enemies - in the case of the black knights, one can be used to take out or at least weaken an especially bothersome clutch of pyromancers, while deeper in Izalith another can provide invaluable assistance against a lethal NPC. Such additions are not game-changers, but they're welcome for allowing players to get cute in some especially-deadly situations.