Failure has always been a feature of the Souls games, and it has always had severe consequences. Dark Souls III retains some of its predecessors’ post-death punishments: beating a boss or consuming a certain item triggers the Ember state, which boosts health and lets you summon co-op partners. Die, and it’s gone. But here, death can be an asset: we don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that Dark Souls’ most onerous status effect can, when combined with the right materials and a willingness to persevere, dramatically boost your chosen weapon’s damage output. As a way of sweetening the bitter pill of death after death, it knocks Dark Souls II’s despawning enemies into a cocked hat.
Individual areas are tightly designed, but we know all of the shortcuts by now – one-way doors, empty lift shafts, ladders that need kicking down – and we’re yet to loop back to an earlier area and actually be surprised by the discovery. Well, once, but not in the manner to which we’ve grown accustomed: deep in a forest we opened a door that took us back about half an hour’s worth of progress, with three bonfires about a minute’s walk away. Checkpoints aren’t quite as plentiful as they were in Dark Souls II, but there are certainly more here than in its predecessor, where bonfires were always a few tough encounters farther away than you’d like. Here, they have a habit of turning up just when you’re starting to feel like you need them.
We’re picking holes, admittedly, but that we even feel the need to speaks volumes about the way FromSoftware’s games have ascended to a higher plane than most. When you have a seat at the top table, you naturally invite greater scrutiny, and your little flaws matter more than everyone else’s big ones. With Dark Souls III, Miyazaki has ensured his studio’s reputation remains intact, and delivered on our expectations – albeit a little too closely at times. He can’t help it, really: there’s nothing like Dark Souls except for itself, and there’s more of it out there with every passing year. This, though, could be the last of it, and in the end there’s a sense of closure. Not just for a creator bound to a contract that’s maybe run longer than he’d planned, but for the player too, a warming send-off for an old friend who’s moving on to pastures new. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.