Dark Souls III

NOW 30 PER CENT LIGHTER

Empire (UK) - - REVIEW - OUT /

NOW PC, PS4, XBOX ONE ROM THE Doom­laden open­ing to its fi­nal, night­mar­ish boss, Dark Souls III is an op­pres­sive, grim ex­pe­ri­ence that will see you butchered by harm­less-look­ing trash mobs and crushed to bloody ruin by hulk­ing, story-high be­he­moths. And Dark Souls fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

Risen from an an­cient grave, you set out to hack and slash your way through Lothric, a dy­ing land where hu­man­ity’s works have been re­duced to ash and em­bers. Your aim is to de­feat the Lords Of Cin­der in an ef­fort to re­store the Flame Of Life. As ever with this se­ries, the baf­fling lore is sec­ondary to the strug­gle, whereby you grad­u­ally ex­plore the city’s crum­bling majesty while en­gag­ing in bat­tles with a menagerie of un­holy min­ions.

Souls’ par­tic­u­lar brand of third­per­son com­bat has al­ways been its big­gest strength and this of­fers a keen evo­lu­tion, with new char­ac­ter types, weapons and spells. The more flex­i­ble char­ac­ter cre­ation opens the game up to var­ied play styles, al­though many of the more nu­anced classes will only shine in the hands of sea­soned play­ers.

But while the chal­lenge is sig­nif­i­cant, Dark Souls III isn’t nearly as tough as its in­fa­mous pre­de­ces­sors. And when dif­fi­culty is an in­te­gral part of the se­ries’ appeal (in­te­gral even to the real-world mythol­ogy sur­round­ing the games), that’s both a bless­ing and a curse.

It’s never easy, but it is more for­giv­ing, mak­ing it more ac­ces­si­ble to play­ers who have been tempted by the se­ries but de­terred by its rep­u­ta­tion. For in­stance, weapons now have Bat­tle Arts: more pow­er­ful at­tacks made avail­able when us­ing a two-handed grip, mak­ing melee bat­tles more akin to mag­i­cal ones. Th­ese feel like a di­rect con­ces­sion to new­com­ers, a kind of fail­safe at­tack — ‘un­leash in case of Yhorm Of The Pro­faned Cap­i­tal’. De­feat ma­jor en­e­mies and you’ll glow with the em­bers they leave be­hind, boost­ing both health and power.

Even the most skilled play­ers will still die, fre­quently, and pro­gres­sion de­mands a fa­nat­i­cal mem­o­ri­sa­tion of en­emy po­si­tions, at­tack pat­terns, boss strate­gies and more. But the changes in Dark Souls III, while me­chan­i­cal im­prove­ments of the over­all game, seem to have placed the lure of a big­ger au­di­ence above the army of masochis­tic loy­al­ists that built the game’s leg­end. MATT KAMEN

Dual at­tack: Acad­emy

As­sas­sin and Her­ald Of White join forces to bat­tle The Dancer Of

The Bo­real Val­ley. Prais­ing the sun in the me­dieval king­dom of Lothric. Tell­tale Games’ se­ries

of spin-offs con­tin­ues with ev­ery­one’s favourite ur­ban samu­rai in the ti­tle role. Like Tell­tale’s orig­i­nal game, this is an in­ter­ac­tive story, with bouts of gory vi­o­lence in­ter­spersed with

tricky moral de­ci­sions that have

far-reach­ing con­se­quences. Episodes 1 and 2 (of 3) are avail­able now. Hav­ing re-re­leased

Square Enix has skipped over and gone straight

to Ini­tially un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated, this in­stal­ment is ac­tu­ally one of the bet­ter ones, adopt­ing

a more clas­si­cal fan­tasy set­ting than

its im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors and blessed with a more co­her­ent story. Not cheap at £14.99 but

with an easy 50 hours of game­play to be had, is enor­mously re­ward­ing.

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