The Dark Souls games are excruciating in their difficulty. Their stories are piecemeal and obtuse, and their gameplay is frustrating and completely unfair. Like past entries, the content in Dark Souls III is dank and demonic looking. And, believe it or not, those combined gaming torments and murky, desolate visuals are exactly what the game’s creators are shooting for.
As indicated, the broken, tortured realms of Dark Souls games have never been cheery places. And by this third franchise installment everything is beginning to spiral toward full-on decimation. Something called the First Flame, a primordial fire that has reportedly sired all other forms of light, is beginning to flicker out. Its loss would leave a black (and oft-referenced) Abyss behind—an expanding and corrupting force powerful enough to snuff out mankind altogether.
The only way to avert that deadly emptiness is for a gamer, in the guise of an undead warrior known as The Unkindled, to seek out the already entombed Lords of Cinder and inherit their ember powers by destroying them in battle. Only then can humanity hope to relume a fading flicker of hope in a universe of desolate perdition.
Standing in your way? All manner of demonic beasts. You hack back at them with a wide variety of swords, spears, maces, giant saws and pickaxes. But it’s not just violence and horror that’s the focus of these games. Their real focus is a dark obsession with a nearly impossible challenge.
You’re intended to see “YOU DIED” scrawled across your gaming screen hundreds and hundreds of times in the course of Dark Souls III. It’s all designed to give seasoned gamers the challenge of figuring out some small point of weakness in any given crypt-bound foe—as it shreds your battered bod over and over again.
The game’s enemies are Lovecraftian horrors injected with decay and spiritual suffering. They range from large and aggressive knights to fire-breathing dragons to teleporting ghosties. They slash at you with 10-foot-long rusty blades and fill the air with gleaming arrows. They can amount to a crumbling cathedral full of skeletal and scabrous deacons or a gigantic gnarled tree with dangling rotting mucus orbs that need to be slashed and broken.
To best them you must plot out each roll, thrust, counter and slash of your attack—sorting out opponent battle patterns, gulping the right healing potions, and switching between baneful weapons to hopefully bring down that horrendous enemy just milliseconds before it can gut you once again. It’s only then that the agony of your repeated battle ends and the rewarding endorphins flood in—readying you, dear and deadly gamer, for the next bloody slog.
Just how bad do the messy blood battles get? Well, at the game’s full (default) gore setting, the bright red bodily goop splashes about by the gallon as you drive your blade into foes with a gushing splorch. The “mild” setting gives you the same quantities … but colors the gunk green.
Turning the gore off altogether is possible, but trust me, dialing down the bloodiness still doesn’t make this game ready for primetime in the family room. Dark Souls III may be soliciting praise from a certain sadistically slanted gamer crowd. But after 70-plus hours and nearly 500 deaths at the poisonous talons of aberrant beasts in fields of rotting corpses, rusting weapons and putrefying glop, I can only call it … exhausting. Oh, and dark. Horribly, horribly dark.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.