Dark Souls III PC Review: Ashes to Ashes [Updated with Final Thoughts and Score!]

From Software keeps up their amazing streak with the most refined take on their formula to date.

Review by Bob Mackey, .

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[Editor's Note: This piece was originally published as a review-in-progress. If you've already read the first installment, click here to move on to the second half and conclusion.]

From Software's prolific output may mean good things for those who dig their specific take on game design, but every annual release brings us closer to the risk of diminishing returns.

Human beings may have their limits, but the developers at From certainly haven't shown theirs. While many series feel content to hastily shove new content into an existing template, Hidetaka Miyazaki's band of brothers seemingly use every new Souls (or Souls-related game) as a chance to make up for old mistakes. Each Souls installment contains its own specific flaws, of course, but every dose of new content seemingly exists to address existing complaints from fans and critics alike. From still carries their own unique voice, but it's rare to see a developer so devoted to self-improvement.

Dark Souls III could have easily been too much, too soon—especially after last year's Bloodborne—but, in keeping with their recent rise to power, From still has a way of surprising people. If you've been a fervent Souls fan over the past seven years, it's doubtful you're on the fence about this third installment, but I'm here to reassure you regardless: No, they didn't screw it up. (Though with the game being such a known quantity over the past two weeks, it's likely I don't need to tell you this.) Simply put, Dark Souls III shows From Software at their best, building off of what came before while making several dozen tiny tweaks that improve the experience without fundamentally altering it. Now can someone please give this poor team an extended vacation?

New Nightmare

Even if you haven't played a Souls game, you likely know them from their slightly disingenuous marketing message: These games will kick the shit out of you (to paraphrase a bit). They certainly have their difficult moments, but From Software is more interested in giving players total responsibility than punishing them outright. Exploring a previously hidden pathway, for instance, becomes much more rewarding when you find it yourself instead of having a flashing arrow point you towards it. And From takes the exact same approach with storytelling: Outside of the brief intro, Souls' narrative can only be pieced together via environmental details, item descriptions, and the scant amount of dialogue spoken by NPCs. In short, there's a reason why several YouTubers have made doing Dark Souls deep-dives their full-time jobs.

So if you've come to Dark Souls III for all the, well, "Souls stuff," you won't be disappointed. Even if From sticks with certain tropes (the hub, the annoying swamp area, the duplicitous killer NPC), they're presented with enough of a new spin to justify their recycling. And just as the (often unfairly dismissed) Dark Souls II brought plenty of quality-of-life improvements, Dark Souls III stands as the most approachable entry in the series to date—while still maintaining its focus on player responsibility. You can always fall into a seemingly bottomless hole of experimenting with character builds, but past instances of awkwardness in the Souls series—brought about by From's sometimes flawed experiments with game design—have been eliminated entirely. The past four takes on this brand of action-RPG have given Souls' creators an astounding amount of confidence, and that's good news for all of us.

Another World

While Dark Souls III's setting cuts a different profile than the melancholic beauty of DSII's Drangleic and the faded glory of DSI's Lordran, returning players should feel right at home. You'll find some new takes on old ideas, but the added power of a new hardware generation means DSIII's environments feel more dense and expansive than anything found in the previous games. Souls II's fairly linear levels made for a valid approach, but III places a focus on exploration that's felt slightly absent since the first half of Dark Souls I. Some areas have their direct routes, but, in many cases, you'll find yourself dropped into a large (often outdoors) expanse with no real sense of direction. Combing each and every corner for treasures, shortcuts, and checkpoints isn't mandatory, but it's hard to avoid being a completionist with such a rich world begging to be fully charted.

On a somewhat less important note, Dark Souls III simply looks great. While I miss the more cohesive—and slightly more interesting—Lovecraftian slant of Bloodborne, Dark Souls III's visuals feel like From's artists finally getting a chance to stretch their talents after being tied down to circa-2005 hardware for the better part of a decade. Granted, I've been playing the PC version at 60 FPS on a new gaming PC, but the small chunk I played on a PS4 certainly didn't disappoint. Dark Souls III may not feature the same strangely picturesque backdrops of Dark Souls II, but From's artists manage to craft a certain kind of beauty from their strange, twisted worlds. Even if each new area brings its share of rotting, deformed abominations, it's still fun to marvel at just how much detail has been put into every last disgusting thing.

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Comments 22

  • Avatar for bobservo #1 bobservo A year ago
    @nimzy Nothing I've noticed yet.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #2 VotesForCows A year ago
    @nimzy PC seems the way to play it. Console versions (unsurprisingly) seem to have frame-rate issues, even with a target of 30Hz. Won't stop me getting it, but its a shame. I'd definitely make some graphical trade-offs to get a consistent rate, given the option.
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  • Avatar for Kadrom #3 Kadrom A year ago
    But how creepy are the NPC laughs this time around?
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  • Avatar for Karisu #4 Karisu A year ago
    Love the review so far Bob!

    Looks like the comment bots are out in force today...
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #5 Kuni-Nino A year ago
    I feel like I would like these games more if I could make a main character that didn't look so awkward. BB was an improvement I thought since I could make a guy that looks like Jude Law.

    So, um, can I make an attractive dude or what?
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  • Avatar for ShadowTheSecond #6 ShadowTheSecond A year ago
    Bob mentions it as well, but Dark Souls 3 makes me appreciate Bloodborne's Lovecraft land (Yharnam) even more. There are some great environments going on in DS3, but Bloodborne was a tad more visually interesting in my opinion.

    That being said, 3 is excellent so far (I'm on the final Lord of Cinder on Xbox One). I personally feel that it's quite different than Dark Souls 2 in both level design and gameplay, it feels much more like a Demon's Souls / Bloodborne hybrid than anything else. It will be fun to see how players use the weapon skills in a PvP/Invasion context!
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  • Avatar for bobservo #7 bobservo A year ago
    @Kuni-Nino The truth is you don't really get a chance to see your character's face in any Souls game. You CAN, but helmets mostly obscure everything.
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  • Avatar for detten17 #8 detten17 A year ago
    i saw that you can Duel wield in the game, could I play this game more like bloodborne sans the health recovery, or do I have to have a shield and sword/mace etc.
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  • Avatar for Banandango #9 Banandango A year ago
    @bobservo Feh! Helmets? Who needs helmets! If I'm spending upwards of an hour in the character creation menu tweaking every little detail, I'm gonna show off my pretty face to the world, dangit! ;3
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #10 Kuni-Nino A year ago
    @bobservo Yeah, I don't wear helmets either. I want people to see me. Sometimes I want people to see all of me. I'm not joking.... •_•
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  • Avatar for Whinybabyclub #11 Whinybabyclub A year ago
    Is Ashes to Ashes something well covered in the game? I've seen at least one other review in progress on a different site bearing the same sub header. Just thought you should be aware.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #12 Modern-Clix A year ago
    So here is my question, is being an archer viable again? In Demon's Souls, it was just as viable as any class. I was a DEX build with a focus on bows, and with exception of invasions, my damage in PvE was just as good as any other weapon build. It let me roleplay as a stealth archer with a katana as backup.

    In Dark Souls, using a bow was just not viable at all. Poor damage, not many options.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #13 brionfoulke91 A year ago
    @Modern-Clix Based on what I've seen, bows have received a pretty nice boost. They have their own special weapons arts now, which are very useful. It seems like bow-only characters are more viable than ever.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #14 cldmstrsn A year ago
    Such a great review bob! The thing about Dark Souls is you dont just play the game you also play it in your head when you arent playing the game! You think about all the things you need to do. What class, what playstyle, what weapons you are going to upgrade, what stat to level up next. It really gets to you in a great way at least for me. Happy Souls Week! I cant wait to see whats next.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #15 chaoticBeat A year ago
    Praise the Sun!
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  • Avatar for ojinnvoltz #16 ojinnvoltz A year ago
    @detten17 Dual wielding is more viable (some weapons come as pairs and you dual wield instead two-handing), but more or less need the shield. For the start of the game I was still in Bloodborne mode and tried to dodge everything. But some situations it's easier to take the hit with the shield and counter from there. There's a ring that regenerates health when you attack, but it barely does anything. I miss the regain system.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #17 VotesForCows A year ago
    @ojinnvoltz @detten17
    I've not been using a shield so far - only played a few hours. But I played Dark Souls (1) that way at least once as well. Its definitely a viable way to go, you just need to think about encounters in a slightly different way.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #18 VotesForCows A year ago
    Loving the game so far - such a relief to be back in my dark-fantasy style comfort zone (wasn't a fan of BB's aesthetic).

    Does anyone think the first boss could be a major issue for new players? Partly due to the difficulty, but more because it comes after only a minute or two of play. I can definitely see people returning the game once they hit this guy.
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  • Avatar for Turdsman #19 Turdsman A year ago
    I'm The Worst and had some bad info on the system requirements so I'm having a different experience with this one than others. I have all the settings low or off and I brought the resolution down and it honestly runs about as well as DS1, except moving the camera too fast brings the framerate down to nearly nothing. So I can play the game just fine on a GTX650, so long as I don't lock on to anything, especially bosses, which is rough when you're addicted to shields.
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  • Avatar for DogNozzle #20 DogNozzle A year ago
    @VotesForCows Interesting you say that about the aesthetic... there was a point about 5 hours into DS3 where I was like "did they copy-paste these areas in from Bloodborne?" I really like Bloodborne but its world was so bleak that I was just burned out on it by the end, especially since I replayed a couple months ago. But fortunately DS3 lightens up a bit (relatively speaking) after the first couple areas.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #21 VotesForCows A year ago
    @DogNozzle Yeah, I know what you mean about the early areas! Still a nice bit of sunshine, views into the distance, etc. BB was more claustrophobic, I think.
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  • Avatar for AndreasStalin #22 AndreasStalin A year ago
    Since you're such a fanboy of DS II Bob I don't trust this review at all. To me DeS was a masterpiece, DS an okay game while DS II was absolute garbage. BB I have yet to play. So since you gave this 5 out of 5 I guess I have to deduct 2 points so it's probably a 3/5 to me which sounds about right. .. .. ..
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