It’s been five years since the Dark Souls saga came to a world-shattering end with Dark Souls III. Since then, Japanese developer FromSoftware has moved onto different projects that include Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice with its more brutal approach to combat design and Elden Ring, which from what we’ve seen of it, looks to be following that same blueprint for success. We’ve also had a remake of Demon’s Souls (courtesy of PlayStation studio Bluepoint), so it’s not as if Souls fans have been kept starving all these years, but with the series due to celebrate its tenth anniversary later this year, we ask whether Dark Souls III was a fitting end to such a landmark trilogy.
I guess the first and most important place to begin is with the ending, or asking whether there can be an ending to a story that plays up the cyclical nature of the events that occur. The answer really is both yes and no. On one hand, the slaying of Gael and the retrieval of the Dark Soul of Man completed the new Painted World, not saving the world but providing an escape from it. On the other, in the cycles of Fire and Dark, it is likely these events will continue to repeat after this action with the world marching towards its end once again.
The setting, however, was somewhere I thought that could have been improved with hindsight. The gothic confines of Lothric were excellent for the most part, and places like Irithyll of the Boreal Valley were (and still are) absolutely breath-taking, but the almost slavish adherence to following in the footsteps of the original title resulted in a few too many cheap dips into nostalgia. In fact, and this may be a controversial take, I preferred the handling of the world of Drangleic in Dark Souls II, which felt more like a continuation of the world without stepping on the axe-ended tail of the first game.
So, story-wise it may not have been the most fitting end, but the gameplay is another matter. Dark Souls III took the smooth yet strategic combat system from the first two Dark Souls titles, and spliced it with some of the more aggressive elements we saw in PS4 exclusive Bloodborne, which was released in between. The end result is gloriously frenetic and punishing without compromising on the patient, defensive gameplay that the Souls series is known for.
The monster designs in the final chapter were also clearly a labour of love… or as close as the Souls series can get to that emotion. Many of the enemies and practically all of the bosses are fittingly repulsive for the end of the world, wracked with lashes of desolate sadness. To use just one example, the consumed king Oceiros spends half of your battle with him cradling and lamenting over a child that you cannot see and might not exist.
Dark Souls III had an almost impossible task to fulfil. It needed to be the climax of a story that was set up to never end, and to do so in a satisfactory way. Whether or not it achieved this will be depend on your thoughts on the franchise up to this point. For me, the events in Lothric and the Ringed City brought in a needed element of hope to the ruination of previous instalments. Add that to the incredible gameplay and monster design, and the result was an undeniable classic, closing the trilogy on a major high.