Dark Souls 3 review: a malicious, frustrating, cynical triumph

Andy Lacey
Battle giants while wearing only a loin cloth

If you’ve never played a Dark Souls game before, this probably isn’t your ideal entry point.

An action RPG set in a dark fantasy universe in which you adventure through brooding ruins and collapsed dungeons, battling giant bosses and devious enemies, it’s a series infamous for its unparalleled difficulty.

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Dark Souls sets players a challenge so enormous, so frustrating and unreasonably demanding that many simply throw in the towel, while those who persevere – those who can keep pace with the masochistic action – take their well-earned place among the game’s cultish fandom.

Picking up Dark Souls 3 without having played the previous instalments feels like reading through a stack of love letters written to those fans; interesting, certainly, but also packed with detail and context that you suspect is wasted on you.

The first few handfuls of deaths in this epic and lavishly revered world elicit a determined grimace from the player, but one that quickly withers into a concerted frown. Most games would be done there, but Dark Souls 3 pushes you on into a blazing crescendo of controller-flinging fury – enemies appear from unexpected places, levels are designed to trap and trick you, and at times the developer seems to have actual disdain for the player.

Some will revel in this malicious level of drudgery, but if you don’t have the time to chip your way through this granite-hard challenge, you should turn back now. Stop before you even start. Dark Souls has other devotees.

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And there’s a reason it so captures the imagination of its fans: it’s an outstanding and unique adventure game. It evokes your earliest and rosiest childhood gaming experiences, but distorts them through its own darkly cynical lens.

The landscapes are Zelda-like in their connectivity and scale but, in stark contrast to memories of your brightly coloured gaming youth, here you’ll find a land that’s tainted, twisted and gravely poisonous. It’s beautiful, but darkly so, and often bone-chillingly frightening.

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Dark Souls is an immense challenge that will take tens of hours to beat and far more to truly complete. And if it catches you just right, if you’re one of the lucky few with the constitution to stomach it, it could well become your favourite game, as it has done for so many others.

If, on the other hand, you want to enjoy some merry escapism, this really isn’t for you.

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