In the past, we would have started this review by saying that only a masochist should buy a Dark Souls game. The original and its sequel are the most recent entries in a genre defined by its difficulty and depth. Dark Souls III doesn't abandon that hallmark difficulty at all but it is friendlier to newcomers provided they're willing to develop the skills required to achieve success in the game.
At its core, this is the same kind of Souls game we've seen before. You're an undead warrior questing through a shady world of darkness and magic, battling your way through Lords of Cinder and restoring them to their thrones. The story is completely secondary to the gameplay and the question of why you're fighting isn't much more than a passing notion. Dark Souls III is all about how you carry yourself in the world.
The notion of being newcomer-friendly is relative here since Dark Souls III's first level seems to be its toughest. But there's method to this madness since the devs at From Software know it's best to earn your spurs before being sent out into a treacherous world. As such, it's Dark Souls III's first level that teaches you everything from simple control layout to the finer points of combat. It's baptism by fire and it's a good idea because Dark Souls is about as far from a button-masher as you can get. The Souls games require you to be deliberate in almost anything you do and III teaches you that right off the bat. Combat should be approached more like individual fights in Street Fighter than the arcade-style kick-punching you might find in an X-men or TMNT game. Resource management and technique are paramount and you won't escape the first area if you don't respect that. Exploration is similarly deliberate. Run around willy nilly and you're inviting death. Plan a course and execute and the treasures of the world will be yours.
Once you acclimate to the strategy, the game shines. Levels are huge but not sprawling, checkpoints abound and exploration is rewarded. Unlike previous games in the series, there was never a point we couldn't advance past if we were willing to be patient. Sure, sometimes frustrations rose so high that we needed a break but it never reached a level of wanting to break controllers. Instead, a bit of patience and summoning the skills we knew we had would lead to success and that success lead to bigger rewards and a truer sense of accomplishment that is rare in video games...and that's what kept us coming back for more punishment.
In a spring that has been unusually full of great gaming titles, Dark Souls III stands out in the cream of the crop. If an action RPG that provides a legitimate challenge sounds like your kind of of game, you won't find one better than this. Our only warning; turn up the brightness on your TV at the outset. They don't call it DARK Souls for nothing.
Watch the trailer here: