Dark Souls III Console Review
We've had a ridiculously in-depth review of Dark Souls III on the site for a few days now, and that's well worth your time - but that review was based solely on the PC version. Those without a decent enough gaming PC might find themselves curious about how the console version compares - and so here we are, with a belated little look at the console builds of the game.
In the run-up to Dark Souls 3's release I've had access to both console versions of the game in a few different formats. Quite a way out from launch I had a digital copy of the game that ran on a PlayStation 4 Debug console. This version was more or less final and came pre-packaged with what'd later be released as the game's day-one patch. Later on I got to test the final PS4 and Xbox One discs both before and after the day-one fixes, and though performance has differed a fair amount across the various versions and patches, everything seems to have settled into a fine place now the game is out and its launch patches are properly released.
I'll talk more about performance shortly, but since I'm not the person who wrote the core Dark Souls 3 review, I do want to touch a little on what I think about the game beyond its performance.
Miyazaki's return to direct this latest and possibly final entry in the Dark Souls series is significant, but don't take this to mean that the title is all about him. What Miyazaki seems to do here is aim to take players on a tour of the best that the Souls lineage has to offer - and that isn't just limited to the Dark Souls series, but includes sneaky nods to Bloodborne and Demon's Souls too. What you get here isn't just the best of Miyazaki, but the best of all of of the Souls series - the divisive Dark Souls 2 included.
The new Ember mechanic closely resembles Dark Souls 2's Humanity, for instance, as does the friendliness of being able to teleport from bonfire to bonfire easily as fast travel. From Demon's Souls you get a more defined concept of a standard hub area, and from Bloodborne you get movement increased significantly to the point where even the slowest speed of walking and rolling is a damn sight faster than what was on offer in previous Souls games. From that game's speed other lessons also appear to have been learned: This is also the most responsive Dark Souls game yet to boot.
With all that in mind it's a relief to report that hardcore series fans can rest easy in knowing that despite all these elements the game Dark Souls 3 most resembles is the original Dark Souls. This comes in many forms; its pacing, its tone, even in deliberately-familiar elements scattered throughout its story. There are compromises made in the name of accessibility, but none feel to dilute the core experience laid out by the first games of this type - something that some would argue isn't the case for the second Dark Souls.
In terms of how it plays and feels this is for my money the definitive Dark Souls experience, finding a middle ground that should leave pretty much all fans happy. One can argue for hours if this game has the best version of magic, the best bosses, the best weapon upgrade system and so on - but most of that is really just semantics. The ultimate point is that what's there is damn good fun, and a brilliant challenge.
Performance of the console versions varied greatly throughout my play - the debug version ran without many hits to the frame rate at all, but final retail code without the day-one patch was intermittently sluggish from almost the second area on.
Almost all of these issues seemed to be tied to loading in new world geometry, as that was typically when frame rate issues would crop up. If you for some reason are unable to download the day-one patch for a while, be aware that you may find your Dark Souls 3 experience a little rough.
With the patch installed the final version of the game performed significantly better. There's still infrequent issues, with the PS4 version suffering frame rate drops into the mid and low 20s in some particularly packed areas (the worst offending of which for me was a swamp), but generally speaking the game is smooth and even when it isn't the actual core gameplay experience tends not to be impacted - when you're locked into combat and not running around, the frame rate tends to hold up.
The same is true of the Xbox One version, but that version comes with a caveat - it doesn't run at a full 1080p and instead is upscaled, resulting in an overall dip of quality across the board. Sometimes this almost works in that version's favor, helping to obscure some of the rare dodgy texture work, but moment-to-moment there's no denying that the PS4 version of the game looks significantly better, albeit not even close to the PC version's excellent visuals. Despite the resolution decrease the Xbox One version incredibly also suffers from a lower average frame rate also, making that version definitively the least recommended - but even there, the game's performance is good enough for one to enjoy this excellent experience.
While as previously mentioned there's some muddy textures on the consoles, Dark Souls 3's art direction does a great deal to paper over those smaller cracks. It's a gorgeous looking game full of gorgeous architecture and some wonderfully sculpted environmental storytelling - a lower frame rate and a dip in some of the bells-and-whistles effects doesn't impact that.
Dark Souls 3 is a successful mechanical and thematic culmination of the series, skillfully blending together the best elements from each entry for an excellent series finale, even if it isn't the freshest feeling experience. There's of course minor areas of design that don't stand quite as tall as the rest of the game and this console port has lesser but still acceptable performance compared to the PC version, but Dark Souls 3 remains excellent and comes highly recommended even with its minor performance caveats on console.