A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dark Souls III is an action role-playing game that's both extremely challenging and extraordinarily violent. Players use a variety of medieval-style weapons, including swords, axes, and spears, to slice, hack, and impale their foes. The accompanying animations are gory and bloody, with blood spraying from wounds and characters screeching in pain. Even the empty world is a place of pain, littered with bodies, bones, skulls, and bloody stains. There's not much of a story and even less character development, leaving the motives and feelings of the game's customizable protagonist a mystery. But the intense difficulty forces players to be cautious, make smart strategic decisions, and persevere to have any chance of success.
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What's it about?
DARK SOULS III sees a lone adventurer wandering through a fallen and deserted kingdom now populated only by a variety of evils, including shambling undead, dark knights, and massive beasts. Known only as the Ashen One, this hero's objective and duty is to see to the destruction of the imposing Lords of Cinder to prevent Armageddon. It's designed to be challenging in the extreme; players begin with minimal equipment along with low attributes and performance statistics. Characters level up and become more powerful through the acquisition of souls collected by the creatures they defeat. But should they die -- and, given the game's difficulty, this is bound to happen often -- they will lose all the souls they haven't spent to level up their character. More than that, all defeated enemies will respawn, and all progress will be lost. Add to this the lack of a map to help navigate the labyrinthine world, an inability to pause, and an automatic-save system that ensures every decision the player makes is irreversible, and you have an action role-playing game designed only for players possessed of a deep tenacity.
Is it any good?
Players familiar with previous games in this franchise or last year's Bloodborne know what they're getting into with this extremely difficult game. It's a brutally challenging and thoroughly unforgiving experience but also one with a capacity to imbue a sense of achievement uncommon in modern games. Players who stick with it will die countless times, but with each hard-earned victory, every new bonfire, and each seemingly tiny step of character progression, they'll feel like they've accomplished something worthwhile, something that not every gamer has the fortitude to do. It helps that the combat -- now bolstered by a new weapon-arts system that sees each weapon given its own set of special moves, adding to an already hefty number of options available to players in battle -- is tight, tense, and rarely anything less than thrilling, especially when you're going up against super-powerful and highly dynamic boss characters.
But there are a few chinks in the armor. The maze-like world through which we travel -- while often just as elaborately laid out and as fun to explore as in past games -- has a handful of areas that just aren't much fun thanks to their dull, open structure. Plus, the difficulty is a little bumpy. Some areas (and bosses) are easier than you'd expect for a Souls game and may lull the player into a sense of false confidence. Then they'll stumble into another location with incredibly powerful enemies that rank among the hardest the series has yet generated. Basically, the game could have done with a tad more fine-tuning. That said, most of the time, Dark Souls III is just as compelling and rewarding as its predecessors and should prove well worth the time for older players with a thirst for a serious challenge.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violence in the media. How do you feel if you play extremely violent games? Do they make your pulse race? Do you find them stressful? What do you think are some other physiological effects that might come with playing a game such as this one?
Discuss screen time. Games such as this encourage players to engage in long sessions to make any real progress, so how do you balance this with stepping away from a TV screen to read or go outdoors?
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