Dark Souls 3 online review: vast improvements, but roll on the updates

By Brenna Hillier, Monday, 4 April 2016 08:00 GMT

Dark Souls 3 has the best multiplayer of any Souls family game to date. Pity it’s broken as all heck.

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Have you read Alex’s Dark Souls 3 review? He hits on all the things I myself have experienced – the ramping difficulty. The streamlined but still punishing mechanics. The blossoming structure. The compelling and beautiful narrative. The frame rate nosedive while loading that arrived with the 1.1 patch.

I’ll tell you what else arrived in the 1.1 patch: online play. Alex has spent a lot longer than me with Dark Souls 3 but since my first experience was with a western disc and I play during peak Japanese times, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a significant proportion of my playthrough in company with other players.

Dark Souls 3 online elements explained

New to Souls? In addition to summoning or volunteering for co-op play, or invading other players for PvP duels, connecting to the servers has multiple passive benefits.

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Bloodstains appear where players die frequently. Activate to view another player’s final moments to try to identify the hazards ahead.

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Messages offer hints, jokes, encouragement – and vicious lies. Rate messages positively to send a health boost to the author. Poorly rated messages appear less frequently. Leave your own messages to help or hinder others.

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Ghostly white phantoms show other players exploring the same spaces, in real-time.

As with all Souls games this company is subtle unless you opt-in to co-op play – or are unlucky enough to be invaded (not that going offline spares you this experience, as several NPC invaders are merrily raising hell around the place). Nevertheless, the beautifully elegant messaging, bloodstain and phantom systems are a significant part of the experience and it’s great to see them return in Dark Souls 3 with all the improvements and bells and whistles of Bloodborne’s treatment.

Multiplayer works better than ever before. I switched on cross-region matchmaking (which only seems to apply to co-op and invasions), and as a result key areas are absolutely littered with summon signs left by the not-quite-three-week-old Japanese player base. (You can sort of tell when you’re playing with a Japanese Souls fan as opposed to a westerner; they’re more likely to favour sertain builds, and their usernames very rarely include phrases like “noscope420”.)

It’s fantastic to have the option to open to all regions, as it means plenty of potential matches – especially for Australians, who usually end up matchmade with Europeans thanks to the PAL umbrella, and have historically been better off importing a US copy – but it also means less lag, which is great.

Japan and Australia are pretty close by comparatively, so you’d expect there to be less lag than I’ve experienced playing with East Coast North Americans and Europeans in past Souls games. But even accounting for that, From Software’s online tech has improved leaps and bounds for Dark Souls 3. Even as recently as Bloodborne, players had tremendous difficulty getting summoning to work reliably, but it’s been an absolute breeze for me so far: quick connections and very few failures.

I’m a tiny wussy baby so I summon whenever I’m invaded, whether by NPC or real player, and also for most bosses if I’ve had a few cracks and don’t think I can manage it. I’ve met some wonderful sherpas and even surprised some players by taking them to areas they’d clearly never seen. One invader turned out to be a sherpa, which is always a great deal of fun, and all the usual community meta of honourable invaders stripping to bare fists and undies to battle newbs seems to have returned.

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Will they? Won’t they? They probably will.

Covenants have also been reworked. Although these mysterious multiplayer-focused groups are still presently fairly obscurely, and your actions still have consequences, some of the angst has been taken out of it as you can switch covenants freely. With some planning and a great deal of time, you could conceivably work your way through each of the groups in one play through, collecting all the goodies on offer.

There’s plenty of motivation for PvP players good and ill, and lots of support for those who fear invasion, thanks to a clever arrangement of synergies. One group in particular is positioned for a fascinating psychological meta. I can’t wait to see how the community reacts to that one, and expect to see some great player stories out of it.

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Saved from an invader by a Blue Sentinels covenant member.

In short, online elements and multiplayer in Dark Souls 3 is hassle free and a total blast, and even nervous players should keep it locked to the servers.

But.

But.

There’s a really nasty bug in the PS4 version, which causes the application to crash out to Sony’s error reporting screen. It happens when you step close enough to specific summon signs to trigger loading of the phantom preview. The problem is restricted to specific summon signs, as opposed to all of them – but since you can’t tell whose summon sign you’re approaching until the phantom loads, this doesn’t help much. At present, summon signs are the most terrifying environmental hazard of all – which is at least very Soulsian.

Obviously you can avoid the crashes by never approaching a summon sign, but that’s not at all a satisfactory solution – and since summon signs appear under your feet sometimes, the only way to be safe is to ensure you never play except as a phantom, sacrificing a huge chunk of health as a result. Even going offline won’t help you; hilariously, even some of the summonable NPCs will cause the crash.

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According to community reports, Japanese players and those who’ve been playing the Japanese build believe they have tracked the problem down to an issue with character names – either they’re too long or they have some other factor that causes the crash (please set your summon display to in-game name rather than PSN ID). It is no longer a problem in the Japanese build as of version 1.03. At time of writing, the western build is only at 1.01, and with over a week till official launch I’m hoping From Software can get an update out before the rest of the world has to experience this painful problem.

It feels a little unfair to complain about this now, when there’s a good chance it will be fixed before launch, but, well, this is the review embargo Bandai Namco set. If a patch is released, I’ll be back here to update and recant my complaints – and I’ll do so joyously. We’ve asked Bandai Namco when we can expect to see a fix, and hope to have an ETA soon.

Dark Souls 3 is fantastic, and the online play is both technically better and more satisfying than ever. It needs to be patched pronto. That’s the key takeaway I’m offering today.

Update: Praise the sun! Four days before release, patch 1.03 rolled out on the European PlayStation Network. The summon sign bug has been squashed, so you’ll no longer experience crashes just for like, walking around.

I’m so, so glad From rolled this patch out before official launch; it contains a stack of other useful fixes, too.

Dark Souls 3 releases next week for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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