There's a point early in Dark Souls III where an angry tree bashes you to death with a branch while firing murderous magic skulls at you in a poison swamp. It doesn't get better. A few levels later, a knight accosts you in a lava-filled room, cuts you in half, and thanks your corpse. You keep going, cutting a tree down, dancing around the knight, weeping tears of joy over the bodies of crotchety fire demons, because every victory is a life-changing achievement.
There's no better feeling than the rush of relief that comes after beating one of the hellish bosses in a Souls game.
It's all pointless of course. Dark Souls has never been known for its optimism. Bloodborne, last year's Souls spinoff, had three endings, each more depressing than the last. Series architect, Hidetaka Miyazaki, likes cycles. His games snake around an endless series of soul-crushing challenges, seemingly important victories, and end up pretty much right back where they started.
You can still have fun along the way. Dark Souls III boasts a better world than its predecessor, Dark Souls II, starting you off in a shallow grave and taking you through an interconnected array of festering bogs, smouldering fire pits, snow-caked cities, weird underground prisons, and dragon enclaves. Some environments are a little monotonous, but they always pay off with progress to a new, more grandiose locale.
Combat is faster than in previous Souls games, with Miyazaki taking inspiration from Bloodborne's fast-paced dodge-and-stab gameplay. There's more merit to putting on lightweight armour, spinning around enemies, and repeatedly stabbing them in the spine, than in other Souls games.
What else is new? Items drop more often than before, so there's a million different weapons to experiment with, from carving-encrusted greatswords to annoying little pointy sticks. There's a few great boss battles with interesting combat mechanics, and a few surprising duds.
In general though, Dark Souls III doesn't reinvent the wheel. The good news is it doesn't have to. A solid Dark Souls game still outdoes just about anything else on the market. Buy it, say goodbye to your loved ones, and settle in for another uniquely satisfying 100 hours of unending misery.
Game: Dark Souls III
Platforms: Playstation 4, XBox One
Verdict: Another joyous parade of despair