The Dark Souls is the source for one of my deepest affections in the gaming industry. Although I have talked about Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and so on, in the past, I believe this next batch of reviews (where I re-play and re-review the Dark Souls series and Demon’s Souls, respectively) will be declarative and final.
I hadn’t until recently planned to revisit them, realizing that I found myself always searching for that same level of immersion and entertainment I had with the series, and deciding to return to the source. Something you might be curious about is why I have decided to start off with Dark Souls III instead of the original game or even Demon’s Souls. The latter option is easy to write-off. Demon’s Souls will be remade on the PlayStation 5 and, thus, that’s what I will wait for. Dark Souls also has a remaster, which I will buy once it is on sale and I have more disposable income (I intend to buy the Souls-like games Hell Point and Mortal Shell beforehand). I also can’t help but feel as though I didn’t treat Dark Souls III with the respect it deserved when it first came out.
I was late to the Dark Souls series early-on (I was late into buying a PlayStation 3, as well). Once I conquered Demon’s Souls, spending about thirty-something hours on this new challenging formula, blending familiar ingredients for an addictive new recipe, I went straight into its Dark Souls successor. By then, Dark Souls II was already on the market.
Dark Souls was a milestone experience for me as a gamer. I spent one-hundred hours seeing my virtual self ripped into smithereens, but I was engrossed every step of the way. I was captivated by the challenging boss battles, but even more taken by the inspired and melancholy world the Souls series had to offer.
I would consider myself somewhere between a “Hardcore gamer” and a “Casual gamer,” I think. Whereas I have played many games and am very enthusiastic about it, I also have lapses where I don’t play anything at all. For instance, prior to playing Code Vein, I really hadn’t played anything more than a few hours this year at all. I have never been the type of person to spend more than twenty-to-thirty something hours on a game apiece, and have never been as invested in role-playing games as many others are. And so, spending one-hundred hours on Dark Souls made it a major epic, so-to-speak.
Afterward, I moved onto Dark Souls II, enjoying myself, and completing that campaign shy of sixty hours total. I know a lot of people didn’t like Dark Souls II. I am curious to see where I will land once the smoke has settled.
The point is, by the time Dark Souls III officially arrived in 2016, I feel like I was subconsciously burned out on FromSoftwares’ series. A lot of me was still very enthusiastic and driven by it, but I think another part of me was a little more subdued by my exposure to the series. I finished through Dark Souls III’s campaign in just over forty hours and never looked back – until now.
This time around, I stopped to smell the flowers, and really try and harness the magic that I first had with the Dark Souls series.
Dark Souls III’s story is deceptively straightforward, a description that can aptly be applied to any game in the Souls series, for that matter. I have always loved how they incorporate their narrative and don’t really try to hammer it in at all. Dark Souls is a gamer’s game, through and through, and really, after all the time I had spent with the series, I only had a vague remembrance of what it was all even about. Dark Souls allows and encourages you to make your own adventure. I love story in games and I absolutely would not mind seeing more narrative in a Souls-like game experimentally speaking, but I find that a plight plaguing many role-playing games is the way exposition overflows and dilutes my immersion. Not Dark Souls though.
The game-play is fun and demands a level of trial-and-error, observation, and skill. The series has always wore its difficulty on its sleeve and embraced it. “Prepare to Die” is a mantra often attached to many and most of FromSoftware’s recent releases. Generally, even the hardest enemy has an easier approach you can take with it. Proper stamina management and a cool-head (not panic rolling or getting greedy with your attacks) can often lead to satisfactory outcomes.
As much as I enjoy traversing a Souls’ games terrain, I don’t always lavishly covet the difficulty. I think something I have noticed is that I love nearly everything unabashedly except the boss battles that come after. I like a lot of the boss battles, mind you, and some of the enjoyment and sense of accomplishment they provide is among some of the series’ best offerings. However, it is also where I think a lot of the frustration from Dark Souls III comes from. Whether it be an enemy overwhelming you with a rapid-fire set of attacks, or, worse yet, an enemy swinging their weapon through a pillar that should have protected you, sometimes the boss battles can shine a spotlight on some of the “jankier” qualities the series has to offer. Attacks don’t always land quite right and, sometimes, the camera-angle can really cost you.
The series has come a long way since the original. They have added a fast-travel system and other conveniences that allow faster progression and unnecessary hindrances. Something I have always loved about the Souls series itself is the way the maps are laid-out and built. The way things interconnect and shortcuts arise is very cool and shows a real attention to detail. Although I can’t say for certain until I re-play Dark Souls II, I remember thinking the fast-travel system and linearity took away from the sense of exploration I had. Dark Souls III, on the other-hand, I feel, walks the tight-rope without ever feeling too cryptic. In-fact, part of me wishes they could have offered more detours and secrets.
Sometimes certain choices can feel a little unnecessary. I know I have often complained about how they make getting from the Firelink Shrine to whichever boss battle you’ve been having at a real chore. I can’t tell you how many times I ran past enemies in Anor Londo in-order to get to the boss only to be flung off a walkway to my death by one of the smaller enemies I was trying to brush past. Also, certain multi-phase boss battles can feel like a real unneeded hassle. I think what I have come to believe about Dark Souls is that everything works best simpler and more direct. If you add too many contrivances, on the other-hand, like multiple enemies, it can really emphasize aspects like camera-angles. A lot of what I have read says that Dark Souls III’s camera-angle is “especially bad,” and so, I won’t say that applies entirely to earlier games (but I know there was at least some issues).
I feel that weaponry and items you discover are less than stellar. I would call it formulaic, actually. Whereas I remember a range of weaponry I used in earlier entries, I found Dark Souls III, like Bloodborne, saw me using, more-or-less, the same setup nearly from start to finish. I also found it very “Greatsword” or large-weapon heavy, which has never really been my way to play.
The music is one of my favorite aspects about the series altogether, and Dark Souls III definitely accomplishes and celebrates their sound in grandiose fashion. The orchestral symphonic sound of the series is wonderful and really puts me in the mood for their morbid sense of adventure.
The graphics are solid, especially in-terms of scale and environment. The character models still feel particularly lacking, but that peels away once you’ve donned your armor and weaponry. In a lot of ways, something that makes the series so successful, I think, is the way it packages itself. It isn’t only that Dark Souls is hard that sells it as such an undertaking. The way the setting overwhelms you and the epic-scale music braces you, it all comes together and makes each game feel like an “event,” so to speak.
Once the dust has settled, I think Dark Souls III is a great game. It does not reinvent and thoroughly build upon what has been established earlier on, and instead, offers another delectable serving of a meal I knew I’d enjoy (the most unforgiving comfort food I’ve ever tasted). I do wish FromSoftware would experiment more than what they have with the formula and tighten up certain loose ends, something I feel they still hadn’t done with Bloodborne (I have not played Sekiro, however). Because, I think that, with a lot of small, but accumulative changes, the formula is capable of shocking the system in a way it hasn’t since the original.