No game stirred up a more colourful word-of-mouth reputation than Dark Souls when it first landed in 2011. Dark Souls had an aura about it that masked the true nature of the game itself. This reputation created such a strong priori that the actual experience became a self-fulfilled prophecy. I am of course referring to the game’s difficulty that has become a modern day legend of sorts. Ask any one who has played these games and they will give you exaggerated views on how difficult they are, or you may meet several elitists who will brag about how they breezed through the many boss battles. Not to mention, people have accomplished speed runs that have lasted just a couple of hours. So honestly is Dark Souls for real or is it all just hype? Well, it’s both but at the same time it’s really neither. It’s an action RPG where you traverse a fairly open but structured game world. You explore a dark and bleak world that is filled with secrets and treasures, where slowly but surely you get stronger and wiser, and of course you take on bosses in true David versus Goliath fashion.
Is Dark Souls punishing beyond belief? Maybe. I honestly never completed the original as I never got around to beating the infamous duo of Smough and Ornstein. OK I will admit, those guys were tough and lived up to their lofty reputation. However, I don’t believe they are impossible. It’s just I couldn’t find anyone to help me via PVP or put in the hours needed to farm souls. My point being, if you’re patient enough to put in the hours needed to progress slowly through Dark Souls, then it’s very much doable. You have to remember that Dark Souls is not an action game, it is an action RPG. When you approach it like a twitchy action game you will find it brutal (not to mention the rusty mechanics don’t accommodate for this), but when you treat it for what it is, a RPG, then Dark Souls becomes far less intimidating.
So Dark Souls‘ demands was never really about skill or difficulty, but about time and patience. Once you realise this, the experience becomes surprisingly comfortable. They say hindsight is 20/20, and every time I think about the bosses I’ve overcome I think “Hey, that wasn’t so bad”. To complete the rest of that quote, hindsight is 20/20 but foresight can be staring at you right in the face and you’ll still miss it.
Dark Souls was followed by Dark Souls II, which didn’t quite live up to expectations, and it was later re-released on other platforms. As an offshoot, the PlayStation 4 got exclusive dibs on Bloodborne, which was essentially a Dark Souls game just like how Demon’s Souls (which is exclusive to PlayStation 3) is the original predecessor to the franchise. Dark Souls now becomes a trilogy with its third entry, Dark Souls III, and it is also the first true entry that is exclusive to current gaming platforms. So all things considered, this is the official next-gen debut of the Souls series.
Dark Souls III is for the lack of a better word… familiar. In fact it’s so familiar that the experience is virtually indistinguishable from the first game. Chances are, if you’ve played the first game or even the second, you’re going to adapt to Dark Souls III very easily and find it manageable from the first boss. Point is, the near mythical allure of the Souls series has worn out at this point, and you finally see it for what it really is.
The large interconnected world that defined the series is present in Dark Souls III and it is compelling in its structure and design. However, exploring the game world doesn’t quite evoke those feelings of discovery and wonder. In fact, the uncertainty and anxiety of exploring a new area is largely absent. In the original, you would step into each area wondering if this is where you were meant to go or if you’re too underpowered. That worry is virtually absent in Dark Souls III because for one thing the game world feels a tad linear, and secondly the bonfire save points are not only more frequent but they are all connected via fast travel right from the get go.
The feeling of leaving an old area behind and boldly traversing uncharted and dangerous territory is sorely missed here, and so in Dark Souls III you almost confidently roll and stumble to find the next bonfire point. The convenience of fast travel means that exploration feels less daunting, the loss of souls upon defeat is not a huge loss, and above all, you can farm and grind for souls and simply teleport to the Shrine for level and weapon upgrades. Not to mention, replenish your stock of items like Ember that pretty remain the same price no matter how many times you purchase.
Is the game challenging? Certainly. The bosses are no push over and the enemies generally hit hard. As I said, the experience itself is Dark Souls in every sense, from the feel of the combat system and mobility, to the various classes, to the equipment weight system, and to the extensive use of souls to upgrade your character and equipment. Everything you’d expect from a Dark Souls game is here.
The mechanics have not changed at all, all pros and cons intact and unchanged. Not to mention, the sporadic and glitch-heavy A.I. is just as laughable as it was before, as you can still trick enemies into falling off a ledge. It’s like they are purposely programmed to not react to their environment, but it ends up feeling like a programming oversight. The general feel of the controls and mechanics feel just as cumbersome and handicapped as you’d expect. An intentional handicap may be part of the charm, but it’s not a good example of polished game design.
The highlight of the Souls experience (much like Mega Man) are the boss battles, and Dark Souls III doesn’t disappoint here with its wide array of finely designed boss battles. There’s nothing more satisfying than learning the ins and outs of a boss, with each defeat bringing you closer to figuring it out and ultimately lead to a smooth and satisfying victory. These guys come in all shapes and sizes, play around with different status elements, and at times even make interesting use of the game environment. Dark Souls III manages to deliver unique and interesting battles, and it’s great that there are still plenty of neat ideas in the boss battle creative board.
Visually, Dark Souls III has a nice coat of paint that lives up to what you’d expect from an Xbox One and PS4 title, but at the end of the day it’s just a new coat of paint on the same old engine. The graphics feel similar in terms of character models and animations even though the texture mapping is a little better. Although, you still run into the odd muddy pixels once in a while. What’s a little disappointing that all the technical and framerate issues that plagued the original 2011 release are sill somewhat evident here. In busier areas the framerate takes a noticeable drop in Dark Souls III. If you were expecting the level of artistic detail and splendour as Bloodborne, then you will be a little disappointed. From a technical standpoint, Dark Souls III doesn’t quite feel like a major step forward in terms of the scale and scope of the game world, and that can be a little disappointing for those expecting something life changing from the first next-gen Souls game.
Dark Souls III in the end is, for better or worse, the exact same game as the original Dark Souls. While Dark Souls III can pose a compelling challenge, the conveniences it affords players really lessens the burden to the point where it’s not quite the Dark Souls as it was envisioned. What you get in the end is a surprisingly manageable action RPG where you can tackle bite-sized areas and practice until you learn all the patterns and placements. With the higher frequency of bonfires and the convenience of fast travel, Dark Souls III no longer carries the fabled mystique of its predecessors. Sure, you’ll go up against some brutal bosses, but you’ll always find a way to work around them. The loss of defeat will never hurt you too much and the Shrine is always accessible like a 24/7 convenience store. Dark Souls III has, for better or worse, essentially made the Dark Souls experience accessible to any gamer. Those expecting Dark Souls III to be the bigger, badder, and better sequel will be slightly disappointed. However, if you really wanted more of the same and nothing else, then Dark Souls III will satisfy.