Although this is labelled as a retrospective review, this is actually a fresh one for me, as I have only just finished playing Dark Souls 3 (having got the game a month and half ago, but it has been out for nearly 2 years at this point in time.
Last year a good friend of mine said to me “Danny, you NEED to play Dark Souls”, and after badgering me and badgering me to play it, we eventually sat down and played the first one together (although he was playing it and I was just merely watching it), and I must admit, I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t 100% on the actual gameplay, but my friend was wicked at it and handled it like a pro. I on the other hand got sucked into the ambiguous story and the lore. I then went away and watched countless lore videos and boss fights on YouTube.
Our adventures with our character; Derik the Dark Cleric, continued all the way up to about two thirds of the way through the game, when it unfortunately fizzled out and my friend got a new job, working more weekends, and our sessions together came to a close (such as all good things; I.e my D&D/Pathfinder RPG groups over the years).
Whilst watching my friend play it, I did not think that I would be able to do it. I remember I wrote a piece last year during our sessions and stated that I would not be able to get along with it because it was too difficult, so I never carried on the game on my own, and for a time… that was the end of my Dark Souls adventures. My friend had moved onto Bloodborne and was loving it, and I was starting to get withdrawals as the weeks and months went on.
I still continued to watch videos for it from time to time. The prepare to cry series on YouTube by
VaatiVidya are fantastic. He also did a playthrough of the first couple of areas of Dark Souls 3 which I did enjoy, and at the same time, a couple of work friends had started playing DS3 on their respective consoles (PC and PS4).
Then something happened. Xbox had a deal up that if you had Gold membership, you could pick up Dark Souls 3 for £20, including all the DLC. I didn’t know if I should, still asking myself if I could actually play it.
I think the fact that other people say that Dark Souls is hard is what puts people off of this game. That and most of the community are hipster snobs. You will never be able to outdo them if you never played the original. Whatever game of the Soulsborne series you didn’t play, would be the best one.
“Oh you like Dark Souls 3… well you should have played the Bloodborne”
“Like Bloodborne? You should have played the original Dark Souls”
“Oh you like Dark Souls?… well it isn’t no Demons Souls”
“Oh you like Demons Souls… well you should have played King’s Field” OH FUCK OFF!
So I picked it up and then that was it… I HAD to play it. There was no going back. Before this I had just recently completed Assassins Creed: Origins, and it was the personification of how poor gaming has become as of late; a massive open world filled with dull fetch quests and collectables, towers to climb, and everything else that has become the copy/paste open world game from Ubisoft (see: Watchdogs, FarCry, and everything else that seems to emerge from Ubisoft at the moment).
I was just feeling very lethargic when it came to gaming at the time. I felt that I only wanted to play “Good” games, and stop with this constant flow of poorly made triple A titles with big budget names and publishers (which should be a recipe for a winning combination, but in reality it is just a money making scheme to milk something until it is discarded – see: the Dead Space series).
When I finally got down to playing it, I loved it. Personally I think it is one of the best games I have played for a long time, but I know that the hipsters would say that DS3 is too easy, and that I should play DS2 (which I did not overly care for as the story of DS1 and DS3 are heavily linked, where as DS2 is kind of its own thing, with just theories and desperate clutches at straws to try and link the games together, where as I properly enjoyed the story behind 1 and 3).
Gameplay wise, I thought I would struggle, and at times I did, but that is suppose to be the point. I get the game is designed around the idea that you learn from your mistakes. It is a harsh game, but 9 times out of 10, you know exactly what YOU personally did wrong. It was not a case of “Ah this game is fucking bullshit!”, it was that you decided to try and heal yourself in the middle of a boss’ combo strike, or something similar.
One thing that I really loved was that Dark Souls IS a horror game. I don’t care what anyone says. It is terrifying. You have the jump scares of enemies hiding in ambush behind something (but again… they only get you if you were not prepared for them, such as running with your shield up), and you feel genuinely nervous about heading down the next path. Especially since the game makes it more intense by having you only rest at bonfires (which is like a checkpoint, teleport point, and heals you, but it respawns the enemies) and if you die along the way, everything resets, including all the souls that you have gathered along the way (which is used as currency and for levelling up). Dying just a few rooms away from a bonfire and losing 30,000 souls is crippling at that point in the game.
Of course you can get them back. You have one chance to do so, but if you die again without reaching them, they are gone for good and all that effort you went through was wasted.
This is all standard Dark Souls mechanics, and nothing new with DS3, so what makes Dark Souls 3 unique from the others?
Well you now have a magic meter (and FP meter), which was something that was in Demons Souls way back when, where as before your magical abilities used stamina (along with everything else that uses stamina), so it was harder back then, I suppose. 1 – hipsters, Danny – 0.
You also have more bonfires… therefore making the game easier… 2 – Hipsters, Danny – 0…
You can teleport between bonfires at the get-go, where as in DS1 you had to get halfway through the game before you could do that, and you can’t even do it to every single bonfire.
Okay… well you… emmm….
Okay. Maybe Dark Souls 3 is easier than the others. From when I watched my friend play DS1, it looked punishing. DS3 maybe does help new people to the series along.
An example off the top of my head for this is that when you arrive in one area (the Low Wall of Lothric), you are at one bonfire. If you head down the stairs, fight about 4 guys and head through the gate, there is another bonfire. It literally takes less than one minute to get there.
(Strangely at the Dragonslayer armour boss battle, once you have done the boss, a bonfire remains behind, but then if you walk towards the Grand Archives, there is another one from the entrance. You can literally see one from the other, however, there is no enemies in-between. DS1 would NEVER have done this).
I guess I can see the hipsters’ points. Plus they are coming down from the high that they felt from Bloodborne (which my friend has just bought me for my birthday… so now I HAVE to play it), and coming back to Dark Souls, which is actually quite a different type of gameplay, even though the games are pretty much the same (BB is more offensive, where as DS is more defensive).
So the DS3 is more accommodating for new people to the series, but there is still a lot here for returning fans. The boss battles are as intense as they have always been, some of which are impossibly challenging (such as the Nameless King and the Dancer – when you first get to her), and most of them are unique and brilliant to just… behold.
There was a point when I was facing against this giant tree boss (don’t worry, I do know all the names and the lore behind it all), and at first you face it in a courtyard and its legs are all bent, making it appear like it is a human doing a crab walk. But then after something happens, it stood up and towered over me. I honestly thought to myself “how the hell am I going to do this!” as I stood back to try and figure out what I was going to do next.
A couple of the bosses are gimmicky and require a specific way of defeating them (looking at you High Lord Wolnir), but overall the bosses were brilliant. When you first face them, such as when Vordt appears, or even the Dancer first drops from the ceiling, you feel that fear I was speaking about when I mentioned that Dark Souls IS a horror game.
Even the standard enemies give you enough grief and are nerve rackingly terrifying. The Pontiff Knights in Irithyll spring to mind. There is a brilliant amount of different enemies in this game, all of which require a completely different tactic to take down. Some of which are easy enough, but if they catch you, then they are going to do a lot of damage, others hit faster but lighter, whilst others are just straight up bastards who will dick on you the first chance they get (Silver Knights!).
I was amazing at how many different enemies there are in the game, some of which only appear in one location, so all their move sets and animations, as well as their stats, has all just been created for one single little encounter. It is something that From Software have done previously, but I was just really impressed seeing this first hand.
If you are struggling (as Dark Souls is suppose to be one of the hardest game series going) you can make the game easier for yourself if you are struggling. Reading up about stuff on a wiki/guide, continuing NPC quests to get their summon signs appearing near boss fights, summoning other players to help fights, over levelling…. You can even just run through a certain point and get to the next bonfire. It might take a few tries, but you can get there and move on if that previous area is causing you too much of an issue (Again, the Pontiff Knights come to mind once more).
All of which are looked down upon in the Dark Souls community… but personally, I think that it is a hard game. If you are struggling with a boss, and you have died about 10 times on it, fuck it! Summon in another play to draw some agro. Sometimes it can be harder, but most of the time having another person there, even if it is an NPC, can just help give you a moment to knock back a quick Estus, and get yourself back into the fight.
Just enjoy it. Don’t worry about what the other people think, and if they ask… just lie and say you did it yourself haha.
Disclaimer: I was always honest whenever someone asked me if I summoned in a person to help.
The worst thing is that if you do this once, it suddenly becomes easy to keep doing it and after a few deaths, you think to yourself “Sod it… let’s get someone in”.
The game series is hard, but only if you allow it to be.
I mentioned the NPC quests a moment ago. As with all the DS games, you are never sure if you are doing them or not, or if you have missed something and now it is locked. I lost out on Sirus of the Sunless realms questline by completing another one for a different character (which I learned after I could have done AFTER Sirus’ one, therefore doing them both), so you will miss out on some of the content, therefore, additional playthroughs would be required to see everything.
One ending requires you to terminate another NPCs questline, so it is impossible to do it all in one playthrough.
The lore of DS3 is amazing. Simply amazing. It is just as good as another of the other games, and follows the same routine of telling you very little in game, unless you look for it. It is hidden in item descriptions, scenery, and NPC placement, as well as little comments NPCs say, all of this tided together gives you just enough story to get into it, but not enough to tell you everything with definitive explanation. A lot of it is left up to you and what you believe. I have watched some lore videos where I agree with everything, and others where I think “No… that’s bollocks”. Some things are just clutching at straws, but most of the time these lore videos really do help fill in the gaps, and if you watch them whilst you play (not at the same time!), so long as they don’t go into too much spoiler territory, then you do becoming so much more sucked into the game’s world.
You need this to truly enjoy Dark Souls (in my opinion), as the main story of the game is very little if you take it at face value. If you have played the other DS games and really enjoyed them the same way, then there is so much more interesting stuff to learn and discover as you explore the world around you.
Veteran plays will enjoy the nods to DS1, as DS3 is heavily involved with it. Some characters are complete homages to others, where as others make an appearance.
A good sequel jumps off the original, where as a bad sequel wallows in it. I can understand how the nods to the original might seem like this to old school DS players, but I think that it is unique enough to stand on its own two feet and such you into to the rich story that is hidden beneath its depths.
One last point I would like to make is that the game is stunning. The scenery is brilliant (if not a little heavy on the Cathedral side of things), and there were moments where you do simply look out onto it. At times you may do this to try and work out how to traverse the map, as it can be troublesome and there are hidden routes, hidden items, secret doors, and shortcut, scattered all around each of the areas (nothing new to DS games), but it sometimes the background will catch you and you will find yourself staring out to it.
One uniquely fantastic thing about DS3 is that the entire game takes place over a closely packed out area. Whilst each single location feels big enough and doesn’t seem packed, from a high height and staring out over the landscape, you can actually trace your journey and see locations that you have previously visited, or will visit in the near future.
If you stand on the Low Wall of Lothric, then you can see the Undead Settlement, along with the church where the Great-Rotten Cursewood tree lies, the Crucifixion woods, Farron Keep, The Cathedral of the Deep, and a glimmer of Irithyll. Whilst in Anor Londo, you can see the rest of it from the other side of the mountain, and it is just a nice thing to stand there and trace your journey, as it is a long and hard one, met with dying countless times and seemingly impossible, but if you push yourself, learn from your mistakes, and just try and try again, you will become victorious and feel fantastic for finally taking down that boss that you have spent so long struggling against it.
Overall I think that Dark Souls 3 is one of my favourite games. It has gone right up there against some of the greatest games I have played, such as Silent Hill 2, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Whilst I do love the original, having not played it myself is kind of why it is not as high as this one, but I may get the remaster and rock that out over the summer.
I still have one of the Dark Souls 3 DLCs to do; The Ringed City, which is suppose to be the closer for the series, and I am interested in how I face in that, but for now my time with Dark Souls 3 has come to an end (since I am currently now playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance)… however, I can feel the call from time to time, so I do not think it will be long before I venture forth to the Ringed City to face the final evil that awaits there.
If you are scared of playing it, or believe that you do not have the time to keep dying over and over again, do not worry. These games are not as impossible as people have made out. You WILL die… you need to accept that, but if you learn from it, and adapt to what you are facing, then you will have an amazing time with this game.
Dark Souls 3 is easier for newcomers, but it still poses a challenge for veteran players.
The series is one of my newly discovered things and at the time of writing, I am obsessed with it. I have become sucked into this amazingly harsh and story rich world, and I kind of do not want to lose this.
It is rejuvenated my love of video games once again in a time of mundane repetitiveness, and I cannot thank it enough for doing so.