Souls Week continues today with a look back at Dark Souls 3 – an ignored classic?
Everybody likes the original Dark souls. And Dark Souls 3?
An entire lot of hmmm was certainly how I felt about Dark Souls 3 after my very first playthrough 6 years back. Either method, Dark Souls 3 isn’t a video game I have actually believed about really much considering that my very first trot through Lothric in 2016, and I definitely wasn’t anticipating to be quite so thoroughly consumed by it when I chose to revisit it over the New Year.
I turned to the Demon’s Souls remake first but ended up bouncing hard off Bluepoint’s questionable aesthetic liberties – I have spared you the tirade about colour-palette changes and architectural revisionism that was present in the original variation of this feature, you’ll be pleased to know – ultimately settling on Dark Souls 3. It’s the Dark Souls I have actually played the least, indicating its surprises had faded from memory over the years, plus its modern-day lick of paint is still simple on the eyes.
Dealing With Dark Souls 3 away from the orbit of The Old Hunters (and certainly the perpetual march of the rest of the series, which remarkably started and ended in the area of less than five years), it’s far much easier to value simply how remarkable Dark Souls 3 really is. I realise there’s a subset of combat-focused gamers with concerns above my head that may take umbrage with that declaration, however by the time I ‘d left the High Wall of Lothric that opens the video game, I was completely and irreversibly in its grip.
World structure is, of couse, From’s forte; Boletaria, Lordran, Drangleic, Lothric, and Yarnham aren’t things of pixels and polygons, these are worlds of mortar and stone, so exactly wrought you can practically smell the aeons of history buried underfoot. And all From’s usual narrative tics return in Dark Souls 3 – every careful little mise-en-scène, every exactingly placed opponent and product, every ephemeral whiff of lore wandering out of product descriptions. However its commanding sense of information, its eye for a vista and collapsing masonry, has actually never been better served by the included graphical fidelity enabled here. And shorn of the limiting palette of Bloodborne’s night-drenched gothic squalor, Dark Souls 3 has more room than ever to breathe.
And breathe it does, albeit through the ever-present stench of rot that penetrates the game. Dark Souls 3 provides its world like some fucked up Disneyland – a forlorn, festering, ramshackle assemblage of tumbledown huts, overgrown graveyards, broken bridges, and ominous cathedrals, all trembling in respect to the falling apart greatness of Castle Lothric at the centre of it all.
One relentless problem, obviously, is that all this visual richness is offset by a rather more limiting, stiff structure compared to the knotty ball of string that is the original Dark Souls’ world or the wheel-like design of its follow up, each spoke terminating in a similarly complex tangle of environments, albeit more compact this time. Dark Souls 3, however, favours a long, snaking journey, just occasionally breaking and branching to permit an exploratory exhale. It’s a linearity that never quite dazzles as a tour-de-force of world style in the same method as its skillful pioneer, but I’m not sure that’s eventually all that huge a deal.
Rather of that twisted knot, Dark Souls 3 plays out more like a string of pearls, each bead its own self-contained eco-system showcasing From’s unrivaled skill at designing looping, cross-crossing environments in maybe its purest kind, and each one as radically different in its gamer needs as it is aesthetically distinct. From Software application gets off to a remarkable start with the High Wall of Lothric, a suffocatingly vertiginous scene-setter that skips along ramparts and treacherous sidewalks, down into the threatening depths and back up once again; from there, the Undead Settlement, rushing over rooftops, looping underneath bridges and plunging into ravines, then possibly the first genuine emphasize, the Cathedral of the Deep – a sort of ever-tightening spiral that gradually builds momentum through its giddying opening graveyard onslaught, thrusting you around and around, up and across rafters, to a memorable fight versus two giants and, later, a viscerally gratifying capper as you devitalize the clergy itself.
And on it goes! Farron Keep, a hilariously mean-spirited open stretch created to disorientate, distress, and infuriate adventurers; later on, Ithryll Dungeon, a squalid descent into pure horror that intermittently thrusts you out of its claustrophobic confines to witness an ancient forgotten city dimly lit below. Then the radiance of the Grand Archives, a shadowy labyrinth of ancient tomes and grasping Lovecraftian horrors whose very design seems to defy physics. Regardless of the momentum of its consistent upward climb, its path repeatedly breaking out onto the rooftops for another gasp of fetid air, it somehow always handles to spit you back out near the start. Linear the overall Dark Souls 3 journey may be, however each specific leg is anything.
There’s a purity in the game’s focus on more self-contained style – a type of distillation of From’s perceptiveness that ripples out across all of Dark Souls 3. It is, for example, possibly the purest manifestation yet of Dark Souls’ secret life as a puzzle game – I ‘d forgotten, or maybe just never ever understood, that Dark Souls’ real obstruction isn’t a lot its problem as its hoax. The reality is that – beyond a baseline of battle proficiency – offered you level up, keep your cool, development gradually, and only take a swipe if you’re particular you can land the blow, Dark Souls isn’t, I do not believe (and I understand I remain in danger of sounding like one of those individuals here), a particularly difficult video game.
The secret is caution; brute-forcing Dark Souls is like brute-forcing a jigsaw – just because you have all the pieces in front of you (and by pieces I indicate your fight tool set of blocks, strikes, parries, rolls, spells and other tricks in this laboured example) does not imply they’ll amazingly coalesce if you throw them hard enough at the table. Rather, and I think it’s more apparent than ever in Dark Souls 3, success is available in thinking about the myriad different ways those pieces may comfortably mesh to overcome the obstacles From enthusiastically lays out.
The strength of Dark Souls 3 in particular, I think, is the large variety of these difficulties, and the versatility you’re given in which to approach them; watch, wait, analyse, evaluate, and act, and you’ll have a considerably much easier time. Dark Souls 3 possibly doesn’t quite have its Ornstein and Smough minute in terms of sheer iconic pizzaz, however holy hell do its employers shine.
Plenty has currently been discussed the stellar likes of the bamboozlingly off-tempo Dancer of the Boreal Valley – all flapping veils and gangly limbs created to sidetrack from the usual rhythms of play – but there’s barely a dud in Dark Souls 3’s rich manager line-up. And I’m even counting the more gimmicky inclusions, such as the Deacons of the Deep – a writhing turmoil of ferocious melee that’s a delightful antithesis to the series’ usual considered combat – or Yhorm the Giant, a boss fight that introduces an entirely new weapon then requires you figure out how to use it on the fly while the big fella consistently tries to pound your head into the flooring.
There are just so numerous remarkable minutes; from the browbeating intensity of the Abyss Watchers – a paranoid dance of simultaneous skirmishes as enemies attack from every side – to the pyrotechnic bedazzlement of Pontiff Sulyvahn, or the haunting last stand of the Twin Princes, a continuous cycle of pitiful resurrection as the 2 brothers protect one another to the death and beyond. The list could quickly go on, but I can’t finish without an unique mention to the Painted World of Ariandel’s Sibling Friede – a deeply satisfying, intensely choreographed two-hander in between the silently swift lead character and her brutish fire-brandishing counterpart that includes a lot of moving parts and needs a lot creative application of your entire skillset, I truly seemed like I should have a certificate at the end of it all.
Dark Souls 3 isn’t always so fantastic. Its many story (and actual) dead-ends – seemingly a result of eleventh hour, big scale tinkering with the plot and structure – do lend the experience a sort of wonky inelegance that didn’t feel particularly From-like on my very first play-through, and stays equally awkward all these years later on. Even so, it actually is remarkable how effectively – both in regards to all-encompassing narrative reach and in large formula improvement – it brings the ludicrously convoluted, numerous stranded, Millenia-spanning Dark Souls story to a close.
Granted, the base game’s hasty eagerness to cover things up simply as it’s all getting intriguing (I’m still pondering the significance of angels, dragon babies, and lapsed gods two months on) does not make for a particularly favourable final impression, but it’s a flaw more than dealt with, I believe, by the Ringed City DLC. This final hoorah of two extremely various however most importantly dovetailing chapters not just serves to highlight the series’ concept of cyclical death and rebirth, it likewise completes some long-lingering plot holes, all in a blaze of well-earned fan-service.
The Painted World of Ariandel brings a melancholy hope to all the misery prior to it, while the Ringed City itself is a mini-marvel, a series capper that begins with a gleefully literal descent through Dark Souls’ history prior to spitting gamers out into among From’s most lovely areas, a verdant crescent of tightly loaded Indonesian-style temples neglecting the very edge of time itself. If Dark Souls 3 is a distillation of whatever terrific about Dark Souls, the Ringed City is a distillation of that once again.
And in a video game that already impresses with its intricate web of downplayed, however still emotionally pleasing NPC side-quests, The Ringed City ends on a doozy; both a completely performed punchline in amongst all the end-of-the-world gloom, and an answer to a minor question fans of Miyazaki have been considering for years.
In the end – and undoubtedly at the end, as a harsh wind blasts ash across all of area and all of time – it’s definitely real that Dark Souls 3’s more-of-the-same might possibly never have actually hoped to record the creativity of gamers in the exact same method as its predecessors did a 3rd time around. Roll on Elden Ring, then, Dark Souls, however more …
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