For quite some time, I held a grudge against the Souls series. I remember buying Demon’s Souls, getting to the drawbridge outside a massive castle, and dying. And dying again. And again. Over and over and over again. My fury knew no bounds. I was ready to beg, borrow and steal, even punch infants if necessary, just to figure out how in God’s name I was supposed to play this forsaken pile of rage that was giving me so much hell. It was then that I swore off the Souls series, ignoring both Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. A few friends tried to convince me to try again, and after one more shot with Demon’s Souls, it seemed that my foray into the Souls games was forever impossible.
Then came Bloodborne.
For the life of me, I can’t remember how, but someone convinced me to try From Software’s newest iteration of a Souls-style game. Shortly before buying, I remember watching a YouTuber by the name of EpicNameBro. His videos on how to get through Bloodborne were informative, and stemmed the tide of rising frustration that would have otherwise kept me away from another masterpiece in gaming. Even today, I still own Bloodborne, and the Souls series has, yet again, delivered gaming gold.
Dark Souls 3 is, for lack of better descriptors, an addiction I cannot shake. The world, the combat, the bosses, everything has been knit together in such a way that, despite the punishing difficulty and frustrating moments, I can’t help but play, again and again, no matter the class. As a new arrival to the Dark Souls trilogy, I can’t say much about the previous titles, aside from the brief attempts to make it through Things Betwixt over the years. I’ve read quite a bit on the series, and Dark Souls 2 was apparently the low point in the series. A friend of mine has asked me to play through the first two with him to see the entire series, so we’ll see what happens there.
First, let’s talk level design. FromSoft’s ability to create a world that entirely folds back in on itself is absolutely incredible. Every locale manages, even after extensive exploration, to come back to itself, unlocking shortcuts, while not feeling like a tedious slog through bland environments or boring level design. Time and again, I was surprised to come to a door or an elevator that led me back to some previous place, shortening subsequent playthroughs and giving options for exploration. Furthermore, FromSoft got me several times with pitfalls or other traps that were so well-placed that they aren’t visible until you’ve already fallen for them.
Every new door lead to a place of haunting, horrifying beauty. The world has such a Lovecraftian vibe, some places even twisting one’s vision to a point of almost a headache. I remember the area leading to the final boss’s room, just looking around at the twisted landscape, wrung up almost like a washcloth. It was nauseating, sickening to look at in a way that only Mr. Lovecraft could engender. But it was also something I couldn’t stop looking at. Trying to wrap my brain around a landscape that shouldn’t exist, but somehow does.
Bosses throughout the Souls games are equally enchanting. Larger-than-life, a combination of fast and slow combat, twisted, human-yet-inhuman design, and countless attempts at every one, I found each boss unique in its own way, requiring different methods for victory. Each a “skill check” of its own, progression required mastery of different abilities, ensuring a well-rounded player at the end of the experience.
FromSoft also has a knack for a form of padding in their games that isn’t frustrating, such as keycard hunts, or “optional” paths that drag you through countless more enemies for no good reason other than “make the level longer.” Several of Dark Souls 3’s bosses are entirely optional, allowing for a longer playthrough, but not forcing players to do so if they aren’t so inclined. Ultimately, I wanted to see everything, so I enjoyed a much richer, deeper experience than a simple start-to-finish that some might have gone for. After several playthroughs on both PS4 and PC, I accomplished the “Usurpation of Fire” ending, which gives extensive lore experience throughout the game, leading you through most of the other quests that can sometimes be hard to find. It made the game a deeper, more worthwhile experience than it already is.
Combat in Dark Souls 3 received an overhaul from previous iterations, making it tighter and more fluid, adding some of spunky-little-brother-Bloodborne’s acrobatic combat and fancier footwork than previous titles. The game does a fantastic job of mixing combat styles between the classes, allowing for warriors and knights who carry staves and talismans, or mages who carry greatswords. There’s even option for shield builds, including dual-wielding shields, that somehow remain viable forms of combat for those willing to master them.
Furthermore, the Covenant system present even in previous Souls titles makes a return, allowing you to either call for assistance, summon others for duels, or just otherwise be invaded by those willing to cause trouble. Having finished the game a few times, I’ve begun fiddling with Covenant play, invading other worlds, joining fight clu…oh, we can’t talk about those.
Every Covenant has rewards for engaging in their flavor of conduct, offering rewards for certain numbers of successful encounters with other players. It encourages a healthy multi-player experience without forcing it for an enjoyable, full playthrough. My only frustration was when I was trying to progress and someone invaded, killing me and setting me back a bit. I know, I know.
“It’s a Souls game, git gud.”
I realize it’s part of the gameplay, and I live with it. It just adds to the argument that Souls games may require a free enrollment to anger management classes for those among gamers who might be less patient with FromSoft’s version of trolling.
Dark Souls 3, burning out patience fuses daily.