Ed Note: I have written about the Souls series numerous times before, including two posts on my first impressions of Dark Souls III, which you can read on my old blog. Part one is here; part two is here. In addition, there will be spoilers as I discuss the game. It’s unavoidable, so if you still haven’t played the game, intend to do so, and don’t want to know anything going in, you might want to skip this post.
Hi, my name is Minna, and I play Dark Souls games. Not only do I play them, I’ve beaten the first two games twice each, and I’m about a third of the way through the third and final game. I don’t consider myself good at the games*, but I’ve played them enough to consider myself a veteran of the series. Having played nearly fifty hours of Dark Souls III, I feel confident enough to say that if you love the Souls series and have been hungering for more, you’ll love this game, too. Conversely, if you hate the other Souls games or are frustrated/irritated by the combat system, you’ll want to pass this game as well. In other words, Dark Souls III is firmly a Souls game, for better, for neutral, and for worse. There are some tweaks and updated graphics, but the core game is Souls, through and through. Let’s start with what I don’t like about DS III, what I’m meh about, and I’ll finish up with what I like about the latest and probably last entry in the trilogy.**
Janky physics. It’s a staple of the games, and Miyazaki probably considers them a feature and not a bug. There are few things more frustrating that running frantically around a room, finding a place that I think is safe to hide, only to be clipped through a wall/pillar/other inanimate object for half my health. In the last boss fight I encountered against the Old Demon King, he could breathe his flames through the piles of Capra Demon bodies (I think that’s what they were. I didn’t really focus on that because I was trying to kill the fucking boss) and take away more than half my health. Despite me having the Flash Sweat spell that boosts defense against fire. And wearing the Flame Stoneplate Ring, which also boosts fire defense. And wearing the armor that has the highest fire resist. To be fair, if I didn’t let the flames directly hit me, all that protection greatly decreased the amount of damage I took. However, if I got caught off-guard, all that protection was for naught. Frustrated as hell as I died to the Old Demon King more times than I should have.
Speaking of the Old Demon King, he has an insane amount of health and is resistant to fire. I am a pyromancer as fire is my jam, and having to give it up for a melee weapon is not something I like to do. Yes, I have magic spells, which is what I eventually used to defeat the Old Demon King, but I was not pleased that I had to give up my pyromancy to fight him. This has been my complaint throughout the Souls series. I understand making enemies resistant to certain elements, but it really feels like FromSoft (the developers) hates casters. Using magic/pyromancy has been called the easy mode of Souls games, but I vehemently disagree. Yes, you have distance from the enemies, but you still have to dodge properly, and casting time can be excruciatingly slow. In addition, if you want to make the most out of your spells/pyromancies/miracles, you have to sacrifice all other stats. That means compared to melee players, I have less amount of health, stamina, equip load, etc. I also can’t use most of the cool weapons because there’s no way I can get my strength and/or dexterity stats boosted enough to wield them efficiently. So, I’m stuck with basic weapons for the rest of the game. In my case, axes. Yes, I can upgrade/infuse them, but they’re still inferior to the weaponry melee players get to use.
I also feel like Miyazaki doesn’t like casters, and I’ve seen that sentiment echoed by legit Souls players. The games feel as if they’re meant to be played mano-a-womano,*** and if you want to be a caster, you’re fucked. There are some bosses that are hard on melee players (looking at you, Moonlight Butterfly), but I think they’re far fewer than bosses that punish casters. Taking the Old Demon King again (hey, I just beat him today. He’s still fresh in my mind), the fight takes forever as a caster. When I tried him melee, it went much faster, but I also died every damn time. Because of the potato damage I did, the fight took forever. And, one lapse of concentration on my part near the end of the fight meant lights out for me. This boss pissed me off so much, and it didn’t help when I peeked in the forums for some tips on the wonky camera, and I saw a bunch of, “OLD DEMON KING SO EASY LOLOLOLOL”.
Side note: This is one of the worst parts of the Souls fandom. The assholes who feel the need to gloat about how easy this or that boss is. The last thing I want to see when I’m struggling with a difficult boss is how easy said boss actually is if you just GIT GUD. Another infuriating part of the Souls community is invasions, but that’s not the fault of FromSoft, so let’s just move on.
Even though I love being a pyromancer, I almost think it would be better if the Souls games didn’t have casting because of how shittily it’s treated. It’s almost as if Miyazaki is saying, “So you want magic, pyromancy, and miracles? Fine. There. Good luck with that.” I’m currently exploring two areas, and one of them (in which the Old Demon King resides) is made of fire. Every Souls game has one such area, and it pisses me off every time because it completely neuters my playstyle. I have never played a Souls game as a melee player because my reflexes simply won’t allow me to play that way, but I do have to use my weapon a fair amount, which is frustrating.
Speaking of being old and having slow reflexes, I think there are more quick enemies in this game than in the previous two games. I love watching playthroughs of Bloodborne, but I realized that I probably wouldn’t enjoy playing it because the playstyle is so different than in Souls games. There are no shields (well, there’s one, but it’s a plank shield and a joke. OK, there’s another, but it doesn’t show up until the DLC), and you’re incentivized to keep attacking because you regen your lost health by attacking the enemies, but only within a certain window of time after you’ve lost it. In addition, there are gangs of enemies, which isn’t usually a thing in Souls. I think Miyazaki was enamored with this new playstyle because there are more gangs and there are quicker enemies. I like to beat the bosses solo on my first try, but there’s a boss in this game, The Abyss Watchers, that after dying to it, them, several times, I decided to use an ember**** and summon a phantom (another player) to help me. Why? Because the second form of this boss is an almost exact replica of Lady Maria, a boss from Bloodborne, who is a fucking awesome boss, but one I would not be able to beat.
There was something in the game that sapped all my enjoyment of it and almost made me quit. As I’ve mentioned, I try not to read the wikis or read reviews or watch playthroughs before I play Souls games because I like to go into them pure. There was this new thing in this game–a dark sigil. I had no idea what it was or what it did, but I also found a way to make it possible for the Fire Keeper to heal the dark sigil. It cost me 20,000 souls to get the key to get the dead Fire Keeper’s soul to give to the Firelink Shrine Fire Keeper, so I thought I probably should at least try out the healing thing. I did it (for almost forty-thousand souls), and…nothing. Huh? What? OK. Whatever. I shrugged and went to talk to Yuria of Londor, she of the dark magic spells. When I got there, however, she refused to talk to me. What? Why? Was it because I had recently switched covenants? I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t talk to me. I was befuddled and upset because I had been planning on using dark magic, so I looked it up in the wikis. You probably won’t be surprised to find out that healing the dark sigil is what made her stop talking to me. What’s worse, there’s no way to reverse the situation, so I cannot talk to her for the rest of this playthrough. Really, FromSoft? That’s how you want to do this?
I was devastated. I seriously considered quitting and starting over again, but I didn’t want to do that. Finding out that I had fucked myself out of that path for the rest of this playthrough drained all enjoyment from that session. The only way I was able to somewhat console myself was to remember that I had planned on focusing heavily on pyromancies, which meant I wouldn’t be able to up the stats needed enough to use the really cool dark spells. I probably will play this game again, so I can go pursue that path in my second playthrough, but I’m still upset. The only reason I put it in the neutral category is because in general, I like discovering things on my own, and Miyazaki is excellent at crafting games full of surprises. In addition, there are wikis available for people who want to read them. I will say that I’ve looked at the wikis a bit more readily after that fiasco, but I’m still trying not to spoil myself too much.
One thing about the Souls games that I have been decidedly neutral on from the beginning is all the min-maxing that is possible. Aside from the stats which I mentioned above, there’s equipment load which affects how fast you can roll and how many i-frames you have as you do (invincibility frames). All the weapons and the armor have weights, so you have to decide if you want heavier armor with more protection and less mobility or lighter armor with less protection and more mobility. I usually roll with the latter, but my brain starts to frazzle if I put too much about it.
As if that’s not enough, there are items that add different effects to your weapon, but only if your weapon isn’t already infused with one element or another. There are also items that boost your resistance to the different status effects, temporarily of course. The weapons and shields have different scaling with different stats, and you lose these scalings if you infuse your weapon with an element. As if that’s not enough, Dark Souls III added more effects you can infuse your weapons with, and I’ve tapped out a long before we’ve even reached this point. This is not my jam at all, but I don’t mind that it’s in the game because so many fans geek out on shit like that.
Another thing in the neutral category are all the repetitive elements of the game. In the previous posts, I was mostly positive about meeting old friends and revisiting familiar places. As I said, DS III is viewed as Miyazaki’s retelling of the original game, and I think it’s safe to say that’s true. I still love characters who are similar to or a reminder of the first game, but, there’s a slight hollowness in my chest when I enter a new place and think, “Oh, this is ______ with a fresh coat of paint.” Let me reiterate that the graphics are gorgeous, though I’m still having stuttering problems, even though I’ve tweaked my settings and a few other things. I’ve heard that this is a common NVIDIA problem, and there’s one other thing I can try, but it’s really bad when I enter graphics-heavy areas. Fortunately, it doesn’t really impede the combat or I’d be saltier than I am about it. That’s minor, however, but the reskinning of old bosses is more of a negative. I’ve slagged on the Old Demon King pretty much throughout this post, but he’s Old Iron King (DS II boss) redux. In fact, I have a suspicion that he’s Miyazaki’s version of OIK, as if Miyazaki’s saying, “Look. I can do it much better.” And, yes, ODK is better than OIK, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear.
This is getting long, and I haven’t even touched on the good in DS III, of which there is plenty. I know it sounds like I hate this game, but I don’t. I play it for hours at a time, even when I have the intention of playing for a half hour or so. I’m in the grind part of the game, however, which I’ve experienced in both of the prior games, and it feels tedious at times. It’s still a really good game, and I promise you that I’ll have a post of all the things I love about it that will be approximately as long as this one.
*That’s a bit disingenuous. I’m good enough to have finished the first two, so obviously, I’m not terrible. What I mean is that I’m not good for people who’ve beaten the game.
**I don’t consider Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne to be part of the trilogy, though they are definitely in the same vein. Demon’s Souls is the progenitor of the trilogy, and Bloodborne is a Miyazaki game. I haven’t played either because both are PS exclusives. Some people call the universe of all five games Soulsborne. I’m OK with that.
***Yes, I know that’s not what that phrase means. I don’t care.
****This game’s version of a humanity or a human effigy from the prior two games.