Underneath my yellow skin

Dark Souls III: A Souls Game, For Better AND Worse, Part Two

Ed. Note: This is part two of my current feelings about Dark Souls III. You can read the first post here. The first post was about things I don’t like about DS III or am neutral about. This post is going to be a love letter to Hidetaka Miyazaki (the creator of the series) and the game. Now, keep in mind that even if you love something, you can criticize it, so there might be some vinegar with the honey. But, it’s mostly going to be sweet, I promise you. A warning, there will be spoilers. 

set it all on fire
Irithyll of the Boreal Valley, me, and my Pyromancy Glove.

I know my previous post makes it seem like I hate Dark Souls III, but nothing could be further from the truth. All of my criticisms are precisely because I love the Souls series so much. I cannot call the games fun, per se, so if that’s the reason you play video games, you’ll want to pass these games by. I can say they are engrossing, engaging, and give me an enormous sense of satisfaction when I conquer an enemy/area/boss who I’ve previously considered unbeatable. In fact, my shining moment in my brief, but intense gaming history is when I finally beat Ornstein & Smough on the last attempt before I was going to give up the original game for good. My sense of accomplishment was ridiculous, and you couldn’t tell me shit for several minutes after*. In my next playthrough, I handled them fairly handily, and they weren’t that much harder on NG+. It really underscores the point that once you learn a boss’s pattern, that boss is no longer much of a threat. Plus, summoning helps, too. Also. Still, the first time I faced them, I felt as if I would never beat them. That is the brilliance of Souls games. They have very steep learning curves, but once you learn them, you never forget.

I know, I know. They’re just video games. Who cares? I do. I am a perfectionist, and if I’m not immediately good at something, I give up. I’m old and my reflexes are crap, so Dark Souls should have tested my patience to the point of breaking. In fact, it has on several occasions, but the other thing I am is stubborn, and I was NOT going to let this enemy, this area, this boss, this fucking game beat me. So, pardon me if I give myself a little pat on the back for hanging in there with these games. Part of the reason is I’m stubborn, yes, but the bigger part is because of the games. Let’s get on with what I like in Dark Souls III.

The Good

I have to give major props to how fucking gorgeous this game is. Every time I go into a new area (if I’m not being chased by enemies), I stop and stare at the visage before me, drinking in the atmosphere. Miyazaki has such a complete and fantastic vision of what he wants his worlds to be, and that really shines through in this game. One of the complaints I had about DS II is that many of the areas looked the same or uninspired. Miyazaki has made sure that isn’t the case in DS III. Irithyll of the Boreal Valley, pictured above, is my favorite area so far because it’s ice-based. Look at how it’s dripping with moodiness and decrepit splendor. In fact, that’s one of the constant themes in DS III–everything is in wrack and ruin. The world is consistent, which, again, was missing in DS II. If I see a wrecked building in the distance, I know that I will be able to go into it at some point. In addition, shortcut hype! Another complaint about DS II is that it had too many bonfires and not enough shortcuts. I didn’t mind how plentiful the bonfires were, but I did miss the thrill of running out of estus, wondering if you’re going to make it to the next bonfire without dying, and then seeing a ladder you can kick down or a gate you can open to dart back to a prior bonfire. They’re back in DS III with a vengeance, and it’s so gratifying to see a ladder after you’ve been slashing your way through swarms of enemies, knowing that you’re about to get all your health/focus points flasks back. Yes, you’re also going to respawn the enemies, but that seems like a small price to pay for topping off all your healing potions.

 

good to see you again, anor londo
There’s no place like home (Anor Londo)!

I mentioned in the last post that I’m ambivalent about all the callbacks to the previous games,** but I cannot deny that I get a shiver when I see a familiar place or scenario. Specifically, Anor Londo.  The area prior to it is crazy in a bad way. It’s a PvP arena, reminiscent of the Darkroot Basin from the original game. It comes right after a boss fight, so I’m in human form, which means I have a higher chance of being invaded. Which I was, twice. At least you can only be invaded by one phantom at a time. I am proud to say I defeated both the invaders (I suck at PvP, but pyromancy plus them being reluctant to attack me worked to my advantage), only to be faced by a gazillion pyromancers on the roof of a far building,  plus two hostile NPCs. I decided to just run through the area and see how far I could get, which isn’t my normal way to play Souls games. Normally on my first time through an area, I like to fight all the enemies, but this seemed way past my capabilities. After running like a woman possessed, I reached an area that seemed strangely familiar. There was even a message saying, “seems familiar”, then a heavy arrow was shot through me. Oh, fuck. It was the return of the Anor Londo Silver Knight archers, whom many Souls aficionados consider the real bosses of Anor Londo. To my surprise, I managed to run by them and kill them with my fires. As I cautiously crept my way forward, I was suddenly hit with another heavy arrow. Oh, shit. A third archer was hidden from view, and, damn it, I aggroed another Silver Knight. Time to run again! These Silver Knights are much harder than the originals because they have lightning swords and hit like super hard. I had three Silver Knights chasing me, and I could only hope that I reached the end of their tether soon. I did, and I was able to explore the Darkmoon Tomb at my leisure. To my sadness, I found the body of Anri of Astora, who had just helped me defeat Pontiff Sulyvahn. To be more precise, I found his sword, so I hold out faint hope that he’s still alive.

I made my way up the stairs and pushed the lever. Then, I looked up to…Anor Londo in all its ruined splendor. There were two Silver Knights guarding it, and I easily dispatched of them. The door that was locked before (to the left) was open, and there were no demon gargoyles guarding it. The door to the Anor Londo castle was open–the door that should lead to the Giant Blacksmith–and I went through it with some trepidation. To my distress, there was the Giant Blacksmith curled up on the floor, dead.  I pillaged his corpse, obtaining the Giant’s Coal, then scrawled a message of regret in front of his dead body. He was my friend in the original game. I named him Cuddles and visited him many times in between futile attempts to take down Biggie & Small.  I went back to Firelink Shrine to give the coal to Andre, who paid homage to Cuddles, who had been his friend, saying he probably passed along time ago. Which made me wonder just how old Andre is and how he’s still alive. Or undead.

Which is another part of this game that I love–the lore. DS III is steeped in it, but, like the other games, you have to glean it from the item descriptions and the dialogues you have with NPCs. You don’t have to care about the lore to play the game, but if you do care about it, then there’s plenty to sink your teeth into. I mentioned in my previous post how devastated I was when I unknowingly ended one NPC’s questline prematurely, but it’s the trade-off to having so many choices the player can make for each NPC. Before my next playthrough, I’ll probably read all the wikis so I know how to complete each quest, but for now, I’m going to keep making the choices I normally would and deal with the consequences.

Speaking of NPCs, I really like that they have stories of their own. In DS II, all the NPCs just stayed in Majula once you found them, not moving from their designated spots. In DS III, some stay in Firelink Shrine, but others come and go at their own discretion. I met the aforementioned Anri (and his buddy, Horace, whom I later had to kill) on the Road to Sacrifices, then in the Catacombs of Carthus, and I summoned him (Anri) in Irithyll for the fight against Pontiff Sulyvahn, then found his sword on a dead body in the Darkmoon Tomb. I’m sure there’s something I could have done to prevent his death, but I don’t know what it is. Oh! I also like that Patches is back in this game, full of tricks and traps as usual. He was in the original game, but absent from the second one. He still tried to kill me so he could loot my corpse, but then, surprisingly, he saved another NPC from certain death. I accidentally killed him the first time I played the original game, but I think I’ll let him live this time. I don’t like killing NPCs unless they attack me first (such as Horace did). I love meeting NPCs as I travel through this desolate world. It makes it seem a little less lonely, though I know it’s an illusion.

goodbye, my giant friend
Oh, Cuddles.

One innovation that I like is that you can find umbral ashes as you make progress through the game. You bring the ashes back to the Shrine Handmaid, and she suddenly has more items to sell you. It’s a little thing, and it’s not obtrusive, and so far, they’re all in places you already have to traverse, anyway. One thing I don’t like is that upgrading my Pyromancy Glove and my weapon use the same upgrading material. In the original, it just cost souls to upgrade the glove. In the sequel, it took a fire seed, but you didn’t use them for anything else. In this one, the path for upgrading the glove is exactly the same as it is for upgrading my Brigand Axe, so I often have to make the difficult choice as to which I want to upgrade. Again, I feel as if Miyazaki doesn’t like pyromancers and wants to punish players who choose this class. I will say, however, that not having a set number of times I can use each spell is fantastic. I touched on it briefly in a previous post, but to recap, instead of having a set number of spells per bonfire, I have focus points. Each spell uses a certain number of FP. I have the Ashen Estus Flask which restores my FP, so depending on how many of those I choose to have, I can greatly increase the number of times I use my pyromancies. This plus the Great Chaos Fire Orb and the Chaos Bed Vestiges (transposed from the Soul of the Old Demon King) plus all the fire boosting gear I rock make pyromancy feel powerful at times.

One thing I have to mention is the co-op aspect of the game. As I mentioned above, I hate PvP, and I really loathe the invasion sub-game, but I accept that many Souls fans love that aspect of the games. However, I do enjoy co-oping with other players, which I found out during my second playthrough of DS II. Because I had already beaten the game, I didn’t care if I fought the bosses solo or not. I co-oped on all the bosses I could, and I had a blast. Still, I never put down my own White Soapstone Sign because if you summon someone to help you with the boss, the boss gets more health, and I didn’t think I was good enough to be of any use to anyone. However, early in this game, there was a boss (Cursed-Rotted Greatwood) whose second phase was stumping me. After dying to it more than a few times, I threw down my sign and waited. Since I’m playing the game when it’s still fairly new, I immediately was summoned to another world (game). I helped the host fight the boss, and even though I died, it was a good way to see the boss. After I died, I was transported back into my own game right where my sign was, so there’s no downside to helping other players. I did it a few more times, and when I resumed fighting the boss myself, I was able to make pretty short work of it. I love helping other players, and to my surprise, I am not a detriment to the fight. I know my main job is to draw aggro from the boss if the host is about to die because it’s OK for me to die, but not for the host. In addition, being a caster is useful because most people who have summoned me have been melee players, so while the boss was focusing on them, I could hurl fire or spells with abandon. This is a brilliant part of the game, and I’m glad I finally got over my self-doubt enough to participate in jolly cooperation.

The best thing about this game, the thing Miyazaki does like no other, is get you pumped for the boss fights. After fighting through a gazillion enemies and overcoming countless obstacles, you stand in front of the fog wall, your heart pounding. This is your moment to shine, and you better not fuck it up. Just kidding! You know you’re going to fuck up because that’s the first step to gitting gud, but maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to take down Goliath on the first try.*** You take several deep breaths, do whatever you need to do to prepare yourself, and you step through the fog wall to meet your doom. Every time I first catch sight of a boss, I can’t help but sit up straighter in my chair, my hands nervously clutching the controller. As the cutscene rolls, my heartbeat picks up. What am I about to face? I don’t even know! Then, the cutscene ends, and the boss bar shows up at the bottom, and it’s fucking on. My mouth dry, I ready my pyromancy to lob fire at the boss. Or heft my Brigand Axe, buffed with magic, to take a swing. I managed to kill the tutorial boss, Iudex Gundyr, or my first try solely by hurling Fireballs at him, but he’s the only one. As I’ve said a time or a hundred, I’m not great at the games for someone who’s beaten the first two (twice each), so I have to face a boss more times than the average Souls fan, I’m guessing. When I finally manage to kill a boss, even with the help of a phantom or two, the exhilaration is still like no other. To circle back to what I said in the beginning of this post, the accomplishment I feel after beating a boss is unlike anything I’ve ever felt playing any game ever.

Dark Souls III has this and plenty of it. I’m in the grinding phase of the game, and it gets tedious at times, and yet, I can’t stop playing. Miyazaki’s world-building and lore draws me in, and the combat keeps me playing in a session long past the time when I should have quit. This game doesn’t break much new grounds in the Souls universe, but it’s a love note to the original Souls game and to the fans. I’m nearly halfway done with the game (I’m guessing, excluding DLC because it’s not out yet), but I can confidently say, if you love the first game, you will love this one, too. Dark Souls is going out with a bang.

 

 

 

 

*This is Dark Souls. I’m sure I died approximately ten minutes after I beat the infamous duo.

**Mostly the original Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls. Let’s be honest–Miyazaki isn’t paying homage to DS II for the most part. On the other hand, he did keep some of the changes from DS II, such as needing to find estus shards to increase the number of estus flasks you can have (bad) and the ability to warp from bonfire to bonfire from the start (good).

***Yes, I know there are people who do this on the regular, but fuck those assholes.

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