Dark Souls 3 review for Anime News Network!


My Dark Souls 3 review is up at ANN!

Writin’ something that says “this both mildly disappointed & supremely elated me” is one of the tougher things. ūüė¶¬†Did the best I could!

It’s not likely I’ll ever hit the same burnout with Souls games that I have with Etrian Odyssey, where I feel like I need a longer breather than their cycle of release is giving me. At the same time, I felt the specter of that while playing through Dark Souls 3, the inclination that I was hovering close to diminishing returns, and that this game, for all its quality, wasn’t bringing me to the same peaks that other games in the series have.

In many ways, what worried me was the idea that Dark Souls 3 felt kind of like a blueprint or¬†rough sketch: that this was the base layout of a game, the geography and style and setting and bosses and attacks and themes, that needed more time to muddle and brew. For everything I liked about Dark Souls 3 (check out that Yoel questline; some of the optional dialogue with the Firekeeper towards the end; the lore text on Karla’s outfit), I¬†wanted the spark from them another year of development could’ve built.

I cut those thoughts from my review because, honestly, it’s something I can’t know. I don’t know how game development works, so it’d be presumptuous for me to dictate those terms.

But I do understand the basic creative process; it’s something I think about a lot. I’ve become so proficient at pushing out first drafts, and the satisfaction of actually having something “finished” and “out there” is remarkably potent. The novel I thought was “done” three years ago was really just a schematic. It was crushing, to send it out to an editor and discover it was¬†Very Much Not Done At All. Absurd as it sounds, I felt like a failure for not knocking it out of the park my first time at bat.

Now, I better understand that giving things time to sit and stew is part of the process. In giving myself the time, I was able to tease out the themes the text of my book hinted at (or that I unconsciously imbued it with), and make them into something concrete.¬†While I really can’t know the story of Dark Souls 3’s development, that’s the vibe I get from it as a Human With Opinions (which are sometimes ill-informed). Dark Souls 3 is no doubt wonderful, and I recommend it. I love the nitty gritty of its mechanics, and I feel its mood–what’s missing is the overall texture that time can give.

  • Akira Shima

    Really good analysis, Dave. I think those are pretty much my feelings on the game so far. It’s the most “prosaic” of the series, it just doesn’t have that special something the others had, although Dark Souls 2 had it to a lesser degree. Prior to this I thought Ds2 was the weakest entry, and in some ways I think it still is, but this game has a lot of parts with less personality even than Ds2. That said, Lothric Castle is awesome, and the transformation that happens to the game world after defeating a few Lords of Cinder is very evocative, reminiscent in some ways of Bloodborne. And the game engine is leagues beyond Ds2, much more solidly physical and satisfying. But speaking of Bloodborne, that game probably still holds the top position in my mind. It’s got the most unique and interesting world and boss design, to my mind, and infinitely more atmosphere than most parts of Ds3.

    The problem with this one might be what you think it is: Ds3 just didn’t have enough time to mature. Which is why I have high hopes for the DLCs – and this game really needs exceptional DLCs, at least as much as Ds2 did. Maybe Miyazaki has just moved beyond the Souls “worldview” or whatever. Either way, I think they’ve built a solid foundation, they just need to make something with a little more heart in it. Good luck with your writing by the way, it’s something I’m interested in doing myself, but I’m sure it’s not as easy as some people make it look!

    • fastkarate

      Thanks for taking the time to respond! I did like the phase shift stuff, though in DS3’s case it was a little less noticeable for me because it didn’t happen until the last area, at which point I was pretty much done with going anywhere else and just peaced out to the end boss.

      I’m with you on the DLC. Dark Souls and Bloodborne are just about my two favorite DLCs of all time, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope they pull it off. I booted up Bloodborne for a bit yesterday and a lot of specific details and memories came flooding back. I was just happier with the vibe that game gave me. Definitely with the bosses, especially. Aside from the 3x use of the Aslyum Demons, you can scroll down the boss list of Dark Souls and consider every boss more or less unique. I didn’t get that here. I just want more wild shit, like the Gaping Dragon, even if the Gaping Dragon can kind of be an annoying fight, because it was a distinct idea that made you move and fight in a distinct way from other bosses. I think some of this will hash out with time–I’ve co-oped the Curse-Rotted Greatwood enough to really start to like how positioning and timing works in that fight. But I wanted fewer of the multiple fights where you have to deal with speedy clones (Abyss Watchers, Pontiff), even at the times when the fights were cool (Abyss Watchers was a thematically, conceptually, and musically appealing fight, Pontiff much less so). At a point, I literally wanted a instant-kill puzzle boss like the kind everyone hates, like Bed of Chaos, just to mix it up a bit.

      So who knows? DS3 just came out. I haven’t had time to let those things grow. So I’m trying to reserve total judgment on how “personality-light” it feels until I really give it time to sink in. However, right now, it feels like the really cool story stuff (the firekeeper eyes, the Londor subquest) is all kind of few and far between, and all-but missing at points. I feel like the Iudex Gundyr fight is emblematic of the problems with this game: the first boss has a second phase where a giant mass of corruption bursts out of him and that massive corruption-bursty thing is NOT what the game is about? I mean, from my perspective that’s what you call “setting a tone.” And I was honestly super psyched, thinking that there’d be all this cool stuff about corruption/possession/the Abyss. But instead, those enemies show up in like two times in three areas and that’s it. Such a bummer.

      Graz went nuts when you put the coiled sword into the basin and make your own bonfire. I thought that was pretty rad too, since it seems like an insanely powerful thing for a character in a souls games to do. Without wanting to put words in her mouth, I’d say Graz is ~pretty into~ stories where you get to see characters originate fairy tales, or ones where they build their own story from archetype–see her Child of Light write-up (http://queensoftheneighborhood.tumblr.com/post/86613004700/child-of-light)–and that kinda seemed like what was happening here. You were becoming some a new origin point for a well-worn legend.

      But it’s just another example of “why isn’t the game about *this*?” Well… apparently at some point it was? Or anyway, I read something recently where the plan was you were going to get consumables from bosses to plant your own bonfires. That sounds rad! It might also explain why when you kill a boss it spawns a bonfire, and then there’s another bonfire like six feet into the next area with no enemies in-between? Maybe those BossFires weren’t meant to exist in the first place.

      Anywaaaay… I’m not DISAPPOINTED in Dark Souls 3 in the sense that I think it’s a bad game, or that I wasted my time with it (hi, I’m on my 5th character, who I made to test out the Boreal Dancer skip). In fact, I think it’s a pretty awesome, super fun game in a lot of ways. And the fact of the matter is, with Souls games, they’d have to have a pretty precipitous dip in quality for me to even honestly noticed. I’m starved for Metroidvania-type games, which Souls games share a lot of sensibility with. At the same time, I view Souls games kind of like what Zelda games once were, before they matured into kinda intolerable slogs. In both cases, these games offer me a sense of adventure and exploration in a hand-crafted world, like exploring a bunch of awesome dioramas. So I’m not going to dig my heels in and be like “no this game is BAD! :(((((((((” because even at their lowest, Souls games attune with my sensibilities more than just about any other genre, much less any other game or series, and they all hit high points for me. Sometimes at the same time as their lows. I think the lore around Aldrich is immeasurably cool. Aside from “god eating,” which is an A+ Favorite trope of mine, I also love the idea that Aldrich got so immense, hungry, and powerful that nobody had any idea what to do with him but lock him in the room and FORCE him to link the fire. Everyone seems to hate the Aldrich fight (Graz was pretty “:<" about fighting him last night), but, while admitting that it is a top-tier in RNG bullshit, I loved how the fight integrated the moves of former bosses and made them scary and awe inspiring again (if frustratingly random). And his moveset is informed by his lore: he ate a bunch of gods THAT'S how I want my fan-service from this series, remixes, not name drops. In the face of that, I don't really ~mind~ overmuch that sometimes I'll get killed by a one-two punch of his halberd that doesn't seem, like, technically, strictly super fair.

      So that's what bummed me out about Dark Souls 3. Not that I didn't want fan-service, but that it set up a lot of expectations, especially in the early going, of what a remixed Souls game explicitly about these cycles of linking could do and it never really knocked any of them down. Failing at that basic stuff, Dark Souls 3 makes you dig really deep for what's cool about it, deeper even than those games usually do, and what makes that hard is that its personality is so disconnected and piecemeal, and contains so much reiteration or reference, that you're never sure of doing a deep dive is going to glean you anything new or interesting, or if it's just gonna be like "HEY REMEMBER THIS RING GWYNEVERE USED TO WEAR???"

      • Akira Shima

        Yeah, I was also surprised that the whole Abyss transformation never really amounted to anything. Other sidequests like the Oceiros boss fight also seem criminally underused, there’s a lot of unspoken story behind some of these areas. In fact, I think things like this could be perfect setups for the DLCs, the whole backstory to Lothric, and what happened to the royal family, for example. As well as more exploration of where these Abyss creatures came from. I actually never started the Yoel questline, because I heard it ruined other questlines, so I’ll probably go back to that in NG+. It seems very interesting, and suggestive of some of the coolest themes from past games. By the by, they recently patched the game so NPC questlines aren’t as obscure, which sounds great to me, since they were extremely obtuse this time around.

        Well, now that Souls is on hiatus for a while at least (until the DLCs), I can check out games like Child of Light, it does look really good. Have to agree that Zelda has been pretty mediocre for a while, though I still hold out hope for the WiiU/NX Zelda that’s coming out this year(?) They need to do some of the same things that Dark Souls III kind of failed at – go back to roots without engaging in fanservice, and also come up with new stuff.
        Link Between Worlds was great, but the console Zeldas since Wind Waker (possibly including it) aren’t too hot.

        Anyway, I think From kind of knew that DsIII hadn’t really offered anything different to what came before, so they’re holding it back until the DLCs, especially now that Miyazaki isn’t distracted by Bloodborne. I’m pretty convinced that he gave most of his time to that game, and left DsIII mostly to his co-directors (one of them also directed DsII, Yui Tanimura). There just isn’t that “Miyazaki touch” that Bloodborne had in spades. Also, this is by far the earliest they’ve announced DLCs, and I think it was partly in anticipation of fan complaints just like these, they were probably well aware of the issues with the game.

        It’s funny, I never really expected to get into Souls, I just kind of kept getting drawn back to Dark Souls 1, especially after a boss fight with Quelaag that lasted until 4am, and made me think I was done with the game, but actually ended up providing that special Souls “high” when she was finally beaten. Now she goes down in less than a minute. It’s a really special series, and I’m not one for whom Souls “ruined every other game,” but it’s definitely top five. Really interested to see where From and Miyazaki go from here!