Dark Souls 3
Tea: Stale Estus
Writing a review about a game as massive in scale as Dark Souls III seems rather difficult, but after having spent a lot of time, I feel confident enough to write down my thoughts and feelings about the (probably) last Souls game. As a note: I have only played the PvE content. PvP never interested me as much and even though I know that it is the most vital part to many players I lack a bit of interest in the department of getting 4v1-ed and forcing others to endure my internet connection. With this in mind, I’d like to invite you to my little tour through Lothric with a lot less death on the way as expected.
Most striking about DSIII is its absolutely fanatic infatuation with DSI. Almost all locations, items, bosses, or characters bear some resemblances or are straight up lifted from DSI (sometimes even Demon’s Souls, which is not even the same universe, but fan logic trumps internal logic). What is left after taking all references away is a game utterly lacking in original content. I enjoyed DSI as much as anyone else, but mostly because it was new and exciting. If I enter an area and know my way around simply due to the fact that I already visited the place in the first instalment feels lacklustre when it should instil a feeling of welcome nostalgia. This title is supposed to be a convergence of all timelines and thus it feels weird to have such an overload of DSI content, instead of DSII and maybe even other kingdoms we have never seen. It takes away rather than adds to the apocalyptic tone they are aiming for. The game is in a constant self-referential state and I cannot take it seriously for that. Everything feels like an easter egg or placed there for fans to go “Oh man, it’s X from DSI!” I was disappointed by DSII being basically DSI again story-wise, but this is an even worse matter. This is a story so caught up in referring back to the first game that it cannot develop a tone of its own and therefore bears almost fanfiction character. Major figures or at least their weapons and armour appear with no explanation given as to how they got there. All of it being explainable with the “time is convoluted” cop-out, but not in any satisfying manner. Meaning, sure you can explain everything with this timeline and alternate realites theories, but you can explain literally everything with it and therefore it lacks any depth and feels like an easy way out rather than a thought out complex story.
– Wyvern at the start of the game is almost as iconic as the “You Died!” message –
Another big gripe is the unfinished character of the game. I ran into tons of graphical glitches with entire textures missing. Characters speaking about stuff that has already happened (give character a book and character will ask for a book). Attention to detail has always been my favourite part of the series, such as the fact that the cutscene before Sif changes if you complete the DLC first. This is not present here, in fact there is an utter lack of detail. Item placement that was once vital seems more random than ever with only a few key items actually bearing some connection to the location they are in. Weapons as a whole are unbalanced, wait let me rephrase that: The weapons are unbalanced in respect to the enemies you face. Most of the adversaries would be better suited for Bloodborne with their fast and aggressive style requiring quick reflexes and most importantly better movement capabilities. I am not saying Dark Souls has bad movement, it is just that enemies and gameplay sometimes do not work together. A build that fat-rolls (meaning having a higher equipment loadout) seems almost unplayable with the amount of stamina enemies seem to possess. Combo after combo is chained into one another without having any downtime. All the while flipping and running around with infinite running speed. One boss is the worst offender in this category, being a tough nut to crack alone, since the amount of stamina seems to be insufficient to escape his combo strings and the worst part is that he is not even open to attacks after most of his assaults.
– Do you like that sword? It will be your companion for the rest of the game –
The camera is particularly bad in one specific encounter that it would appear as if the game has never been tested in this regard. Locking on seems like a death-sentence with the perspective often ending up inside the hollow body of the boss. Not locking on puts a lot of stress on the player and will often still not save one from a swing or bite from an unknown direction. Sadly, one of the most creative and lore-wise important encounters gets ruined like this and robbed of its fun. Second phase is fine, though and actually fun. The enemy and boss designs do not only necessitate a light-wearing style, but also restrict a viable choice of weapons to one handed short swords or katanas. Slower, heavier weapons are left behind in the dust due to their long animations and enemies being easily able to break one out of an attack with faster movements. Variety is lost this way and the starting sword for the knight class becomes one of the best weapons in the game, the more exotic and interesting weapons are only a penalty on the player and cause the game to be more difficult for all the wrong reasons.
– Not the boss I am talking about in order to avoid any spoilers, but if you have played the game you know what I am talking about… (Also another dude in armor…) –
Is this game a lost cause then? No, not entirely. It is still a far more enjoyable experience than DSII in general. There are some very well designed areas that interlink with short cuts that feel natural and consistent, sadly there are also linear areas and short cuts that feel so forced it makes me cringe. The level design is somewhere between DSII’s atrocious design and Bloodborne’s superb levels. Visually some areas are quite impressive, especially the last few made me stop to just take it all in. Some truly breath-taking vistas can be seen and in these moments DSIII feels absolutely amazing. All of that is followed up by a great boss in one of the last areas where soundtrack and design work together excellently, thus making the boss an enjoyable fight. Too bad the one before was an utter disappointment…
A big bonus, a really big one, goes to the final boss, however. I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say, it is nostalgia done right and with care not the blunt sword wielded during the rest of the game, but this time with precision. Music, atmosphere, arena, and the fight itself culminate together to create a strong final note in an otherwise slightly underwhelming game. If only other fights would have received this amount of care and thought this would have truly been an outstanding final outing of this series. Instead the ending (whichever you may receive) has a bitter aftertaste.
Technically there are a few other problems, aside from the graphic glitches I mentioned earlier, there are so many framerate-drops on the Ps4 you can literally feel the game loading in content and straining under the effort. Being hit through walls was always a bit of gripe with previous titles, but they went overboard this time. Flying axes through solid brick walls that can kill a felt kilometre away from the enemy. Then there is this elevator, that fucking elevator… Usually an elevator that is not accessible will serve as a shortcut later, but after an hour of searching I could not find another way and out of sheer desperation I dropped down and landed dead on the elevator below, but my dead body activated the switch and a reborn and immensely pissed off Mr Teatime was ready to continue. This is atrocious design and do not think about saying anything along the lines of “thinking outside the box”, I tried and ended up falling of a walkway for no reason other than the collision of a candleholder being a lot bigger than it would seem. Dying to progress is bullshit and if that was a bug that doesn’t save the game as well. And I also now know that there is another way around this, but number 1, the bullshit way works, even though it should not, and second, the “real” way didn’t occur because and NPC did not trigger for me.
– Not made by me, but beautifully captures my experience –
My final verdict on Dark Souls III is therefore just as dark as the name should imply. The game is rushed and unfinished in almost every area. This could have been one of the strongest games in the series, but instead the opted for a fast follow-up and messed it up dramatically. That does not mean there is no enjoyment to be had and that there are certainly glimpses of greatness long passed especially near the end. But all of this cannot alleviate a pain in my heart that this series has to end this way. Yes, there is DLC, but extra content can never save the base game (like in DSII’s case) and can only build on an already strong basis (like Bloodborne). The fire has faded and we are left in the dark. The shadows of mediocrity rising from the deep and claiming a once beloved franchise of mine. Praising a sunken sun is futile and only amplifies the pain. What was once a bright fire in a dark and desolate wasteland has now become cinder.
Here are some nice graphic-glitches from my PS4 experience:
Image sources in order of appearance:
- http://assets.vg247.it/current//2015/08/Dark-Souls-III.jpg (Last date of access: 01.05.2016)
- http://cdn.gamerant.com/wp-content/uploads/dark-souls-3-screenshots-wandering-knight.jpg (Last date of access: 01.05.2016)
- http://www.gameplane.de/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/dark_souls_3_hr_gundyr_battles_player.jpg (Last date of access: 01.05.2016)
- https://www.pixeldynamo.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/dark-souls-3-review-overlooking-irithyll-boreal-valley-alternate.jpg (Last date of access: 01.05.2016)
- https://giant.gfycat.com/SaneDefenselessAlligator.gif (Last date of access: 02.05.2016)