A sense of regret hit me like a ton of bricks as I died to the first boss in Dark Souls III.
“Why am I doing this to myself again?”
Here I was facing the daunting task of playing a new Souls
game, with deja vu kicking in as I enter new areas only for dread and fear to replace it instantly. I stumble into an enemy I've not seen before and die. I walk off a cliff edge because I wasn't paying attention and die. I run to a boss for the fourth time in a row and die.
It's a known trait of the series that these games are hard. It's what they're about. The challenge is one of perseverance and commitment, of learning and patience. You can't just play these games, you have to devote yourself to them and with this being my third Souls
game you'd have thought that I'd have learned my lesson. But no, here I was again at the start of an adventure that I didn't want to embark on.
There must have been a reason why I look back on Dark Souls
so fondly, something that drove me to fight through the punishment. As a normal enemy transformed into a form of boss similar to one I'd just defeated I failed to put my finger on why I'd decided to rise to the challenge once more.
At this point it was fight or flight. So I gripped my sword, held my shield up and pushed forward and before long that feeling came back. The feeling of achievement and curiosity. I felt brave for a moment, which is something games rarely make you feel. There's nothing brave about walking into a room of fodder after shooting down thousands of men, but in Souls
games you have to conquer your fear in order to progress and when you do you'll feel more like a hero than you do in any other game.
Before long I had given myself to the game. My search history filled up with areas and enemy names as I tried to make sense of the world. I planned out my next play session before I'd even ended the current one and every other game I was playing at the time was relegated to distant memory.
Dark Souls III
is billed as the third of a trilogy and you can see why instantly. Fan service is the focus of the opening areas of the game with nods to previous entries throughout. It felt like Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof
, full of self referentiality without ever feeling like it's falling back on old cliches.
These glimpses of previous Souls
games run deeper than just characters. Soon enough you'll be running through areas that remind you of your past adventures and it pulls it off without being lazy. There are no copy and paste jobs here, just a feeling of atmosphere floating from the game on your shelf to the one in your console.
All this is managed while maintaining the appeal of the various environments you've already explored. At first you'll enter and have no idea where to go or what you'll be fighting. Every corner is an extra heartbeat and every enemy seems like an impossible task.
It's not long before you can run around the place like a newly-promoted department manager in Sainsburys. A strut in your walk and a knowledge of how to approach each situation as it comes your way. What seemed the impossible is now the norm and you get that feeling of progression that no other game can match.
It's easily my favourite part of the series. Although many focus on the bosses, the various character builds and the lore, for me it's the basic function of exploring and conquering. Going from the unknown to the all-powerful. Some games achieve this by unlocking abilities, making you stronger or giving you a more powerful gun. Dark Souls
achieves this more organically. It's knowledge that gives you power and the more you learn, the more of a master you become.
Then in the next area you begin again. You're not stripped of stats or bombarded with more of the same enemy. You just lose your knowledge and have to build it up again to get back the satisfaction you were feeling an hour or so ago.
Much has been made of the difficulty in Dark Souls
games, and that's no less the case in Dark Souls III
. However, this time around it's a common complaint that there's a lack of a rock hard challenge. It's true, the third in the series does take things easy on the player, but in common Dark Souls
tradition, there's something behind what's being presented and soon enough you'll regret ever considering this an easy game.
It's hard to pinpoint the intention behind the easier opening areas. Maybe it's to trick you, but I think it's more likely that it's to go easy on newcomers to the series. Bonfires (the game's famous respawn points) are littered throughout and are far closer together than they ever have been, which may upset the more hardcore audience, but it'll give those less experienced that feeling of progression that we all love in these games at an earlier stage.