Dark Souls 3 – Only Embers Remain – Review

Gare – Sunday, May 22, 2016 11:12 PM
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Writing about third installments is not always easy. If a game – or a series of films – is a great success, fans will no doubt await the sequel with much excitement and anticipation. We’re curious what will change, how the developers will perfect the existing formula, and what new things they can surprise us with. The list could go on. Well, the wait for Dark Souls 3 has no doubt been one laden with excitement and a mountain of expectations, considering that DarkSouls 2 – despite still being a fantastic game in my opinion – disappointed many with a more linear level design and highly forgettable bosses. Well, the good news is that Dark Souls 3 manages to iron out those shortcomings… but also ends up having a set of its own problems to wrestle with.

Once more unto the breach

For many years now, the Souls series has come to be associated with a trying – but certainly not impossible – difficulty level, where every death counts, and players are constantly encouraged to learn from their mistakes and attempt a challenge even after a dozen “You Died” messages, knowing they are now smarter and more vigilant due to all the times they had failed. The basic concept remains unchanged: a lone adventurer braves the cruel wastes of the game’s world, facing off against countless enemies, bosses and cleverly-placed traps until the final confrontation – anyone who played a Souls game before will very much know what to expect.

In terms of atmosphere, I feel like the game is likely one of the darker iterations. Who knows just how much of that is due to the influence of Bloodborne’s Victorian horror – needless to say, a number of Dark Souls 3’s locations and enemies will provide quite the shocking (potentially Lovecraftian) surprise to unsuspecting players, resulting in an overall experience that feels palpably more disturbing than the fairly standard fantasy romp of, say, Dark Souls 2. Furthermore, enemies appear to be noticeably quicker and more aggressive in this installment, to the point where I often felt that my shield was merely there for decoration – instead, well-timed rolls, though a necessity to master in previous games as well, become a near-indispensable skill in order to prevail. To go one step further, despite heavily preferring large greatswords in the previous installment, I found myself wanting to switch to smaller, faster weapons in Dark Souls 3, just so I could keep up with the rhythm of many fast-moving enemies.

An old flame rekindled

Dark Souls IIIPlatform: PC, PS4, XBox OneGenre: Action, RPGDeveloper: From SoftwarePublisher: Namco BandaiRelease: 03/24/2016A particular design decision old fans will appreciate is Dark Souls 3’s tendency to evoke the complex, vertical level design of the first Dark Souls, with plenty of secret passages, shortcuts, and pathways that cleverly connect into each other. The game’s levels are quite a joy to explore, and you’ll often be met with locales that make you go either “huh, so this lift takes me all the way back here” or “oh, I can see that area I explored ages ago from up here”. It’s the same thing we experienced back in Dark Souls, and what Dark Souls 2 tried to somewhat resurrect in its Lost Crowns DLC trilogy.

Another positive change that deserves to be highlighted is the inclusion of fantastic boss fights, the lack of which ended up being one of Dark Souls 2’s biggest flaws. Indeed, the previous installment was a bit of a disappointment with its forgettable, lackluster bosses when compared to some of the series’ most beloved icons such as Ornstein & Smough, Artorias, Sif, and so on. Dark Souls 3’s fearsome boss encounters manage to partly rekindle that old flame, offering fights rich in surprises and variety.

The hollowing

Still, for series veterans, Dark Souls 3 may very well end up being a case of deja vu: while the game’s areas are carefully crafted and look gorgeous, I often felt like I was strolling through a somewhat watered-down remake of Dark Souls 1. And why do I say watered-down? Well, that’s a perfectly valid question, the answer to which is multi-layered.

I know this can be quite the subjective matter, but I need to bring it up: Dark Souls 3 feels considerably easier than the first two installments. There, I said it. Yes, I did play the previous two games, so I may have somewhat more experience compared to complete newbies. But back when Dark Souls 2 came out, I was already relatively familiar with how things worked due to my history with the first Dark Souls, yet the second game still managed to surprise me, providing plenty of memorable moments. Dark Souls 3 barely ever managed to reach that point for me. In the end, very few moments in From Software’s latest installment managed to genuinely get a “wow” out of me. Remember the seemingly endless journey through Dark Souls 1’s dreaded Blighttown? Or the terrifying settlement of No-Man’s Wharf in Dark Souls 2? How about Anor Londo, or the majestic Drangleic Castle as it loomed over the horizon? Perhaps the wonderfully cruel difficulty of the Frigid Outskirts in the Lost Crowns DLC? All things Souls fans may remember fondly – or not so fondly, but still. Dark Souls 3, however, didn’t quite manage to provide me with areas and situations I would remember in years to come, which is, all in all, a colossal shame.

Indeed, the game’s locations are gorgeous, mostly due to the improved graphics, yet many of them felt relatively small and – dare I say – rushed. No longer did I venture into a new area, knowing I would wander its labyrinthine corridors for 30+ minutes while desperate to find that next bonfire – an experience that has been an integral part of my Souls experience thus far. With a few exceptions, this is not quite the case in Dark Souls 3: in many instances, I’d stumble upon either a Bonfire or a fog wall leading to a boss surprisingly quickly, and the area would be over and finished before it really had a chance to get me warmed up, almost like the developers didn’t quite have the time to finish and flesh them out fully. To go into specifics, the Profaned Capital is a perfect example of a level that felt more like a simplification of something larger, almost like it was no more than a tutorial area. The thrill, the excitement and the constant lust for adventure has partly died out from the game, I feel – instead, Dark Souls 3 often gave me the impression that I was experiencing the incomplete slice of a complete Dark Souls 3 game that may only exist in a parallel universe somewhere.

Now only embers remain…

So what’s the final verdict, after all this? That’s a difficult question to answer. I do not consider Dark Souls 3 to be a bad game at all. Hardly. It didn’t quite offer the epic adventure I was hoping for (the campaign itself, by the way, is also notably shorter than 2’s), but I still gained a decent amount of enjoyment out of it. Nonetheless, this is the first Dark Souls title that never quite grabbed me the same way the previous two did, nor did it ever inspire me to stay up until 3AM in the morning just to make that final push into the next area. In fact, this was the first installment where I felt somewhat fatigued by the game, unable to find the will to continue due to how lackluster the experience had been. Dark Souls 1 and 2 I would readily re-play at some point in the future – with the third game, I’m not so sure anymore, and that’s a first for me. As such, despite its apparent strengths – particularly the improved boss designs –, I cannot help but view Dark Souls 3 as a bit of a disappointment. Hope is the last thing to die, though, and I will still remain interested in the upcoming DLC offerings – with little luck, they will prove to be a better sendoff to such a monumental series.

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