My Problem With Dark Souls 3 (Before I Play It)

So, I have Dark Souls 3 raring to go. But before I indulge… something is bothering me. And that something is… timing.


 

To say FROM Software timed the release of Dark Souls perfectly would be an understatement.

In a period where much of the industry was clamouring for a middle ground, watering down their franchises in the expedient rush to converge on a few select genres and mechanics that had come to define video games of Gen-7, Dark Souls was a breath of fresh air. Here was a game that unashamedly expected much of its player base – it expected us to learn, to have patience, to be alert and aware and see patterns amidst its chaotic, decaying landscapes and characters. It was brutal, but never impossible – always keeping things just out of reach until you had demonstrated the ability to learn, adapt and bend the game over and spank it as hard as it was apt to spank you. It’s bleak landscape and story of a dying world locked in time and space was worlds apart from the rush for modern military fare and far-flung futurescapes. In effect; Dark Souls arrived at a point where it was the most needed, the most different and by token, the most wanted by many gamers of the era. A deep, complex, freeform RPG married to a well-honed difficulty curve (no matter how steep it was) and a solid, inventive fantasy world? It’s really not hard to understand why we came to love it as much as we have. There was nothing much out there like it, save for the old King’s Field games which barely anyone had heard of, and Demon’s Souls – a superb game in its own right, but one that certainly felt more arcade-like compared to the deeper cut of Dark Souls.

Since then, FROM Software has had some issues with its games. Chiefly among which is simply trying to recreate that timing that made Dark Souls explode in the way that it did.

Dark Souls 2 is not a bad game – I repeat this in caps, IT IS NOT A BAD GAME. It’s as far as you can get from ‘bad’; but let’s not deny that the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 really had significant problems running the game. FROM had already committed to Bloodborne, a PlayStation 4 exclusive, so it needed something to bridge the gap whilst its team laboured away on Bloodborne. After significant delays, Dark Souls 2 arrived on Gen-7 consoles a few months after the PlayStation 4 and XBox One had hit the market. And boy, did the old consoles prove that they were struggling with the game. It wasn’t bad; just janky, laboured and coming with some wonky collision detection and dodge mechanics. It wasn’t until the current-gen remaster, Scholar of the First Sin, that things ultimately clicked between me and Dark Souls 2. It was a game with a single-minded focus on the combat, a focus that was impossible to deliver on the previous generation. A game for PvP and NG+ cycles. Galloping at a full 1080p, 60 frames a second, for my money it was leagues ahead of Bloodborne. Where Bloodborne had to engineer a combat system with a mechanic that encouraged more visceral, more brutish and confrontational play – Scholar of the First Sin on PS4 didn’t need the Rally System gimmick. The combat was already slick and polished, already fast and pacey and encouraged and fostered a naturally more aggressive style of play, even for Shield users. As my interest for Bloodborne took a hit, my admiration and adoration for Dark Souls 2 rapidly rose to replace it.

I’ve already said my piece on Bloodborne, but here it is in summation; it’s lovely, but there’s little question it was hitting the limits of the power of the PlayStation 4. And chances are it’ll run at its intended pace and methodology on a next-gen console. Or, as time has proven, the PlayStation 4K.

Which brings us to Dark Souls 3 – releasing about eight to nine weeks before we all turn our gaze to E3 2016, where we’re expecting not one but two bombastic console reveals in the PlayStation 4K (I think it will be a new gen system), and the Nintendo NX (New-gen by default). Both are touting power beyond what is currently available, both aiming for 4K upscaling and both running on deeper and stronger architecture and hardware. Dark Souls 2 was delayed into the current generations headlights; but Dark Souls 3 is releasing at a point it could actually end up being overshadowed by a new generation of hardware!

And with much of the talk of Dark Souls 3 on consoles having frame pacing issues again, I once again wonder if this is going to end up like Dark Souls 2 – where next year, we’ll see a new-gen version for the PS4K and NX and it will run at a rock-solid 60 frames a second, just as was intended. Is this what Dark Souls has been reduced to? A shoddy pre-generational jump version paving the way for a better reworking in a years time? That’s just pathetic, and also really horrendously cynical. But by damn, I can’t explain it any other way. Is this really what one of this years biggest games is reduced to – a technically inferior teaser for next years grand “This is the game you should have been playing!”?

Of course, the problem for FROM Software – and Sony, if I’m being honest about it – is that the PC version does run at 1080p and sixty frames a second. The game that we might get on consoles next year is the game we’re getting on PC tonight. Look, I have platinum trophies for this series on my PSN – Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin, Bloodborne and a few Souls-like attempts like Salt and Sanctuary. It’s naturally where I’d go for my Dark Souls fix, to keep everything in its place. But I cannot deny that I am sorely tempted to get the PC version anyway, or just wait for the Nintendo NX port. Chances are the NX will also get Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin, and if FROM and Nintendo have any sense in them, a few Zelda-inspired weapons and shields and perhaps armours will sweeten the deal and encourage us to once more embrace the worlds of Lordran and Drangleic.

So what I’m seeing before I get down to playing it proper is a game that is arriving on the cusp of new console hardware – that could be once again significantly improved by that new hardware. I don’t know what’s going on at FROM – or if this timing issue is entirely their fault – but it’s becoming a big problem for the company. I’m sure we’ll be quite happy to buy the games again, but we shouldn’t be doing that if we’re being honest with ourselves. The community around Dark Souls will simply pretend it’s good for FROM Software, without realising how much it benefits them and how it frankly screws us as consumers.

Indeed, it would probably be best to just stick with the PC version in that regard. But with so many already well-invested into their achievements and profiles, FROM knows that we’ll overlook so many of these issues of frame pacing and frame rate dips just so we can have completion to match up with our trophies of Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne. And it’s going to work too. Lordran knows it’s going to work and that’s why everything was so irritable; they were trying to slap some sense into us!

Of course, I’m a weak-willed gamer and my copy is ready and raring to go. But I wanted to at least get my initial pre-play thoughts up before my brain gets numbed by the sheer overwhelming force of ‘NEW DARK SOULS THREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!’. I have no doubt FROM have done everything they can to make this work as well as it can on PS4, and I have little doubt they’d absolutely have preferred stronger hardware to make the game the very best it could be without exceptions. I get that. I understand it’s not all FROM’s fault here. They’re tied to the hardware already on the market.

But you tell me that Dark Souls 3, day one on NX, with Zelda-themed loot buried inside it isn’t a day-one purchase and a system-seller in its own right. That’s the sheer power of Dark Souls now. It absolutely can sell consoles. It will sell consoles. It’s an inescapable force – a brand with every inch the power of things like Zelda and Call of Duty. Heck, Sony could have used it to push sales of the PlayStation 4K: heck knows that’s going to be a rough sell, trying to convince people to buy an upgraded PlayStation 4! That’s the kind of timing that ultimately cemented Dark Souls into the market in the first place – razor sharp precision, precisely when and where it is most needed. I get the impression FROM and Mr. Miyazaki have been struggling to find that lightning in a bottle ever since. Whether they intended it in the first place or not, their gamble paid off – and now we all expect them to be on-point with their timing, even though it’s been off for their main releases ever since.

Whatever transpires during my time with Dark Souls 3, one thing is clear before I play it. Dark Souls 2 was early to the party on consoles, and so is Dark Souls 3. I can’t escape the niggling doubt in the back of my mind that no matter how much I like or hate the game, there’ll be that little part of me whispering sweetly in my minds ear… “Next year, Kami. They’ll do a re-release next year and it will be so very much better than this…”

And if it does… how does FROM expect me to stay loyal? We dump on companies for Game of the Year editions all the time. FROM have been apt to do the same damn thing of late. Sure, it’s not every year they do it… but it’s clear to me that this is what they will be doing.

As much as I love FROM, and Dark Souls and Souls games in general… please stop doing this guys. Please. Otherwise I and many others will simply start waiting for your super-duper version a year or so down the line from release. And trust me, you do NOT want that reputation – we’ve got enough jock-cheeses in the industry pulling this crap year in, year out.

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