Hmm… mmm… oh! Forgive me, I was absorbed in thought…
Okay, let’s spray some lovely linen-scented air freshener in here first before I burn the furniture. Dark Souls 3 is a great game. It really is. There’s no denying that it’s a celebratory tickle of the downstairs region for many of us, a nostalgic hit and taking the better ideas from four successive titles in the franchise – Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin and Bloodborne respectively – and weaving them into a darksome wonder that is going to leave fans of the series completely breathless. If your gaming life circles around FROM’s notoriously challenging series, no other game is going to scratch that itch quite like Dark Souls 3. It’s a beautiful game with great orchestral tunes and some of the most tightly-focused boss encounters that the series has yet offered to date.
That said, we need to also be clear that this – for my money, at least – is also the WORST Souls game to date. Which of course still makes it better than 95% of modern gaming releases, but it’s impossible to ignore the feeling that Dark Souls 3 is a game that has been coasted, rather than crafted, and the resultant mess that I’ve suffered through sixty-odd hours of is a far cry from the steady pace of Dark Souls, or the mechanically glorious machinations of Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin (on PS4), or the deliberately melancholic gothic stylings of Bloodborne, or the tightly-honed, laser-focused play of Demon’s Souls. It’s a game which is now distinctly Top-Tier; a “Triple-A” gaming experience with all the baggage that such a moniker implies. And to add to my concerns last week – I’d also suggest this is a game which, in my view, has been hurriedly rushed out for some inexplicable reason to get attention before the new-generation consoles start to make Dark Souls 3 and its visuals look a bit old-fashioned.
But let me get specific about my gripes with Dark Souls 3.
The first is that Dark Souls is difficult, but rarely is the game cheap; everything can and should be avoided, but taking one or two blows is never the end-all of a fight. Persistence is the name of the game, rather than pin-point precision and perfect timing 100% of the time. So colour me shocked when on multiple occassions, Dark Souls 3 threw up bosses with insta-kill mechanics, moves that you MUST dodge through with perfect timing and relentless attack patterns that empty your stamina bar as you desperately roll around trying to delay the inevitable. Dark Souls 3, sadly, has descended into a trap that lesser games fall into – it equates “insta-kill” as “hard”; and it is, of course. But it’s also the lowest form of challenge – the easiest, simplest manner of creating artificial difficulty. None of this is helped by the Bloodborne engine and the return of frame-dropping, or a camera and targeting system that at this point needs to just go away and die alone in a cave somewhere, hollow and unloved. When a boss teleports behind you for a deathly insta-death move and you can’t tell in an instant if you’re supposed to roll left or right because there’s no way of knowing because the targeting reticule has toggled off and the camera is stuck looking in the opposite direction of the boss, it’s one of those things where you think, “This isn’t the Souls way.”
And before some of you excoriate me with the renditions of “Git Gud”; one, I have finished the game. So get off my case. And secondly, I’ve got platinums for all the prior Souls titles, including some Souls-like games to boot. If there’s anyone who can appreciate the minutia detail of the Souls legacy, it’s someone who has for the last five years been wholly immersed in it. So when I say this is the worst Souls game to date, I’m not pulling that comment off as some cheap troll punchline. I’m deathly serious.
Most of this isn’t helped by some downright bizarre balancing issues. The beauty of Dark Souls is that everything should work; nothing is “so OP” that it’s an essential weapon for everyone and their grandmother, and nothing should be so weak on bosses that you’d get more damage output lobbing out the contents of your bag. But this is the current state of Dark Souls 3: and yes, a balance patch is incoming and yes, I know it’s impossible to be 100% balanced right out of the gate. But the balancing problems are numerous and obvious, with several weapons and spells being utterly useless and sorcery being the undisputed king and ruler of all it surveys. And it’s even worse because of the heavy limits early-on in regards to upgrade materials. If you’ve invested in a style of play currently lagging in the back… well, you’re out of luck, why not reroll and use what everyone else is? Yes, that’s annoying, because Dark Souls is about freedom of expression in a game world – you’re supposed to be able to pick your role, change and adapt at a whim and specialise to a fault. Artificial limitations just lead to frustration and that’s not okay.
Worse for me is that I did have to reroll for game-breaking bugs. The first I ran into was on the Road of Sacrifices, nearing Farron Keep. I was running around the swamp being chased by a couple of Giant Enemy Crabs (no, that’s not a punchline), when suddenly the game world disappeared and my menus became unresponsive. I could move around, but my items bar was unusable and I couldn’t bring up the in-game menu. So I restarted; but loading back in, same area, same unresponsive menus. I hadn’t even done anything other than run from two giant crabs, and the game has suddenly had a brainfart, sending me right back to the beginning again. But at least I’d only invested what, ten hours?
The next game-breaking bug came on Dancer of the Boreal Valley. Whilst not quite as drastic as the former, I was puzzled at why the game kept stuttering and CRASHING on me all the time. Quite a puzzling experience, to be sure, but a little perseverance and I had found what was happening; the more of the arena the boss sets on fire, the more the game starts to chug, eventually just bluescreening out entirely on my PS4. I’m assuming this is some memory leak issue attached to the (admittedly very pretty) fire and ash effects that the Dancer lays everywhere. But to beat her, I had to do everything in my power to not only avoid her very sweeping attacks, but also consciously keep her fire effects from crashing the game out. Look, I love a challenge but after an hour and a half of this, I was all but ready to tell Mr. Miyazaki to go do fun and exciting things with a chainsaw.
I’ve seen that I am not alone; there are many glitches, bugs and the like. I’ve seen people having problems walking down stairs and ramps, stuck in a room with no-where to go. I’ve experienced strange issues with invasions – where I was ultimately forced to get out of the game because the fog-walls had been raised up, but no invasion was forthcoming. Bloodborne had its technical hitches, but nothing on a par with what Dark Souls 3 is inflicting on us.
It’s also a very linear game too – it’s a rollercoaster, a straight line. I’m pretty sure we’re all quite happy to complain when the likes of EA and Activision and even Square-Enix pull this nonsense in their big-budget gaming franchises, so why should FROM be exempt from being told off about its horrendously linear progression system? There’s no sense of, “Well, having problems here so let’s go check out that other path from earlier…” – it doesn’t go anywhere in Dark Souls 3, so you’re left souls-farming the same areas to get a little more clout for bosses. It’s horrendous design work and FROM Software should be outright ashamed of itself. Dark Souls 2 was never this lazy! Sure, the areas are pretty and loop around a bit but it’s still a straight line from A to B to fight C to get to D and so on.
My overall conclusions are thus; firstly, this is a Top-Tier Release with all the Season Pass, Bugs and Balance issues that go with it. In a sense, my feeling from last week has only been cemented firmer with my trials in Dark Souls 3. What we’ve done… and this is the genius bit and you’ll find this hilarious… is we’ve paid £50 and are being asked to pay for a DLC Season Pass… FOR AN OPEN BETA! That’s the nicest way I can put it; this is an open-beta release of a Dark Souls game, a game which needs significant tweaking and balancing and workmanship put in to take the sharp edges off. And I’m not okay with that, not least that my view that later this year we’ll see souped-up better versions for the NX and PS4K hit the market with all DLC included. Mr. Miyazaki – see that horse you rode in on? You know what you can do with it. And to it. And maybe around it.
Secondly, it’s been rushed out. Dark Souls needs to be finely-tuned and pitched perfectly in order to get the fine balance between challenge and cheapness. Dark Souls 3 has had little to none of this as I can tell, and facing the shock of re-rolling because you blew upgrade materials on a weapon that can’t make a dent in a boss? I’ll take “Nonsense That No Other Game In Existence Can Get Away With” for five-hundred, Alex.
And thirdly – is this it? A greatest hits compilation? Look, I’m the first to acknowledge the age-old tagline of ‘The Difficult Third Album’, because coming up with new ideas all the time is hard – it doesn’t matter that the likes of Nintendo make it look easy. I still think for all its kiddy image, Nintendo has some dark creature hidden away where they draw more than their fair share of inspiration and ideas. Still, Dark Souls 3 doesn’t do anything I haven’t seen the Souls series or its branches do already; this is a safe release, a far cry from the bold and brave launch that was the first Dark Souls, thrown out to an unsuspecting gaming public growing tired of the same old, same old. What bittersweet irony that Dark Souls 3 can be described as “same old, same old” with a straight face.
Is it still one of this years better games? Of course, but it’s a seven out of ten at best. I can see exactly why Mr. Miyazaki and his team want to move away from the Souls franchise for a bit – they are running on fumes, and Dark Souls 3 is evidence of that. There are still sparks of genius here and there, but it’s mired in a game that is far too safe, far too unbalanced, has serious bugs and glitches and a souls duping glitch which is effectively the same that was in Dark Souls on the PS3 and XBox 360. Seriously, no-one think this is getting weird now that you can just try the old duping glitches and expect them to work?
Rest now, Team Souls. Thank you for your dedication to bringing back tough and interesting Action RPG’s. I’m sorry I can’t love Dark Souls 3 the same way I love your previous entries. But I think you know that we’re all thinking it. Take some much-deserved time to do something new – and come back in time, when you are sufficiently charged and ready to dazzle us with a Demon’s Souls 2 or, maybe, a Zelda Souls. Dark Souls 3 is not a bad game – but it’s the most hollow entry in the series to date.
That’s such a solid ending joke I’m leaving it there. G’night, all!