Dark Souls III – A Souls Game Too Many?

The bottom of my iron boot meets the half-broken wooden platform with a frighteningly loud thud, my red health bar depleting ever so slightly. My descent is slow, but it needs to be, as a misstep will lead to a swift death.

I descend to the bottom, and arrive in a large pit, slightly reminiscent of Gladiator, but unlike Russell Crowe, no audience is present to witness the massacre that is about to take place. More discrepancies between the movie and my situation are present, as my foes take the form of gigantic worms; come to think of it, this is nothing like Gladiator at all.

I am adorned in Boletaria’s finest armour, with a Crescent Falchion +2 in one hand and a steel shield in the other. The worms are lethargic in their movement, but they slam down in unison, picking me off like an insignificant scab. I change gear and opt for speed over strength. I roll, block, roll, cower, roll some more, but their solid casing demotes my Crescent Falchion to a level of usefulness afforded by a kitchen utensil. My attacks are weaker, but I evade their terminal slams and, eventually, succeed.

“Are you not entertained?” I shout, as worm after worm is toppled.

Beyond is a fog wall, encasing the latest gargantuan foe. A crackling fire burns in the background, but the room is otherwise silent. The camera pans around the room, until two flaming hands burst through a gap in a wall, and a flaming rendition of the antichrist breaks through. The Flamelurker: he pounds his chest and roars, like the satanic love child of King Kong and the Human Torch; if only he had seen the way I had dispatched those worms, he would not be so shouty then. He immediately slams forward, depleting half my life and shattering my bravado. I get up, and a lightning quick combo relegates my threat to that of a common housefly. Having given a quietus to my existence, the Flamelurker celebrates. I reawaken, my body returning to its emaciated state, and my hubris well and truly destroyed.

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It would be months till I returned to Boletaria. My character is not a sentient being, yet an air of diffidence emanates from his presence as he pushes through the fog wall. Months of dormancy have done little to subdue the threat of the Flamelurker, and l am awash with guilt while a merciless beating takes place; I’m so sorry ‘Sir Awesome.’

Demon’s Souls. It captivated me when it released several years ago. The relentless difficulty and unique take on high fantasy, teamed with best in class gameplay mechanics, started a love hate relationship that later transformed into an infatuation on my part. As a child of the early 90’s, I had unfortunately avoided the fabled era of the NES and SNES; “You think game X was hard, you should’ve played Battletoads.” Yes, games were hard, but to think of the Souls games as just an homage to the difficult titles of yesteryear would be to misinterpret their intentions.

Hidetaka Miyazaki, studio head at FromSoftware and game director, has often stated that the extreme challenge exists only to introduce the feeling of accomplishment; a fist-pumping, hair-raising ‘f%@k yes!’ moment. The Souls series, including Bloodborne, totes an innumerable quota of masochistic opportunities for education, not death. Every boss, every enemy, even chests: everything displays a truly unparalleled level of antipathy toward you, and the world will continue to grind on you remorselessly until you, the player, analyse, improvise and strategise. I love the series; the bosses, the world, the lore – I love it all, and it has found an incredibly passionate and vocal audience. When an immeasurably large foe in an unmistakably ‘Souls’ aesthetic made an appearance at Microsoft’s E3 Media Briefing, I was…sad?


Dark Souls 3, barring a delay, would represent the fourth SoulsBorne game in six years and the third in the Dark Souls series. This is good… I think. It’s more Dark Souls, and I just said I love the series after all, but then again maybe that is the problem; it is more Dark Souls.

Let us crack my needlessly complicated and fragile emotional sate, shall we? Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls were, no, are phenomenal. Everything from the unique bosses to the asynchronous multiplayer is, for my money, perfect. It is FromSoftware’s more recent offerings that have me worried. Dark Souls 2 was helmed by a different director, Yui Tanimura, and the game’s critical reception masked what was a significant step back in the series.

Uninspired level design was met with equally poor bosses and enemies. An overload of mobs undermined the intricate enemy placement that permeated the previous games. The gold plated mountain of destruction Smough, and his companion Ornstein, remained in a league of their own, as humanoid bosses with all too familiar move sets littered the experience. I laughed at first, as I danced around the hapless Dragonrider, evading his polearm with impudent ease; I had assumed the role of the apocalyptic Flamelurker. Oh how powerful I was. Several hours in, and one too many a predictable boss fight had turned that laughter into tears. The series’ signature take on the fantasy genre suffered, too. The unique aesthetic of the abandoned metropolis of Anor Londo was replaced with depressing, saturnine locations that were geographically inaccurate, and an evidently abandoned torch mechanic and graphical downgrade led to flat lighting and bland textures.

Miyazaki returned to direct Bloodborne, and although I did not like it quite as much as Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, it was a refreshing step in a new direction. Dragons, the undead and knights were replaced with werewolves and beasts and…whatever this is. It also sported the best gameplay in the series, with an injection of speed and fluency that was the catalyst for sweaty palms and leaning a few inches further forward (it makes all the difference). Unfortunately, Bloodborne was thin on replayability, toting the least amount of weapons, armour and subsequently character builds, that made revisiting previous games in the series so worthwhile. Ultimately though, the gothic setting and Cthulhu mythos ushered in a new era for the franchise.

Dark Souls 3! More dragons, and undead… and knights. Miyazaki is co-directing Dark Souls 3, the importance of which cannot be understated, but I have already poured hundreds of hours into the fantastical world of Lordran, I don’t know if I could pour a hundred more with the same enthusiasm.

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I am scared. Maybe scared is the wrong word. Concerned, I am concerned. I am concerned that a series I love will begin to lose its lustre. When Dark Souls III slowly transitioned onto the screen at E3, I was unpredictably apathetic. No one is asking for less games, but we are all au fait as to the over-saturation of certain genres; give the series time to breathe to avoid stagnation.

Miyazaki himself has commented on Dark Souls III being a turning point for the franchise, wary of focusing too much on one series. He states: “FromSoftware is well known not only for the fantasy game, but they’ve been creating the sci-fi mech game Armored Core and also some Japanese-style games, like the ninja games. So I may introduce a new direction in those genres or themes that FromSoftware has worked on in the past in new, future titles.”

Ninja Souls? Robot Souls?

Now you’re talking.


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