Disorder Reviews: Dark Souls III (2016)

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Martintox

Mister Disorder
Legacy
Apr 3, 2020
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DARK SOULS III


Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Director: Hidetaka Miyazaki, Isamu Okano, Yui Tanimura
Composer: Yuka Kitamura, Motoi Sakuraba
Release Date: 12 April, 2016 (Worldwide)
Systems: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows
Genre: Third person action roleplaying

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In many ways, Dark Souls III is a blatant over-correction of its predecessor, in part for better but mostly for worse. DS2 was an ambitious undertaking that sought to add further depth to the Souls formula, but it ultimately fell apart due to extremely inconsistent areas and bosses (the massive scale didn't help), janky controls, and bewildering design decisions that aggravated the playing experience instead of adding to the difficulty in any meaningful way -- ADP determining estus drinking speed and invincibility frames while rolling, making the Fire Keeper the only way to level up, and so on. While a handful of these issues would stick around, DS3 did fortunately address some of the most egregious problems. However, there is a caveat: FromSoft did this by using their more acclaimed titles -- DS1 and Bloodborne specifically -- as a crutch for the lore and the gameplay respectively. The result is a title that lacks its own identity and often puts players at an unreasonable disadvantage due to mechanics that are ill-suited for the challenges on offer.

Before I proceed any further, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: if you want to play Dark Souls III, it has to be for the gameplay. Flawed as that aspect is in its own right, there is still more than enough to it for someone to enjoy the game on that merit primarily. I say this because the story and lore are just about worthless. DS2, for all of its problems, is about as appropriate a sequel as you can get, as it takes the themes of the first installment in a worthwhile direction by emphasizing the undead curse as the central element of its setting's literal and metaphorical degradation. It had some references to DS1 (some egregious ones too, considering the Old Dragonslayer), but they were sparse enough so as to give the mere implication of a cycle, in the sense that Drangleic is either an iteration of Lordran that has become near unrecognizable with the passage of time, or a kingdom built on top of the ones before it. Its ideas did not always work, but the end product was still a respectable shot at something new.

The same can not be said of DS3, a work that not only relies heavily on 1, but attempts to justify this by bringing the cyclical nature of the Age of Fire to the forefront, as if the endless NG+ of 1 did not already convey that idea. This redundancy is so ubiquitous that it harms many other important aspects of the game: locations and bosses are often rehashed from 1, if they're not outright recycled (Anor Londo and the second phase of the Soul of Cinder are easily the most insulting cases of this pandering), and the same can be said for most of the items, weapons, and armor pieces you will find. Rarely does the game ever explain why all these references are here, and when it does, the justification may well contradict DS1: how could Ornstein have left Anor Londo to find the Nameless King when you kill him in 1? (He doesn't vanish if you kill Gwyndolyn first, meaning that he's absolutely not an illusion.) If linking the First Flame means you stay alive and become a Lord of Cinder, doesn't that completely undermine Gwyn's sacrifice in 1 in addition to your goal in both games? What about lore elements such as the pygmy lords or Gwyn's firstborn being a dragon sympathizer, both of which lack any real development and come off as nonsensical big twists for shock value? The most absurd incongruities aside, the game comes off as almost entirely devoid of creativity, and even when it does bring new ideas to the table, their intent is to look cool instead of adding to the themes of the series.

On the flip side, the gameplay has more than its own share of flaws. In all honestly, DS3 easily has the best control scheme in the trilogy: as good as 1 already was in that regard, it still had some quirks (for one, Jump uses the same button as Roll), and those are absent here. The problem doesn't lie in the controls themselves, but in the fact that they're rarely appropriate for the enemies you face. As an attempt to live up to the Souls series' unfortunate reputation as "the hardest game franchise ever", 3 takes a page straight out of Bloodborne and elects to make most of its enemies hit faster and harder than ever before. Yes, you're a little faster than the previous games and you can roll more often, but your movement, your attacks, your weapons, and your spells work in just about the same way, and yet the game prioritizes speed through its challenges. Many builds that were once perfectly viable are now irrelevant: the absence of poise (a couple of frames when attacking with a handful of weapons is practically nothing) and the ability to fast roll with up to 70% equip load highly encourage rolling as your main defensive tool, whereas spells have been nerfed to oblivion so as to balance PvP, not to mention the absurd choice to make pyromancy reliant on Intelligence and Faith. In Dark Souls III, the most important thing to have is high DPS, meaning that weapons such as the Longsword are much more viable than most of your other options.

Even if you go for an optimal build, mind you, enemies will still generally hit harder and faster than you can, and they get to have poise too. Add enemy mobs (the Ringed City is one of the worst areas by far due to its habit of putting many enemies in fairly tight spaces), high aggro ranges, multi-hit combos, and bosses with multiple phases (you can see some of Sekiro's worst boss design habits in Sister Friede's three-phase battle), and you're likely to find a few of these encounters unfair. The game as a whole is still doable, yes, and you can play in co-op quite easily thanks to many quality-of-life improvements to the multiplayer (albeit at the expense of its value as an extension of the setting as with the previous titles), but even if it's still doable, something has to be said for the fact that it leaves so little room for a less experienced player to bridge the gap between their skill and an area or boss' difficulty. Dark Souls, in spite of its advertising, is not that hard, and part of the reason why is that the player has many ways to adjust the difficulty. If they run out of flasks halfway through a section, they can kindle a bonfire to get more; if they can't stay alive long enough to beat a boss, they can level up or upgrade their weapon/armor. As with its predecessor, Dark Souls III further limits the player's ability to tweak the difficulty (to cite one example, you can't upgrade armor anymore), and this becomes aggravating when many of the options that it does offer are clearly inferior to the "DPS and rolling" meta. There has always been a gap between the least and most viable builds, but it has never been as wide as it is here. Once again, even if you play according to the meta, you are still generally at a bigger disadvantage than you would be in previous installments. Only a handful of encounters work in harmony with the game mechanics, and that is because their design takes much more from the Souls games than from Bloodborne (Slave Knight Gael, Champion Gundyr, and the Abyss Watchers, incidentally the three best bosses).

For the sake of expediency, I won't go into detail on other, comparatively minor issues (most areas look drab due to the omnipresent grey and brown in the color scheme, and the often overly bombastic music clashes with the solemn tone of the series). Dark Souls III is mediocre, but most importantly, it's unnecessary: one can grow to appreciate the gameplay in spite of its flaws, but there is little to appreciate about levels, bosses, and lore that depend so much on a previous installment that they offer no real surprises of which to speak. Dark Souls II definitely had worse low points, but it also had interesting locales and a fair amount of satisfying bosses, some of which stand their own with the best from 1. At its peak, 3 is merely good, and just about everything it does well has been done better in the previous titles. While I have no particular inclination to play 2 or 3 again, I would find much more value in revisiting the former than I would the latter. If you want a good story, play DS1; if you want fast-paced combat, play Bloodborne or Sekiro. I can only recommend DS3 to those who are desperate for more Dark Souls and/or interested in the gameplay alone.

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PERSONAL RATING: **
RECOMMENDATION RATING: **
LETTERED RATING: D+


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THE UNDERTALE REMINDER

Much like DS3, Undertale's story is cyclical on a meta level, since the player's ability to restart and do multiple playthroughts is a major plot point. Also much like DS3, it's more a gimmick than anything else.