Dark Souls III: First Impressions, Part Two

 Ed. Note: I started Dark Souls III. I have thoughts about it. Many of them. This is part two of my first impressions. You can read part one here

big and lumbering, just how i like 'em
Killing the tutorial boss on my first try? This game ain’t so hard!

I made my way through the first area with no problem and soon encountered the tutorial boss, Iudex Gundyr. He’s in the middle of the cemetery, kneeling, and he’s not moving as I entered the arena. I immediately knew that he was the first boss, and I walked around the arena, keeping an eye on Iudex. He didn’t move, and there was no fog door, but he was clearly the boss. Full disclosure: I had seen a brief glimpse of him in a video, but I didn’t remember what he looked like. Once I was done exploring the arena, I cautiously approached him. I wasn’t nervous, even though I was fully prepared to get my ass kicked. When I got close to him, a prompt appeared, telling me to pull out the sword stuck in him. I did, and then, of course, Iudex started moving. It was on, and I was about to test my Fireballs for the first time. I quickly switched to my Pyromancy Glove instead of my Hand Axe* and watched him for a few seconds to get a feel for his pattern. He was slow as are most of the big bosses in Souls games, and he moved pretty deliberately. I did what you’re supposed to do against big, slow bosses in these games–I moved backwards, let him do his set pattern, then attacked. I lobbed Fireballs at him every time he finished his pattern, and I reminded myself to not get greedy. That’s the number one rule in Dark Souls: Don’t. Get. Greedy. It’s hard because FromSoft is really good at making you think that you can end it in one swing when you really cannot. When you see the boss with one or two sliver of health left after you attack, the impulse is to just get in one more swing. However, you’re probably out of stamina at that point, and while you’re mashing on the RB button, the boss is finishing you off.

I kept my cool, and I stuck to the number one rule of not getting greedy. I circled around the arena, making sure to keep my eye on Iudex. I was running out of FP, and I was running out of Estus Flasks, but I was steadily chipping away at Iudex’s health. When I got it down to about a third left, I allowed myself to think that I might get him on my first try. I kept doing what I was doing, and before I knew it, he was dead. I did it! I killed a boss on the first try! Granted, it was the tutorial boss, and granted, pelting him with Fireballs did make the fight much easier, but still. I beat a Dark Souls boss on my first try without ever having seen him before! I mentally patted myself on the back and moved on, feeling pretty pleased with myself. There was a bonfire to be lit once he was vanquished, which hearkens back to Demon’s Souls. I never played it because it’s a PS3 exclusive, but I’ve seen playthroughs of it. I soldiered on, marveling that I hadn’t died yet. I cut through the Hollows who crossed my path, and before I knew it, Firelink Shrine flashed before my eyes. I knew about this before I played the game, but seeing it in all its majesty was a whole different thing. Quick background–Firelink Shrine is the primary bonfire of the original Souls game. I knew that it was going to be in DS III, and I knew it was going to be the hub world, but seeing pictures of it and actually going to it are two vastly different experiences. Firelink Shrine was my home base in Dark Souls, but visually, it wasn’t much different than any other area. I mean, it had its own distinct flavor because that’s the way Miyazaki rolls, but this Firelink Shrine is a set piece, for sure. It’s reminiscent of the Nexus from Demon’s Souls, but on a much grander scale. I walked my character in, savoring the atmosphere. There were NPCs, and, of course, I talked to each one. The Fire Keeper, who is a staple of Souls games, only this one has her eyes bound, much like the Black Maiden from Demon’s Souls did. She gave me a spiel about using the coiled sword to blah, blah, blah and called me the Ashen One. I used the sword I had to light the bonfire, then just stared at it in satisfaction before visiting the other NPCs. The Crestfallen Warrior, though that’s not his name here, but he didn’t have much to say. The Shrine Handmaid, a merchant who reminded me of the hag from the second game–Merchant Hag Melentia (yes, that’s her actual name). She sells a key for 20,000 souls, which made me smile again because every Miyazaki game has this–a shortcut you can buy for 20,000 souls or be a stingy asshole like me and find it the hard way after several frustrating hours.

i never want to leave firelink shrine
Firelink Shrine, the Fire Keeper in the distance

I wandered around Firelink Shrine, visiting each throne. There are five, and I assume at some point, I’ll be able to enter the worlds each one represents. The detail is incredible, and I love being immersed in it. I left one NPC for last–Blacksmith Andre, who is one of the most important NPC in the original game. It is really good to see him, even if he doesn’t sell Titanite Shards, material needed to upgrade your weapons. He has no hard feelings from me accidentally attacking him in the original game, and I’d like to keep it that way. He’s the one who reinforces my Estus Flask and allows me to say how many of each type I want. In other words, he’s fucking important. He doesn’t sell any weapons, either, which is a change I’m not fond of. I want my Battle Axe, damn it!, and i don’t know where I can find one. I love that there are old friends to visit, but it’s bittersweet at the same time. It reminds me that this is probably the last game in the series, and it feels like the farewell tour for a band who has gotten back together one last time. The narrator is the same one from the first game as well, and she sets the mood perfectly. After indulging my nostalgia, I moved on to–I stopped. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next. I walked around the shrine some more and found some nooks and crannies I had overlooked.** I went outside to explore around the shrine because I had made a beeline for the shrine the minute I saw it, and I promptly died a handful of times to a mini-boss with a uchigatana. I had to laugh because this is quintessential Souls–there’s no way FromSoft will allow you to feel good about yourself for any appreciable amount of time. I finally killed the mini-boss, got his badass uchigatana (which I cannot wield right now because of my stats), then eagerly tried the door he was guarding. Locked. Does not open from this side. This is also so very Soulsian, and I just had to shake my head and move on.

Because I was at a loss as to how to proceed, I decided to go backwards and see if anything had changed. I went through the boss arena, back to the Cemetery of Ash, and I stumbled across an enemy I had previously missed. It was a big, ice-encrusted animal, reminiscent of the asshole ice hedgehogs from the DLC of DS II, and my Fireball did potato damage against it. I decided to run away, but it has a surprisingly big tracking range. I ran for a good five minutes, picking up goodies I had missed before on the way. Somehow, I managed not to die, and I made it back to a bonfire. I sat down with relief, knowing that I’d reset the enemies, and I wouldn’t have to deal with the ice creature. This is very much a Souls trick–having an almost-impossible enemy in the first area against whom you can test your mettle if you wish. I did not wish, but I’m sure I’ll revisit this enemy later–much later. I wasted more time than I care to admit searching for the path ahead. This is not something that is normally part of the Souls experience, and I didn’t want to have to resort to the wikis. During my revisitation of the first area, I realized that I could warp from bonfire to bonfire. If I could warp TO the Firelink Shrine bonfire, then I should be able to warp from it.

May I just interject and say that I have always loved this part of DS II? In the original, you couldn’t warp from bonfires until after you beat Ornstein & Smough and obtained the Lordvessel. Then, you could only warp to and from certain bonfires. Dark Souls II allowed you to warp to and from any bonfire from the very start of the game, and I think it’s a much-welcomed addition. There are some hardcore Souls fans who vehemently disagree because they believe that the traipsing back and forth is an integral part of the experience. I can tell you that I found it tiresome and once I was able to warp, that was my preferred method of travel. Back to the narrative about finding the path ahead in Dark Souls III.

shit's about to get real
Firelink Shrine, home sweet home

I listened to the Fire Keeper’s spiel one more time and read the dev’s note on the ground by one of the thrones. It said something about the bonfire being the way to Lothric, so I went back to the bonfire and read my options. The very first was Travel, which I somehow missed. I clicked on it, and I was off to Lothric, the first non-tutorial area of the game. May I say that this game is visually stunning? The original was atmospheric and moody, but the game is five years old, and it shows its age graphically. The sequel had some pretty parts to it, but it also had some ugly areas. I much prefer the original to the sequel in that regard. This game? Puts both of them to shame. Every time I go to a new area, I just take a minute to soak up the atmosphere. OK, it also gives me a chance to catch my breath, but we don’t need to talk about that. On the High Wall of Lothric, there were a few ways to go. As I started down a bridge, a wyvern swooped down and killed everyone on the bridge (it’s always a fucking bridge). I ran back to relative safety and went a different direction instead, noting the bridge on my mental map because I wanted to go back to it at some point in the near future.

I have to reiterate that while everything is new in this game, it all feels comfortable. What I mean is that the mechanics are the same as previous games, and the rules the AI follow are the same as well. Including that they can hit you through walls, but you can’t do the same to them. The first time that happened to me and I died, I could only laugh ruefully and say, “Oh, Dark Souls” while shaking my head. There are things you have to accept if your’e going to play a Souls game, and getting cheesed through a wall is one of them. In this area, I did run into one new and neat thing that I had seen in a video (one of the very few things about the game that I knew about before playing it). There were a bunch of Undeads praying to some weird, misshapen body on a pike, and as I approached them–oh! I have to say there are enemies that don’t react as you walk by them. There are also enemies who only react as you walk by them. There have been a few of these types in the previous games, but not nearly as many as are in this one. Anyway, as I approached the group of Undead, one of them started towards me, and his body opened up and some huge, black monster snakelike thing shot up in the sky, still connected to its host. Again, the idea has been done in the previous games, but this particular creature is unique to this game, and I think it’s fucking cool. I’m sure there’s lore behind this religion, but I’m fine with not knowing for now. That’s a great thing about Souls games. You can go as deep or as shallow into the lore as you like. Me, I like leaving all that aside for my first playthrough and just concentrate on the game at hand. I like delving into the lore after I’ve actually played a Souls game so I can play the game pristine.

After my first few hours absorbed in the game, I reluctantly tore myself away. I can play Souls games for endless hours at a time, and I’m trying not to OD on it for several reasons. One, I do have other things I need to do–such as make sure my cats are pampered in the manner to which they are accustomed. Two, I don’t want the experience to be over too soon. Three, my ability to can declines as time goes on. In other words, I get worse the longer I play the game, especially if I’m stuck in one area or against a boss. Obviously, I’ve only dipped my toes into the game, but from the little I’ve seen, I can safely say that this is pretty much what I wanted from Dark Souls III. It’s like a fresh take on my favorite comfort food, say, chicken chow fun. The basics are there–wide noodles and chicken, but there are a few new ingredients such as mushrooms. Yes, I have to pick out the cilantro, but that’s fairly easy to do. I’ve heard it said that Miyazaki was rushed into publishing the original Dark Souls*** and that this is how he wanted that game to be. I think that’s true, and I’m more than OK with this remaster/reboot/re-whatever. I’m enjoying my travels in a new, but familiar world, and I’m excited to see what Miyazaki throws my way throughout the game.

*The pyromancer starts with a Hand Axe in both DS and DS III. No idea why.

**It’s nearly impossible to see everything on your first playthrough of a Souls game.

***Which is why the second half of the game isn’t as good as the first.

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