Dark Souls III: First Impressions, Part One

Ed. Note: I am going to assume the reader has a base knowledge of the Dark Souls series because I don’t want to repeat what I’ve said before about the games. I have written several posts about the series, some published, some not. You can search my archives if you’re interested in my previous posts. This is the third (and probably final) game in the trilogy*, and I want to get right to the heart of it. In addition, there will be spoilers. I can’t talk about the game without them. If you haven’t played the game yet and don’t want to be spoiled before you do (like me), then I’d suggest you skip this post–as much as it pains me to say it.

whoa, whoa, whoa i'm on fire
Linking the fire in the original Dark Souls

Dark Souls has ruined me for video games. There’s nothing I can play that lives up to it–the original, though I’m in the camp that believes the second game was a good, if not great, game as well. I’ve tried two Souls-like games**, Lords of the Fallen, known as clunky Souls, and DarkMaus, almost a clone rather than a homage, and both wear their Souls inspiration firmly on their sleeves. I tried; I really did. But as I played the wannabes, all I could think was, “I’d rather be playing Dark Souls.” In the end, that’s what I did–put away the other games and re-played Dark Souls and Dark Souls II. I have to confess that the first time I played the original game, I was sick of it by the time I beat it. The legendary Ornstein & Smough boss fight is less than halfway through the game, and it’s really the pinnacle of it. This is probably the fight that has claimed more Souls victims than any other place in the game. Every Souls fan can remember the first time she faced this duo, having beaten a shit-ton of obstacles just to have the privilege of this moment. I played the game well after its release, so I already knew about them, but that didn’t mitigate how awesome it was when I walked through the fog door and their intro cutscene played. “Oh, shit, son! This is the real deal now.” I don’t like to get tips before I meet a boss, so I had no idea how they fought–well, I quickly learned.

I died to these two between sixty and seventy times. No, that’s not a misprint–I died to them a lot. More to the point, for the first forty or fifty deaths, I didn’t feel as if I could beat them. By death sixty, I was mentally defeated. I had been battling these two for a solid week, and they had gotten the best of me every fucking time. I clearly remember the fateful moment when I decided I would give it one last shot and then I would quit the game for good. It was two in the morning, and I had died to them several times earlier in the day. I put on The Pina Colada Song on repeat to keep myself loose, and I walked through the fog door one last time. I did everything differently than I had up until that point, and I finally, finally beat Ornstein & Smough. The jubilation I felt upon seeing Smough disappear into dust has yet to be matched in a video game setting, and I let out a stream of curses in exultation. The rest of the game after that couldn’t match the intensity of that fight,*** and I was more than happy to put the game in the finished column and be done with it. Or so I thought. Then, the sequel came out, and I kept my eye on it. I didn’t buy it when it first came out because I was still recovering from the first one, but I did pick up the complete edition of the sequel with all three DLC when it was on sale for ridiculously cheap. Since I knew I would probably play it at some point, I avoided all spoilers. I did learn, however, that many people were disappointed with the sequel. So much so, FromSoft, the developers, did a remastering of it. That’s the version I played when I finally got around to it, and as I said, it was a good game, more playable in many ways than the original.

i could get used to this!
One true ruler in Dark Souls II

Once I finished the sequel and all the DLC, I was at a loss as to what to play next. I went back to some hack and slashes I had started, but they had lost their luster. I revisited Path of Exile, of which I was an OG backer, but I found it tedious–which is too bad because I really liked it when I first played it. I might try it again, but it just seems dull in comparison to Dark Souls. I can play Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth (though I prefer Rebirth. I think Afterbirth has too much fan service) as a kind of mindless escape, but it’s not absorbing the way it used to be. I was really excited for Enter the Gungeon which has been described as Binding of Isaac meets Nuclear Throne, and I enjoyed it for about fifteen hours until I realized that I would never progress past the fourth floor. Once I hit the ceiling, I lost all interest–much like I did with Nuclear Throne. I like bullet hell games, but they don’t like me back because I’m old and my reactions aren’t as sharp as they used to be. I played a bunch of rogue-like/rogue-lites, and one of them captured my interest for a while. Leap of Fate is the name, and you go into cards and battle enemies there within. I love Mukai, an Asian teenager who is psychotic and wields a sword. However, the sixth(and last, I presume) level’s difficulty ramps up ridiculously, and I haven’t beaten it yet. I haven’t played in weeks because it takes a lot just to get to that point, and I haven’t come close to beating the boss.

I was at loose ends. After beating DS II, I started it again as cleric rather than a sorcerer. At some point, I also started the original from the beginning, as a pyromancer again, because I wanted to see if I could do it better. I could and I did, and it was much more enjoyable the second time through. Same with the sequel. In part because I knew what i was doing and in part because I co-oped for all the bosses I could rather than fight them solo. When I finished my second playthrough of the original, I had done a 180 on it. I was now firmly convinced that it was the greatest game of all time, despite its flaws. I started NG+ in both, and it’s been fun, but I needed a new game. Dark Souls III came out in April, but I didn’t buy it. Why? Because I’m cheap as hell and because I like to buy the complete game well after its release so I can play it all at one time. Plus, I like the wikis to be written so I can look shit up if I need to. I was really tempted to pre-order it, but I held off. I also strenuously avoided any spoilers, which wasn’t easy to do. Every time it went on sale, I thought about buying it because no other game interested me–and I have at least a hundred in my pile of shame. I’m super-hyped for Cook, Serve, Delicious 2, but I have no idea when that’s coming out. It all came to a head two days ago when Ian told me DS III was on sale on Steam. The deluxe edition which includes the season pass and all the DLC was sixty-five bucks or so–roughly the same amount as the game itself at full price. I was seriously tempted to buy it even though I don’t like to spend that much money on a game. If anyone deserved my money, it’s FromSoft because they’ve given me countless hours of…not enjoyment, exactly, but engrossing gameplay with the Souls series. Besides, Miyazaki was back at the helm, which meant it was probably going to be more like the original than the sequel. I was Skyping with Ian two nights ago, and I was talking about my love for DS. Suddenly, Steam let me know I had a gift. It was the deluxe edition of Dark Souls III, and Ian had just bought it for me.  I was floored and so touched by his thoughtful gesture. He knew I wasn’t going to buy it for myself, no matter how much I wanted it, so he got it for me. I installed it this yesterday morning, and sat down to play it later in the afternoon.

yes. yes. yes!
Opening cutscene from Dark Souls III

I was nervous. Not going to lie. Why? Because how the hell was it going to hold up to the original? I liked the second game, but it didn’t really break much new ground. The problem with sequels in general is that they have to have the same elements of the original that drew people to it in the first place, but if that’s all they have, then they lose the magic. How was DS III going to walk this tightrope? I felt a chill once the opening cutscene started. Miyazaki does atmosphere and lore so fucking well. I love, love, love medieval fantasy AND gothic settings, and DS III is a nice blend of the two (as if Dark Souls and Bloodborne had a baby. A mythic, moody, magnificent baby). Even though it’s been done a hundred times before, it still seemed majestic and fresh. I need to fiddle with my settings a bit, though, because the game stutters in places. Anyway, I had to smile at the character creation scene because it’s just as bad as ever. I like to make my characters Asian women, naturally, but it’s not easy to do. Ironic given that FromSoft is a Japanese studio. I spent less time than I normally would in the character creation menu, and I was fairly satisfied with the result. I named her mulan because that’s what I name all my characters, and I started the game. Oh, I chose the pyromancer class because that’s my jam, and I was beyond elated when it was announced that they would be reinstating that class. When the game actually started, I smiled again because it’s like coming home. The name of the area flashing on the screen. The orange messages on the ground from the developers (later from other players) telling you what the buttons do. My excitement when I realized that they reinstated the kick as well. I giddily rolled my way around the first section, grinning like a maniac. They had kept the playability from the sequel while maintaining the integrity of the original. I can’t tell you how good the controller felt in my hands as I explored the Cemetery of Ash.

The Hollows in this game reminded me of Dementors (whom I think are cute), and I was relieved to know that my previous experience with Souls game served me well in summarily demolishing these base enemies. I had my Pyromancy Glove and my Fireballs, but, wait, how many Fireballs did I have? In the previous games, I had a set number between bonfires. I couldn’t see a number, and it took me a bit to realize that the blue bar between the red (health) bar and the green (stamina) bar was my magic bar. Every time I used a fireball, I lost some of my blue bar. When my blue bar was empty, I had no more magic/miracles/pyromancy usage. In addition to my Estus Flask (health replenishment drink), I had an Ashen Estus Flask which replenished my mana-like magicks stuff. Apparently, it’s called the FP (focus point) bar, which, OK, whatever. Initially, I didn’t like this change because I was so used to having a set number of spells per bonfire. However, when I found out I could change how many of each kind of flask I have, I became intrigued. Most Souls fans believe that being a caster is easy mode (or as easy as it gets in Souls games) and recommend that you play as a melee fighter on your first playthrough. If you do this, you can have all your flasks be regular Estus Flasks, but if you’re a caster such as I am, you have to decide if you want more magicks or more health. To make it even more intriguing, there are healing miracles (which counts as magicks), so you can kind of have your cake and eat it, too. Yes, it’s one more thing to manage, but you can change the allotment fairly easily, so I’m eager to play with it.

This is getting long, surprise, surprise, so I’m going to wrap it up here and continue in another post. See you in part two!


*There are two other games that could be considered part of the series, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls‘ progenitor, and Bloodborne, which really needs to come to the PC. For the sake of this post, I’m not going to count them as part of the series, even if I do talk about them.

**Yes, it’s its own genre now, for better and for worse.

***Except the DLC, which is brutal.


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