Dark Souls III (PC) First Impressions

DISCLAIMER: As this review is a First Impressions of a game that is still in development, there will be no */10 Geeks score at the end. There is also a slant towards the positive aspects and, unless otherwise stated, any mention of negative elements or bugs may be attributed to the game still being made.

Some who wish to remain clean of any foreknowledge may also find MINOR SPOILERS in this review.


If you'd asked me three years ago whether I'd be up for covering Dark Souls III, I'd've probably said no. By most accounts, the first game was both overwhelmingly difficult and known to lead to players literally snapping their controllers in half. But then my housemate birthday gifted it to me, and I found it pretty enjoyable in a maniacal, clearly-I-have-no-will-to-live kind of way.

The second game, simultaneously improving on and mucking up elements of the first one, was also pretty great. I did like the greater emphasis on the main character, as well as the tightening of the graphics for the new console generation.

Now we have a third one. You know that old adage, 'second verse, same as the first', or that other one, 'rinse and repeat'? Change 'second' to 'third', and you're getting close to defining the essential experience of Dark Souls III.

Let me put up a disclaimer before I go in: what I've played of Dark Souls III was not bad by any stretch. If you're an existing fan, you'll love it. If you're new to the franchise, you'll probably find it accessible. Aside from a few technical glitches - which, in a tech demo like this, are expected - Dark Souls III was not bad. What it was, instead, was staid. Un-evolved. More of the same.

It's my belief that From Software may be moving into the safe, comfortable territory that various Mario, Legend of Zelda and Call of Duty games inhabit; namely, they've found a pattern and are sticking to it. Why fix what isn't broken, if what you've got works so well? Innovation for innovation's sake is pointless, and can kneecap a franchise if it's already got a good groove going on, right?

Well, yes and no. It's comforting that Dark Souls III presents more of the same, and will be quite streamlined for new fans to get into as well as the old-hand Souls crowd. You're still a nameless fighter traversing a gorgeous, gothic landscape and fighting all manner of medieval and Lovecraftian horrors who all have designs on your entrails. You're still blocking, dodging, running out of stamina and stabbing for all your might against said foes. Even though the layout and specifics of the world have changed - the demo takes place in the suitably-named 'Wall of Lodeleth' - there's a cozy sense of familiarity from the get-go. All that muscle memory you've honed playing the first two Souls will pay off, veteran players!

But at the same time, I did have to double-check and confirm that yes, I am actually playing the third Souls game as opposed to the first or second. The visuals, gameplay and implied storyline all bear the hallmarks of the series thus far, and without much in the way of change it feels more like an expansion pack, or DLC, than a game in its own right. I'd even suggest, as others already have done, that perhaps From Software are angling the series into becoming an annual occurrence, a la Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty. If they're going in that direction, with minimal changes and maintaining most of the status quo, then an appropriate qualifier for Dark Souls III might be that its a 'challenge pack' rather than a 'sequel'.

I can see the value in releasing annual Souls games, even if I'd disagree with it. Since the franchise is predicated on players getting involved with its uber-hard, grindy qualities, you could almost have it as a new set of challenges released every twelve months to see how good your skills are, or present another puzzle for you to eclipse. It's the kind of challenge that's better and more involved than those of the repetitious FPS and third-person action games that are released each year. Hell, maybe even pick a release date and make it "Souls Day", an annual event where games are purchased, livestreams flared up and controllers snapped in displays of boss-homicide frustration.

But honestly, I find the concept of sequels coming out way too hard on the heels of their forebears frustrating. It'll be clear, both from this demo and the timeframe between Souls II and III, that not much will change. We might get a new story, some new toys to play with, a new setting to plunder for Titanite Shards, sure. But it'll become repetitious. Routine. Run-of-the-mill. Something regular. I dunno, I might be talking crazy but I feel like that robs the games of their value somewhat.

I've kinda talked around the game rather than about it, but as I said, it's more of the same with some new enemies and a fresh coat of paint. My experience was split between an outdoor castle-type area and the inside of a cavernous church playing host to a monster that is the bastard child of a Ringwraith and one of the Crones from The Witcher 3. Both areas were expansive as far as demos go, and the challenge was pretty good. There were some zombies on their knees, seemingly praying to the desiccated corpse of a dragon, its scales literally flaking off and floating away in the breeze. A skeleton erupted suddenly into an oil-slick-dragon-worm-demon thing, which was equal parts unexpected and grotesque.

It's not that Dark Souls III was without its moments, and as I said it's a perfectly acceptable repetition of what's come before. But if innovation and change are what you, like me, seek in a sequel, we may just need to stick with Bloodborne for now.


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