Ah, Dark Souls, how many times have you killed me? Through three games (four if you count the remake of the original a little while back), my death toll must be in the thousands, maybe even higher. And yet, I keep coming back for more!
I can imagine when the Dark Souls series was floated, the developer saying “What we’re going to do, right, and bear with me here, is make this game so hard that it will make grown men weep. No handholding, no tutorials, just rock hard action married to rock hard combat”. Somehow they obviously managed to get the producers and publishers behind it.
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Well, through Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 1 and 2 and Bloodbourne, this tactic worked very well, and a new genre was spawned. Other games have tried to join in, like Hellpoint and Immortal: Unchained, but no-one has ever done it better than FromSoftware. It is however with Dark Souls III where the peak of the story arc begins to culminate. So come with me back to 2016 and let’s remember the hard times together, shall we?
In the Kingdom of Lothric, the First Flame is dying out, and a bell has rung to signal that the Age of Fire is coming to a close. This has happened many times before, and as always, the Age of Dark produces undead cursed beings that rise up, and go wandering about. The Age of Fire can be prolonged if someone performs a ritual called linking of the fire; a ritual which requires great lords and heroes to sacrifice their souls to rekindle the First Flame.
This time, Prince Lothric, the man who has been raised to perform this ritual, decides he’d rather not run with tradition and will instead watch the Flame die from afar. The ringing of the bell has awakened the Lords of Cinder from the past, but again, they decide they have better things to do than save the world, and so wander off on their merry way.
We are the Ashen One – we failed to become a Lord of Cinder in a previous life and so we are called an Unkindled. As we rise, we have to persuade the Lords of Cinder to go back to their thrones (persuade in this case being code for application of pointy metal things to their tender bits) and save the world. We need to bring Yhorm the Giant, the Abyss Watchers, a group of fighting warriors who share one soul, and Aldrich, in addition to the absent Lothric, to their places. This is a typical Dark Souls game though, where the narrative is not spoon-fed to you; you have to go looking for it.
Now, as was established in the two previous games, Dark Souls III is an action-RPG-type affair, played out from a third-person perspective. Important things to know are that in addition to a health bar, you have a stamina bar to manage, as too many attacks or dodges in quick succession will leave you defenseless. And that means you will die. A lot. No, I mean a LOT.
Thankfully Estus Flasks are your friend, as they heal you for a certain number of charges; refilled by visiting bonfires – it is these which not only restore your health, but also bring back any non-boss enemies to life, so are a bit of a double-edged sword. However, bonfires are respawn points and allow you to fast travel around the world, so are very useful. A favourite tactic of mine is to set up a farming route, starting and ending at the same bonfire, that will allow you to grind out souls from the defeated enemies, as these can be used to level up and make you stronger; being strong or powerful is never a bad thing in this game. In relation to Darks Souls II, it seems that the RPG aspect of the game was increased, as the character builder was more detailed than before, and allowed the weapons and abilities to come to the fore more.
The maps of Dark Souls III are much larger and more detailed than in Dark Souls II, with a real attention to detail present. They looked a lot better as well. There were, however, slightly less than the previous game, but I never felt like this was a small game. Exploration is rewarded, with shortcuts to find and the usual bits and bobs to pick up, usually from the twisted corpse of another undead. The monsters that roamed the landscapes all looked great as well, with imaginative design on the basic enemies, but the bosses are where the designers went to town, even from the first one that you have to kill to get your first bonfire. Not many games would put a boss about 100 yards away from where you spawn into the world, but hey, this is Dark Souls!
And speaking of things that returned from previous games, the multiplayer system is here as well. You can choose to help people by leaving a summon sign in front of a boss door, say, or you can choose to invade the worlds of others and attempt to kill them. There is even, on YouTube, a kind of Dark Souls III fight club, with rules such as no Estus use, where people square up to each other and attempt to win victory. Check out the videos: there are some truly epic fights going on there and the PvP, while not my bag, is still alive and well today.
In the follow up from launch, we were treated to two DLC expansions. The first, Ashes of Ariandel, takes us to a new area, the Painted World of Ariandel. When we arrive at the Cathedral of the Deep in the base game, we meet a knight called Gael, who asks us to fulfil a prophecy to bring “Fire for Ariandel”. The prophecy wants us to set fire to the Painted World, and when we do, having beaten two tough boss fights, a painter thanks us for showing her the flame; painting a new world so that everyone lives happily ever after. Well, as happily as you can in Dark Souls. This reminds of the Painted World of Ariamas from the first game, although there was no option to bypass the boss this time!
The second DLC was The Ringed City, and again featured a new area called “The Dreg Heap”, an area where all the ruined kingdoms from the past are piled on top of each other. As you can imagine, this is a pretty unique location as we are left to fight our way through various locations from the base game, such as a ruined Lothric Castle. Gael, the knight from the first DLC, helps guide us on our way, and we eventually reach The Earthen Peak, a location from the second game, for a battle against the Demon Prince, in the ruins of the old Firelink Shrine from the first game. Eventually, through a variety of twists and turns, we end up having to kill Gael, as he has been corrupted and is trying to gather blood and souls for the painter to use as materials. Once we beat him, we obtain his blood and souls, and the painter can use these to carry on her work. It’s certainly a roller coaster ride, this one.
On a more personal level I distinctly remember that the first time I picked up the controller to play Dark Souls III it felt a little bit more accessible than previous. It just wasn’t as brutally hard right out of the box, and that first boss only killed me a couple of times before I figured out how to take him out. As I played through the game, the reduced difficulty was such that for the first time ever, I actually finished a Dark Souls game. Yes, despite the fact that I have never managed to finish the first or second games (Ornstein and Smough kick the crap out of me every time), I even found and beat the secret boss, the Nameless King and his stupid dragon. I have never been prouder than when the end credits rolled in Dark Souls III, not even when I 100%’d the main game in Skyrim.
So, these are my memories of playing Dark Souls III back in the day. How about you guys out there? Did you play it, and more importantly did you enjoy it? Do you agree that for a Dark Souls game, it was almost easy? Let us know in the comments!
If you haven’t played it, make your way to the Xbox Store and pick up a copy.