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Published on June 14th, 2016 | by silent brotagonist

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Dark Souls 3 [The Final Fix]

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Sadly, this does not compare to the more surreal imagery of the pre-release screenshots corresponding to this area.

I take back everything that I said about Dark Souls 2. My experience with vanilla Dark Souls 3 has been ‘one step forward, two steps back.’ Yes, Dark Souls 3 is the current game and there is no reason that it isn’t enjoyable, but until the (hopefully inevitable) DLC comes out, this is a sad end to the Souls legacy.

The legacy of Dark Souls 3, and probably the influence on the disappointing design choices, is the same problem that Dark Souls 2 had: fixing what wasn’t broken. While thankfully Soul Memory has been dropped and the main focus on matchmaking has returned to the character’s actual Soul Level, we now have a dubious system in addition to that- Weapon Memory. On paper, Weapon Memory is a far more intuitive version of what Soul Memory should have been: it measures the souls actually spent on something useful. But this becomes a problem for a number of reasons.

 

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This is very much the opposite of Dark Souls 2’s absurdly patchwork world.

First, as I said before, upgrading equipment has been the unwritten imperative of Dark Souls 1, and it is disappointing that the subsequent games now seem to forget that entirely. The only true problem that this ever presented was matchmaking on invasions: that if you did bother to get impressive gear as a low level character, you were likely intending to invade players staring out with new characters and basic equipment. This is somewhat exploitative, but again, if you bothered to actually pull it off, you earned it. And given the evolution of the Human Effigies into the current Ember items: one need not traverse an entire area vulnerable just to have co-op assistance for the boss, making invasions far less of a “problem” than they ever were in the first game.

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The real mystery that caught my attention were the variety of tree-like corpses.

Beyond that, there is a problem simply balancing two separate numbers for the sake of participation. Even for as misguided as Soul Memory was, it was only one number, as was plain old Soul Level. Dark Souls 3 is still new enough where the community only has loose numbers on the ideal Soul Levels and weapon upgrade levels for a given area, not to mention how this affects the auto-summon covenants. While the early-game scarcity of upgrade materials dictates the pacing of weapon upgrades for a while, different players will end up upgrading their weapons at different paces, which only decreases an ever dwindling pool of potential multi-player connections.

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Some ties to Dark Souls 1 were subtle.

Your path throughout the game and the changes to the function of armor are, I suspect, also victims of “fixing what ain’t broke.” Dark Souls 3, while actually having a beautifully layered and intertwined visual world, your path through the game in probably the most linear that it has ever been in the franchise. This is primarily disappointing because my first hope for Dark Souls 3 was a return to the first game’s surprisingly interconnected world and the openness with which you can approach it. Dark Souls 2 had some aspects of this, but those areas were all isolated. Dark Souls 3 is the opposite, you know how world fits together but the progression is mostly just a straight shot.

Not only is that incredibly boring, but I suspect it was done to limit the player’s access to items, and to better police their mechanics of matchmaking by equipment. While the world is not so strictly linear, you can activate and defeat a boss early for some equipment if you’re bold (or if you know a common exploit), there is still a strict limitation to which weapons and armor you can access without slogging down the determined path of game progression. There is no more Master Key, there are no more clever pathways, just quick little diversions and only one real fork in the road (which I do not recommend taking because it will mess up NPC quests).

 

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One of many vistas that allow you to survey how visually layered and connected the world is.

Back to the Armor: yes, obviously the simplified armor system is quite clearly a borrowed from Bloodborne, let’s get that behind us. But it is also part of this attempt to over-police multi-player matchmaking. Weapon upgrades are obviously now part of the equation, how would armor upgrades be any different? So instead of bothering with an ‘Armor Memory’ in addition, you just remove the issue altogether. Why this matters, to me at least, is that upgrading your armor gave you a desperate edge in the single player- you can bolster your defenses without having to sacrifice your equipment burden. It is so disappointing that this has been removed, but since poise is allegedly deactivated and a meaningless number, I guess that doesn’t matter anyway.

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Some time spent learning the ropes of the Mound Makers, which isn’t quite the ‘wildcard’ covenant that it was rumored to be.

Covenants are where these numbers are most frustrating, and where Dark Souls 3 does not represent progress and development for the series. Everything is fine at first, the Mound Makers covenant is a surprisingly welcome addition that takes a little time to get accustomed to and the Sunlight covenant now (needlessly) gains rewards from invading and an alleged priority to invade hosts that currently have another invader (some “jolly cooperation” among invaders). But the real problems are the automatic-summon covenants, all of which are completely backwards from the previous games. The Blue Sentinels and the Blades of the Darkmoon (both essentially the same), while not limited to a single designated area, both have trouble reliably getting any action. They rely not only on the weapon and Soul Level considerations, but also on location. Normally, all covenant actions depend on that anyway, but the “Blue” covenants have no option to initiate their actions, and unlike previous games, there are no “sinners” or Blue Eye Orbs for you to take a more active role in multi-player.

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One of a few visual hiccups that I experienced playing on PS4.

The Watchdogs of Farron covenant has a similar problem that previous games were mostly able to avoid. The Watchdogs, and later the Aldrich Faithful, are the current iteration of the Forest Hunters, Bell Guardians, and Rat King covenants. On the surface, Dark Souls 3 makes one improvement on this, as the areas affected are not optional, but this can backfire, far more specifically with the Farron covenant. The Road of Sacrifice and Farron Keep areas are considerably early game, and without any obligation for you to be in embered form until the boss fog (because the Ember item works just like Human Effigies did in Dark Souls 2), and without any meaningful incentive to pull players into New Game + (as of yet), the level window for getting connections in this area is very narrow. The joke is that by being relegated into optional areas, the Bell Keepers of DS2 were able to draw action from players of many different levels of progression and leaving your window of participation wide open. The Aldrich Faithful covenant almost barely avoids this issue by being tied to an area that is borderline mid/late game, and immediately after a boss, which means that players are more likely to be in embered form throughout the whole area.

The upside is the actual covenant currencies are all unique items that can be farmed. In previous games, there was some combination of a currency and tracking multi-player wins depending on the covenant. For all my frustration on trying to figure out the location specific covenants, I still have the luxury of grinding the covenant currencies when the time time comes to finally buckle down and plat Dark Souls 3.

 

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What a coincidence, I am currently playing DOOM.

Everything else is fine. No matter how much the mystique of the “lore” has completely died for me, it still feels like a Dark Souls game. There is still the familiar learning curve to bosses and areas, there is still the dynamic means to tweak your difficulty when the learning curve becomes too steep, and there is still a spark of inspiration in how old and new ideas come together in the world of Dark Souls 3. There is no reason to not enjoy Dark Souls 3. It is still very early in the life-span of a Souls game, and with DLC to look forward to, Dark Souls 3 will possibly grow in relevance. But that said, if you enjoyed the single-player experience of Dark Souls 1, you will be disappointed that Dark Souls 2’s layout and progression was not a fluke after all.

Played on PS4
Also available on Xbox One, and PC

 

BONUS

Dark Souls #1 and #2
Published by Titan Comics

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All that came of that art was just a variant cover, not really worth the fuss.

The Dark Souls comic was somewhat controversial when it was announced, but it seems relatively forgotten since. Original cover art raised skepticism because it borrowed visual elements from multiple games without an opportunity to justify how or why. I’m afraid to say that on the whole, the comic still earns the same skepticism, but for different reasons.

I don’t want to criticize the art. There is a fine line to Alan Quah’s work that I don’t want to disrespect. It’s adequate, no, it’s actually good. The conveyance is solid, there is an admirable attention to detail, and there are some beautiful if not muted colors. The problem is that the sense of visual design is just boring. I have no intention of blaming that squarely on Quah, but there are dimensions of being visually uninspired that are solely on the artist. Whether it was a question of which parts of the Dark Souls IP that FROM was willing to share for the comic to use, or if maybe Titan Comics decided to not reference the visuals of the games in an attempt to avoid the initial backlash of the early art, I don’t know. In that void, Alan Quah has to come up with his own visual language for the world of the comic and it just feels uninspired by anything tangential to the games at all. If I were told that this were a Forgotten Realms comic or something, I wouldn’t be the wiser. The only recognizable visual is the appearance of something resembling a Sunlight Knight, which is recognized by the central character, but feels like empty, out of place, fan service for people who missed Solaire.

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The Solaire fan service in question.

Most of my boredom with the comic is on George Mann’s writing. Whether or not it was all him, or editorial or corporate mandates, Mann seems to mistake the games’ focus on mood, atmosphere, and inference, with an invitation for exposition. Well, it’s not like Dark Souls isn’t full of exposition as well, if you hunt it down, but Mann’s world doesn’t seem true to Dark Souls at all. The metaphysics of the games have a certain dream logic at the core: fire and darkness, stone and trees, existential emptiness expressing itself as physical emptiness, bells that wake you up from the sleep of the grave, but I don’t see that at all in the comic. The only thing that’s recognizable is that the central character has a past that she had to leave, a past that might be harder to remember by the day, and the baggage of guilt, which are the marks of a real Souls character. But we only have that main introduction to the character to see any of those qualities, and any time since has been spent on action and wasted on world-building that betrays the mood and reliance of inference that was characteristic of the games.

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A regular ‘Undead Burg’ in Mignola’s lonely, atmospheric Hell.

To be fair, I can’t really be too harsh on Mann and Quah. Being boring is probably a minor problem for the comic or their careers, and the comic seems to be made by professionals. Read it if you want, I have it on my pull list (shout-out to Bosco’s). In the place of excitement, minor curiosity can be justification enough to follow the comic. It’s not like the “Dark Souls” name on the cover isn’t the real reason people will read it in the first place. What I would like to see in the future is more development of how repeat death and failure can wear down on an undead character, and exploration on what the value of sheer persistence is over brute force for an undead character, which are both aspects the games that could be expressed in the comic’s narrative: one is of the characters in the world, and one is of the experience of playing the games at any amateur skill level.

But the joke might be on us. I personally think Hellboy in Hell is a better comic for what I liked about the Souls games, and it appears to have just ended it’s run with the 10th issue. While heavy with demons and ruins, and populated with what is functionally the undead, the drastic difference is that Hellboy in Hell lacks knights almost entirely in favor of scholars and occultists. Granted, that quality would fit in perfectly with a comparison to Bloodborne instead.

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About the Author

is still pretty much an amateur at this. When he's not trying to relate everything to the Doom Patrol, you can find him @quietagonist maintaining a pulse.



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