The release of Dark Souls 3 is just around the corner and with that in mind, two FromSoftware fans have decided to discuss what they love and loathe about Dark Souls series and what they hope to see in the third entry. Editor and Co-Founder of DYEGB Kieran Stockton (KS) is a recent initiate who has only just finished the two Dark Souls titles after cutting his teeth on Bloodborne. Writer and dreamweaver Jordan Garcia (SJG) is a seasoned veteran who has played every game multiple times until his eyes bleed and cries everytime he kills Sif. They’re like the original odd couple! Let’s discuss…
Like a boss
KS: Boss fights are arguably the best part of the Souls games. There are some truly memorable ones, but if we stack DS1 and DS2 against each other DS1 emerges the clear victor in terms of style and substance. I’ll never forget moments like fighting a huge husky with a sword in its mouth or his tragic ninja-flipping master. The invisible half-woman-half-dragon Priscilla was another interesting fight which reminded me of the final confrontation in Bloodsport where Van Damme is blinded by his unscrupulous opponent but remembers his training and fights through the pain. I’m hard-pressed to recall any of the bosses in DS2 that were overly interesting, maybe the relentless Pursuer…At any rate if I come up against a boss like the Bed of Chaos (encountered in DS1) in DS3 I will swiftly eject the disk and throw it off the highest cliff I can find. FromSoftware do really well with boss fight design, they can be tough but 99% of the time they are fair. The Bed of Chaos makes up the other 1%.
SJG: Much like my compatriot has stated, the boss fights are truly some of the most memorable and substantial parts to the Dark Souls games. The bosses in Dark Souls 2 were very flavourless in their design, with a few standouts like the Pursuer, the Fume Knight in the Crown of the Old Iron King DLC and the Burnt Ivory King in the Crown of the Ivory King (my favourite boss fight in DS2). The first Dark Souls had some fantastic bosses like Knight Artorias (my favourite Dark Souls I boss), the Great Grey Wolf, Sif (who would have a heart-breaking scene if you had used him as a companion in the DLC prior to slaughtering him) and Gywn, Lord of Cinder. Something which I have always loved is battling bosses that are incredibly large and make you soil yourself just by the sight of them. Gywn gets a pass though as he’s an awesome undead knight and is the only boss in Dark Souls that you can parry. I have seen a preview of a boss in a very Bloodbornesque area within Dark Souls 3 whereby the boss was a huge amalgamation of rotting trees. I also got to battle the Dancer of the Frigid Valley in the Dark Souls 3 stress test, which without spoiling anything was a very challenging and well-designed boss, which bodes well for this latest entry.
Come On Baby Light My Fire
KS: I can already hear the From elitists brandishing their pitchforks outside my door as I write so I’ll be brief. The bonfire placement in both Dark Souls games are kind of terrible. Sometimes you’ll get more bonfires than a Burning Man festival in the space of a few metres, other times you’ll go for days without seeing one. I understand that this is supposed to provide unpredictability but sometimes it’s just ludicrous. New Londo, where you face the relatively tough Four Kings, was crying out for a bonfire. Similarly, the path to the Bed of Chaos through the Lost Izalith was far too long as well. It artificially augments the pain of dying in a boss fight, as you often aren’t punished by having to cut through a fresh swathe of enemies to arrive back at a boss, but rather simply by the tedium of running through a long uneventful area. I think Hidetaka Miyazaki realised this in Bloodborne, which has a far more intelligent lantern/shortcut placement. Give me more of that.
SJG: I do agree with Kieran to some degree, but I feel like it bugs him a little more than it does me because he decided to say no to miracles. Healing miracles were not even on his radar whereas I loved them so bonfire placements weren’t as much of a problem for me. However, I think for people like Kieran who refuse to use miracles, there should be a more structured and consistent placement of bonfires, much like Bloodborne had.
Undead Can’t Jump
KS: I can hear an angry mob outside chanting “git gud!” so again brevity is essential as I make this point. For the love of God please stop including platforming sections unless you’re going to create controls for it that are responsive and precise. Lining up a jump in Dark Souls and gauging a distance is like trying to find the hypotenuse of a scalene triangle while upside-down and underwater. Maybe I exaggerate but the jumping mechanic in all FromSoftware games I have played are still fairly awful.
SJG: Personally I’ve found that as pitiful as the jump is, if used as is intended it is fine. The only thing that I think needs to be tweaked is the way some ledges will slingshot you into oblivion. Though I do agree with Kieran that the whole platforming design for the Bed of Chaos was piss-poor and should never be done again.
I Used To Be An Adventurer Like You, Until I Came Up Against A Shin-High Barrier
KS: Games often necessarily restrict movements in their worlds, however FromSoftware tend to put minuscule barriers in your way such as ludicrously low fences or easily scalable piles of rubble and call it a day. I’ve often said that shin-high barriers are like the invisible wall’s ugly cousin. While of course it doesn’t break anything, it annoys me to be stopped in my tracks by something even a small child with no arms or legs could easily vault over.
SJG: As long as there aren’t some criminal or plain stupid invisible walls, it should be fine. Something which FromSoftware are very good at is if you see something in the distance you can usually go there. It’s rare that an environment constricts your freedom to a great extent.
The Lock-On Monster
KS: Locking on is absolutely essential to success in any Souls game, but its implementation in all the games has been a little lacking. For starters, the range is ridiculously short. Often I’d have an armoured pig creature charging at me and even though I could see him coming for miles I was only able to click lock-on and block at the last second. Also it works very poorly around corners and down stairs. If you are too close to a large enemy the camera tends to go ballistic as well. I’m here to fight twisted abominations from the depths of hell, not the camera.
SJG: I think range should be increased and there isn’t too much they can really do to the camera to stop it going crazy when a locked-on enemy is close so I’ll forgive it if it remains like that.
To Respawn or Not to Respawn?
SJG: In DS2, FromSoftware dabbled with having finite enemy respawns. This meant that if you were dying a lot, you could be confident that if you killed an enemy enough times it would eventually despawn in the area for good. I don’t think it was a particularly great mechanic and tended to harm the difficulty as players could farm enemies until they despawned, making the journey to an area boss easier. Also, the game should be punishing you for failure and death, not applying bandaids to a minor wound. Allowing enemies to despawn kind of made death almost enticing.
KS: I agree with Jordan on this one. I struggled at the outset of DS2 as it was my first taste of a Souls game after coming from Bloodborne (a far easier game to grasp in my opinion). What made the initial difficulties bearable was knowing that I could easily thin enemies out and earn heaps of souls while doing so. This was particularly helpful in Heide’s Tower of Flame when the Giant Knights were eating me for breakfast. I agree that it decreases the difficulty of an area too much and infinite respawns are a more fun and punishing option.
The Greatest Story Never Told
KS: The Souls games and Bloodborne have absolutely fantastic settings and deep multi-faceted lore…but you wouldn’t know unless you read the item descriptions. While Dark Souls was infinitely better than Bloodborne in terms of letting you know what was actually going on, I don’t think 95% of the story should be locked away in descriptions of random items. I like the subtle cryptic approach FromSoftware take in presenting their worlds and I appreciate the less is more style, but I would like just a touch more exposition. The stories are actually very dark, complex and occasionally mind-bending (looking at you Bloodborne) pieces of work, and it’s a shame they hide their light under a bushel.
SJG: If the game has a prologue like the original did and some key characters which mildly explain to you what your job is and why you are doing it, I am more than happy with it. I like the way Dark Souls (and Bloodborne for that matter) has told its story.
Illusions of Grandeur
KS: It seems the pitchfork mob have blended with the git gud mob so if I stop mid-sentence it’s because I’ve been murdered by rabid elitists. Illusory walls are stupid. For the uninitiated these are sections of seemingly innocuous wall that magically dematerialise or open if you either roll into/attack them (DS1-style) or simply press the action button (DS2-style). They can hide all sorts of things, from treasures to shortcuts and can even lead to precious bonfires. The problem is that most of them are so obscure that in order to find them you are forced to run along every wall rolling against it like a drunkard falling down a hill or clacking the action button frantically like you’re playing another QTE in The Order: 1886. The idea of illusory walls is fine I suppose, but there needs to be a mechanic to more easily locate them. I suggest a ring that makes a sound when one is in the vicinity. Apparently there’s a Miracle that can reveal them but magic is for girly-men.
SJG: I think illusory walls are fine, and while Kieran says magic is for girly-men, this was only to his detriment as he missed out on some truly great abilities (DS1 lightning spear for the win). Each build had their pros and their cons, and unfortunately for Kieran, faith builds can detect illusory walls.
The Toxic Curse of Sleepy Hollow
KS: Status effects are a great way of the game telling you it hates you. From entire areas filled with pools of poison to invisible she-dragons that inflict huge bleeding loss, you have to know thine affliction. Initially I thought DS1 was a little harsh on the status effects because things like being poisoned, or worse, toxified, seemed to last for excruciatingly long periods of time. Also, Curse. I’ll never forget dying in my haste to land the final killing blow on the Gaping Dragon and subsequently getting cursed by a basilisk as I impatiently made my way back to her. This meant that I not only lost the pile of tasty souls I had left with our friend the dragon, but also suffered a whopping 50% decrease in my Max HP which could only be reversed by an obscure item that I had to go back and get. I eventually got over it and learned to embrace a slowly decreasing HP bar and avoid curse at all costs. Hollowing (the thing that happens when you die and part with more and more of your humanity) is fairly underwhelming in DS1 but absolutely brutal in DS2, as it decreases max HP slowly. Again, you eventually learn to embrace this and take it in your stride. I’m not sure how status effects and hollowing will play into DS3, but no doubt it will be cruel and unusual, and I can’t wait.
SJG: If they tone down the health degradation just a bit and add a mechanic whereby your equipment load is lessened when hollowed, that would be great. In DS1, the percentage of equipment load you need free to have a decent roll was larger if you were human. Also, as much as I hated status effects in the first Dark Souls, I hope they are brought back to their former glory. They were incredibly brutal towards the player and who doesn’t love that? *cries as he remembers Blighttown*
Final Thoughts and Fantasies
SJG: I am hoping that there will be defence bonuses for having a completely matching set of armour. After watching enough gameplay and getting a small hands-on experience of the game with the network stress test, I can safely say that Dark Souls 3 is looking to be the best Souls game to date.
KS: While some of my views on FromSoftware’s games will no doubt prove controversial, after playing DS1, DS2 and Bloodborne in reverse chronological order the studio has cemented itself as one of my favourite developers. DS3 is very near the top of my list of most anticipated releases of the year. Here’s hoping I can maintain my media blackout between now and its release in March in order to keep myself pure and line my mind with eyes.