I recently finished Dark Souls III. So where’s the review? Well, there’s not gonna be one. I realised my last article on the game summed up my feelings on it quite well. Dark Souls, beyond its lore, is very much a game that hinges on the memorability of its boss battles, on the design of these. It’s what we all remember after playing the game (that and some of the more annoying enemies and the beautiful landscapes), so my feelings on the rather samey boss design should tell you a lot. If you need a score, I give Dark Souls III a 3.5, it’s a good game but not as good as its predecessor. It has a lot more variety in NPCs, weapons and armour compared to Bloodborne for example, and the quality of the character stories are much more interesting, but it lacks something important.
Dark Souls II, for all its faults had one thing over Dark Souls III: its own identity. Even as a sequel and set in the same overall universe, Dark Souls II had its own story, gameplay and lore that separates it from the first Dark Souls title. Dark Souls III is all about remembering what happened in the first game, its lore frames Dark Souls III’s narrative. It spends so much time referencing elements of the first game or trying to recapture the feel of it that it never establishes its own identity. Even the major plot and themes are the same and it even reuses a few locations from Dark Souls, all to recapture the magic.
Dark Souls II, while still including elements such as linking of the fire, the Lords and their souls and even a few references in lore—read item descriptions—focused on other elements of the overall mythology more heavily, particularly the nature of hollowing and what happens to the soul, instead of retreading past ground. King Vendrick and his brother Aldia, the Scholar of the First Sin, spend decades trying to decipher the mysteries of souls. At the end of the three expansions, when you claim the other three crowns of monarchs, you conquer hollowing. You will never hollow, retaining your humanity. It’s very deep on the metaphysical level, even if it needed three DLC and a full remake to get there.
Dark Souls III retreads familiar ground too much, it doesn’t expand the mythology, it doesn’t add anything new to it, beyond the central premise of the Lords of Cinder, and even their ‘rebellion’, the fact they don’t tend to the fire when they awaken, doesn’t receive enough attention, as the game is more focused on showing you Patches and another Onion Knight that sounds exactly like the first. There’s even a giant at the top of a structure where Onion bro is. Remember Sen’s fortress? Hell, even Havel is back to being an enemy NPC and you run on buttresses avoiding the Silver Knights firing those insanely massive arrows.
Game critic Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw said recently in a Let’s Drown Out episode that a good sequel jumps off from the original while a bad sequel wallows in it. And he’s right, Dark Souls III does a lot of wallowing. You might disagree with me on Dark Souls II and my general view of Dark Souls III, but I think we can all agree that this last entry into the series tries very hard to recapture the magic of the first title, the same feel, the same experience. I think that’s the major contributing factor into the samey boss design. The most intense boss fight in Dark Souls is indubitably Ornstein and Smough, two big lads in armour with melee weapons and that’s how you can describe about 90% of Dark Souls III’ bosses. It even puts a fight in Anor Londo, in the same room you fought those two, desperate for that nostalgia factor.
Alternatively, this wallowing could be Miyazaki giving players what they asked for, a game straight up like Dark Souls. He’s since stated this is the last Souls game, which I’m a bit sad for, because if you assume the Dark endings as canon you open up so many storytelling venues for the Dark Souls franchise.
I’m not saying Dark Souls III is a bad game, not at all, it’s good, it’s serviceable, but it doesn’t stand out. It’s not memorable on its own because every element of it is a callback to another title in the series. Mechanically it’s superior, it’s build on the Bloodborne engine after all—the main reason all enemy/boss grabs are freaking lethal—but in Souls games mechanics are secondary. It’s the world and lore we’re after and sadly, we’ve seen it all before.
Let me know of your perspective on Dark Souls III in the comments!