After the gruelling Lovecraftian gothic horror stylings of Bloodborne, From Software have returned to the gruelling medieval fantasy where they made their name. Once more you are a nameless undead in a ruined world where hope fades, once more you must face withering difficulty and monstrous bosses as you negotiate mighty fortresses, rotting villages, toxic swamps and crumbling catacombs in a quest you scarcely understand, once more you will die a lot.
In many ways this is the best of the series – the impossible castles are bigger than ever, the monsters more varied, the action slicker, and the unique atmosphere of mysterious brooding doom is still present and correct. Graphics are much improved, with interiors far more detailed and varied and the vistas of mad ruins more gobsmacking than ever. The delicate touch with the information is still there – the story delivered in tantalising fragments of dialogue and item descriptions that allow the careful player to piece together their own idea of what’s going on. The sense of a surprisingly interconnected world which was maybe lost a bit in Dark Souls 2 seemed to be back in this instalment too, with some amazing reveals, haunting perspectives and crazy architecture.
Maybe I’ve just got used to what’s expected, but it felt as if, along with a slightly slicker interface, the difficulty has been softened again. You still need your wits about you at all times and, yeah, sure, you’re gonna die a lot, but it rarely feels positively unfair in the way that previous games sometimes could, doesn’t force you to push through the same section and fight the same monsters as often as in the past, and with sufficient determination the progress is steady. That’s both a good and a bad thing, I think – the frustration is less, but the corresponding feeling of achievement is less too. This iteration felt just that little bit more routine for some sections, more of a reliable pattern of: open up new area, figure out its monsters, probe for the path forward while picking up loot, then open up new area. There was less fear, less shock, less of the sweaty palms that have come with this series’ best moments.
I find RPGs often have a ‘sweet spot’. A time half way through when the world feels huge, the plot feels driving, the scope for development of character and gear vast. Then will come a moment as you close in on the end where suddenly you realise there’s not much left to do and the illusion of there being all that much point to all the levelling up and collecting of stuff starts to crumble. For me that happened earlier than I was expecting with Dark Souls 3 – certainly than it had with other games in the series – and towards the end I felt I was going through the motions a bit. Didn’t help that the very end felt a bit underdeveloped – a slightly bland boss fight then a one minute cut scene? I thought they could’ve done better.
I don’t mean to sound down on it because it’s still a great game. In every measurable way you’d have to say it was a solid step on but, I dunno, after four games of this (including the prototype of sorts, Demons Souls) there was a bit of a sense of having seen it all before: Bonfires, hollows, elaborate shortcuts, invading spirits, various knights, elusive shreds of story, about six corrupted cathedrals. It’s a fine line between ingeniously referencing your previous successes and just chugging away at your greatest hits, and at times it felt as though Dark Souls 3 was teetering towards the latter. It’s a shame, in a way, as dark fantasy is obviously close to my heart, and Dark Souls 3 was still a great game, but in the end I think Bloodborne was the more memorable, more exciting development of the core concept.
28 comments so far
As always spot on – what’s your gaming rig?
Please, please, please can you post your review of The Witcher 3 (I’m 97 hours in, having done c.a. 44% and am loving it)?
Sadly I was distracted around the time I finished Witcher 3 and never got a review done. It was great, though, my game of last year, and probably the best effort I’ve ever seen at combining a detailed open world with compelling narrative and character.
Haven’t quite finished yet, but mostly agree. I’ve noticed that as game series’ go on, technical polish waxes while emotional impact wanes. I would say that even in the end-game, I’m still excited by the thought of new things to do, mostly because I’m eager to explore different builds in multiplayer. Suppose it depends on how much you enjoy pvp. Also, you never see all the NPC storylines the first time through. You pretty much have to wiki-cheat to find all those.
The release dates for Dark Souls 3 and Uncharted 4 were perfect. Finished Dark Souls 3… onto the brilliant Uncharted 4.
Can you post a screenshot of the character you made? I’m just crazy for your characters, or… maybe just crazy.
Given that you liked Witcher 3, Dragon Age and Assassins I was wondering if you played Shadow of Mordor? The Heroes and Best Served Cold were both big influences for us.
Hi Joe –
I love the Michael de Plater came on here to ask if you enjoyed Shadow of Mordor. If that is indeed him. Trolls will be trolls, but trolling an author on his personal blog would be a new low. And plus, I can definitely see some of the influence of Best Served Cold in Shadow of Mordor.
Also – seeing as you enjoyed the Witcher 3 itself, I really want to know what you thought of Hearts of Stone. TW3 had some amazing moments, and some real darkness and beauty to it (especially the father-daughter relationship of some wonderful people). The difference between magic users, witchers and regular folk is so slim and yet so stark at times that you can feel the anger and jealousy of mob seeping through the screen and clinging to your skin when you play. And it was absolutely wonderful.
Hearts of Stone, however, took it to a new level for me. Olgierd is possibly the most goddamned sexy character I’ve ever seen in a game. The sheer charisma and machismo that he sweats out in your moments speaking to him had such an effect that I don’t think I stopped playing until I’d beaten the damn thing. The puzzle at the end, where you knew what you had to do (I think I figured it out after mirror number 3), but the infuriating devil kept on ruining things was frustrating in the best ways. It almost stuck out to me as a sort of Bayaz/Logen relationship between the two, so I just wanted to know what you thought.
Wow that comment is way too long. It’s almost letter length.
Ha. Thanks for stopping by. I did play Shadow of Mordor, but during a time when I wasn’t blogging a lot so never talked about it specifically, I don’t think. Liked it a lot. Captured the feel of the films very effectively without taking horrible liberties with the source material and the orcs – and the system of their hierarchy and development – were brilliant. I got the feeling you might have preferred to make a game where you WERE the Orc Warlord. Or maybe that’s just me…?
Haven’t played any of the additional content for Witcher 3, actually. My problem with DLC is I’m usually over a game and onto the next thing by the time it appears, and I’m not that interested in remembering how to play it. My main problem with the Witcher was that it didn’t feel that challenging after a while, so after ploughing 100 throughly enjoyable hours or so into it I wasn’t necessarily hungry for more.
Yeah, I think my impression of DKS3 was very much the same.
It was great, and refined… But it was also just more of the same, very little new things, and half the game felt like DKS1 meets DKS2: Remastered, as there were literally dozens of weapons and armors from the previous games.
I still liked it… But towards the end it started fizzling out and I never even finished NG+, just lost interest. (I did many NG++++s on every previous Souls / Bloodborne)
Right now, I’m reeeally looking forward to playing Witcher 3: Blood and Wine, I hope you’ll be picking that one up too, Joe.
Apparently more content than most new games (20-30 hrs) and with how the vanilla game and the first expansion was, I’m sure it’ll be fantastic.
Any thoughts on the darksouls board game that just funded on kickstarter?
Hi Joe. Thanks so much for the kind words. There’s a number of your fans on the team who’ll be very excited that you played Shadow. And you’re certainly not the only one with a soft spot for the ambitions of our Orcs. I read Best Served Cold first, because we were thinking about the revenge theme, then Heroes because of the cover description of it as Helms Deep meet Kurosawa. Just recently I was raving to Tim Miller from Blur about Heroes and that our Orcs had more in common with Named Men than D&D and he gifted me the Audio Book of The First Law. So now I’m reading the initial Trilogy as a Prequel and loving it. Reading the First Law in parallel with playing Witcher 3, watching Season 6 of Game of Thrones and waiting for Warhammer: Total War makes it the best of times to be a fan of dark, epic fantasy. If you are ever in Seattle and are interested we’d love to show you the studio.
Ah, Tim is a diamond. It certainly is the best of times for gritty fantasy, and no sign of it ending soon, I’m pleased to say. When I’m in the US I tend to be on a tight schedule but if I found myself with any time in Seattle I’d love to pay a visit.
There are 4 possible endings in DS3 and i felt only one of them was lackluster, so out of curiosity.
What ending did you end up getting? And did you finish all the side areas in this game?
I know you are probably absurdly busy and this is just wishful thinking, but, i would love to watch a lets play series with your commentary of any game you are interested in.
I can’t believe the author who is increasingly becoming my favorite, also enjoys the same games I do. I buy your books on kindle and they are unfairly cheap. $10 for 15 hours of entertainment is a very good deal . I wonder how you can make any money selling books at that price, considering some of it must go to other companies.
You know what would be amazing? A First Law World game. I keep thinking about how cool it would be to get a chance to play as Ninefingers, Ferro, or Monza.
Hi Joe. I promise I’m not stalking you (much). However I did read your AMA on tor.com and notice that Shogun: Total War was one of your old school favorites and I worked on that way back when…
The First Law Trilogy is now on the required reading list of all our writers. I’m seeing more parallels to LotR in Before They Were Hanged. I have to say that I think Gandalf was actually more of a ruthless manipulative asshole than Bayaz because he was sending innocent Hobbits off to their probable deaths. Also was that scene where Ferro butchered that hapless horse a deliberate subversion of the scene at the gates of Moria where Sam says goodbye to Bill the Pony?
Well I only half joke when I say Gandalf is the villain of Lord of the Rings. Always be suspicious of moral certainty, eh? And all subversions are entirely deliberate. Honest.
I know this is a bit off topic, but since there has been some talk of Heros here. I was wondering if you’ve ever seen the Berserker series and if so is Gorst in some way a play off of Gut’s from Berserker. I always imagine him in my head as a guts look alike. Ready too kill a hundred men at the drop of a hat. Easily my Favorite character of the book.
Rothfuss plays on Twitch occasionally, are you going to let him outdo you?
Consider also the overlap between your average twitch viewer and the demographic for your Shattered Sea novels!
Seriously, would love to watch you play sometime.
For me there one design decision in DS2/3 which most contributes to the feeling of softened difficulty you describe: the quick and easy teleportation between bonfires.
There is nothing in DS2/3 that comes close to the feeling I got when I finally slogged my way to the bottom of Blighttown for the first time. The massive relief of reaching the bonfire, tempered by the knowledge that the move was enduring. If I wanted to get back to the relative civilisation of the Undead Burg, I would have to slog my way back through, or press on further into the darkness to find another way out.
The sense of being in a scary place far from home just holds much less terror when you know you can pop back to Majula/Firelink at a seconds notice.
Man, I wish I was good enough at Dark Souls 3 to call the last fight slightly bland… I bow to your prowess, Mr. Abercrombie.
Hello Joe, have you tried the Old Hunters Bloodborne fly. Special nod to Ludvig for the most frustratingly unfair boss character. That follows the rest of the lengthy dlc, it’s very hard indeed.
On the other hand I may actually be rubbish
Oops, typing whilst playing. There is no “fly” but dlc. And it’s Ludwig. May I be purged for my transgressions.
First off; big fan of your work as I just finished Half a King with my son. I agree with your impressions of DS 3; I think it has a lot to do with the special moves of weapons and the new short cut formula; there is less exploration and the short cuts are not far more obvious and accessible with little effort.
Incidentally have you finished the Circle City DLC?
What do yo think of the Dragon Age saga?
Greetings from Uruguay
Not sure if you have time or the interest to play board games, but if you love Dark Souls, you should take a delve into Kingdom Death: Monster. Not necessarily the cheapest foray into boardgaming, but it’s the dark souls difficulty with plenty of the darkest story and universe you can find. Be prepared for copious amounts of unnecessary violence, and skin however. The fan service is a bit much, but the universe is wonderful otherwise.