I love FromSoftware games but that’s not why I’m excited for Dark Souls III.
Contrary to most people’s experience with the gold standard for gaming difficulty, I started with Bloodborne. I got it last year on launch day and was hooked right away. Since then I’ve played through Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and their DLCs multiple times and they haven’t lost their luster. I love them for the same reasons everyone does; the sheer challenge creates a sense of satisfaction unique to FromSoft games and the narrative technique of “tell the story by not telling it” allows for speculation and theories beyond what most games allow. This in turn creates a thriving community, even when you can’t communicate in-game outside of snarky notes about “Amazing Chests” ahead.
But to tell you why Dark Souls III is my pick for the Anticipating Award of Anticipation I need to talk about the history of FromSoftware. Skip ahead if you know this one, I won’t be offended.
After Demon’s Souls found it’s niche, FromSoftware had rein to make another title. This couldn’t be another Demon’s Souls as Demon’s Souls’ IP is owned by Sony and this new game would be multiplatform. This became Dark Souls.
Dark Souls was a huge hit, with reviewers praising the atmospheric storytelling, varied environments, satisfying combat and of course incredible challenge. With the unqualified success of Dark Souls, a sequel was always in the cards, but when development of Dark Souls II got underway it was revealed that Dark Souls' lead developer Hidetaka Miyazaki wouldn't be directing this title. Without Miyazaki leading the sequel, fans were concerned from the very start, wondering if he was booted because he wouldn’t dumb down the title and what this meant for the game.
And in a rare case for speculated development woes, the fans were right to be concerned, because Dark Souls II is a bit of a mess. I won’t go on too long about Dark Souls II’s flaws, especially since I have this handy video from the excellent matthewmatosis, but it’s really worth mentioning some.
Dark Souls’ story gave you some background and then thrust you into a broken world to discover what happened. In Dark Souls II you’re told multiple times you won’t have any idea why you’re doing the things you’re doing but not to worry about it, just find some big souls. Dark Souls had excellent level design and a really clever way of having levels loop back in on themselves. If you look back at Dark Souls II you’ll realize how many of the levels were just corridors; I mean Aldia’s Keep, Jesus. Dark Souls’ bosses were interesting, more than that they were characters that had real significance to the story we’ve been unravelling. Dark Souls II had big dudes in armor.
Dark Souls II wasn’t a bad game, but so much of what made Dark Souls spectacular was either distorted or yanked out completely in the sequel. And rightly or wrongly, the lack of Miyazaki in the driver’s seat looked like an excellent explanation for why things went so wrong.
Cut back to me waiting patiently for Dark Souls III. The reason this title has me so excited isn't because I think it will be great (I do), it's because I really want to see How Miyazaki addresses this disparity.
We've had two Dark Souls titles, one amazing and one that's kind of meh in comparison. Since Dark Souls, Miyazaki directed the development of Bloodborne. He obviously hasn’t “lost it,” there’s no reason to believe Dark Souls III will be a bad game. He is however returning to a series that has some obvious baggage in the form of Dark Souls II.
Dark Souls II pushed the idea of cycles and repetition through its story and features. Dark Souls had a relatively simple story centered on Linking the Fire and both endings were satisfying, consistent, and self-contained. But here comes Dark Souls II telling us that this cycle will repeat itself endlessly, it doesn’t matter if we’re the chosen undead, because some undead will reach the kiln and Link the Fire because it always happens.
This is the reason Dark Souls II felt much more lifeless than Dark Souls. The main beats of the game play out nearly identically but without an interesting story and compelling characters.
Okay, you need to get somewhere to do something vague with the king or maybe a throne so kill these 4 really powerful beings to get their souls to open this door so you can get past this small pile of rocks that’s in your way. Also there are Giants but don’t think too much about that, we didn’t.The reason it didn’t work is that The Rotten, The Duke’s Dear Freja, The Lost Sinner, and The Old Iron King have none of the cache of Seath the Scaleless, Gravelord Nito, or the Witch of Izalith did. Interesting characters like the Crestfallen Warrior, Patches and Lautrec reappearing "because cycles" feels cheap and lazy. And if this series is on repeat we’re just going to get 4 new random bosses to hold the souls and a new stand-in for Gwyn and Vendrick. Dark Souls II’s cycle explanation for its lack of originality tied an anchor around the neck of future Dark Souls titles.
This is what makes me excited for the release of Dark Souls III. Miyazaki isn’t going to just do another re-tread, he can’t; it’s his return to the series after a huge success with Bloodborne, he won’t just phone it in. Dark Souls III has to break the cycle as it were and I’m very interested to see how he does this. I don’t anticipate Miyazaki’s team just tossing Dark Souls II and starting a new story so they’re going to have to write their way out of the constraints placed upon them.
From every indication, such as the network test and footage released at trade shows, Dark Souls III is on track. The level design looks more like Blighttown or Yharnam than the Forest of Fallen Giants, and from what we’ve seen of the story it’s going to be deeper than “jump in this weird whirlpool cause the ladies in red told you to.” I’m excited to have a new Dark Souls experience that doesn’t just make me want to go back to the original.
It wasn’t their intention, but seeing the low point of a series as clearly as I can with Dark Souls II makes me excited about what they’ll do next. With the return of Miyazaki I want to believe they will learn from the mistakes of that title and use that knowledge to deliver a truly excellent experience.
Or we’ll get 4 more Lord Souls and a new King, I’ll let you know in April.