This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dark Souls III.
Let me say right out of the gate that you can call me Billy Blue Biased Bollocks on this one. If you are looking for a fresh perspective on Dark Souls, you can hop off to Jimmy Neutral, the sexless gamer's Youtube channel, so he can whine about getting murdered with knives over and over again as he scratches the disappointing, little nubs that one day, God willing, will become his balls! I haven't got the slightest idea what Dark Souls III would be like for a newcomer to the series. I imagine it would be like meeting your girlfriend's family in Newcastle. You get talked at like you're supposed to know what they're on about for an hour and then get brutally killed with sticks.
But Dark Souls is my comfort zone; it's the big, squishy arm chair full of lost pocket change and razor wire that I can always settle into whenever I'm bored, stressed out, coming down from a bad trip or being held captive by Syrian revolutionaries. Actually, it came in handy that time, 'cause the Syrian revolutionaries had been having a terrible time with the Hydra until I showed them where to get the Rusted Iron Ring. The point is: this is all coming from a fan, so expect me to complain about how formulaic its gotten while simultaneously bitching about everything that's different.
Dark Souls wouldn't be Dark Souls if it wasn't as open and transparent with its story as a cocaine dealer in a police interview room, so let me provide a little cheat sheet here: the world of Dark Souls is caught in an endless cycle of Fire and Dark, and each game takes place in the final days of a dwindling Age of Fire. Someone must either link the fire to postpone the inevitable, or just toss it all in and get a Dark Age going, sort of like the choice between a Clinton and Trump presidency. In Dark Souls III, however, all the lads whose job it was to oversee the linking process have buggered off to a man, having perhaps reached the reasonable conclusion that we're three games in now and the whole Age of Fire / Age of Dark thing doesn't seem to be working out. Maybe it's time to hang this stupid business and try an Age of Spiders, or an Age of Meringue.
Consequently, people like you have risen from their graves as Unkindled, to jolly well talk some sharp, pointy sense into them. Being Unkindled is not quite the same as being undead as you were in the last two games: firstly, you use embers rather than humanity to get out of the diminished condition after death, and secondly, that's it. So the game can witter on about how the stakes have totally been raised 'cause you're called something different and you spend the game descending from the final castle area rather than ascending towards it, but the fundamentals are all in their usual places. It's Dark Souls: you explore themed areas in state of some advanced decrepitude, chew on a boss fight or two, then move on to the next.
First impressions were good, though. Dark Souls 1 provided a nice balance of the two major food groups: dudes in armour and fucked up monsters with hammerhead sharks instead of toenails, and I talked shit about Dark Souls 2 for getting kinda tubby on the 'generic dudes in armour' diet. So when Dark Souls III's introductory boss fight was against generic dude in armour #8047, I was lured into a state of eye-rolling resignation that swiftly ended after I got him down to half health and a giant, black monster bogy the size of a minibus burst out of his nostrils and slapped me about like I was a stress ball and it had gone three months without masturbating. That rather sets the tone for what will probably turn out to be Dark Souls' final installment in which the decrepitude is decrep-ing it up even more than usual, the enemies rife with physical corruption and body horror.
Kinda like the visual theme Bloodborne was going for - and incidentially, isn't it impressive how From Software can trot out these massive open world games with such suspicious frequency? I ain't judging, I've been using the same imp graphic for eight years, but I do get a sense that Dark Souls is repeating itself quite a bit. Yes, like everyone else, when Siegmeyer showed up, I had a happy little trouser accident, but only until I thought about it. As we all should know by now, a good sequel jumps off from the original, a bad sequel wallows in it. Dark Souls 2 jumped off, now Dark Souls III has jumped right back on again, tunneled back into Dark Souls 1 and gone to sleep. It's like they ran out of new stuff at some point and filled in the gaps by carving off some chunks from the great big ball of Dark Souls and Bloodborne that now floats around the office, occasionally commanding them to kill. Here comes a statement that will nail the end of my willy to the mast for all to come and pluck like a banjo string: I prefer Dark Souls 2's level design, I think it had more creativity. There's such a thing as too many cathedrals, Dark Souls III. Are the undead hordes known for holding a lot of royal weddings?
Another thing that I found weirdly irritating was that I could just not find any weapon that was better than my starting long sword! I don't cone every rancid bum crack of these games for the sake of my cardio, I'm looking for better items and equipment so I can piece by piece replace myself with dark fantasy Robocop. And I was doing my best to get into the spirit of things: by the end I had a bottom drawer full of upgraded boss weapons I'd used for all five minutes each. "Oh boy, this giant demonic axe that looks like a KFC zinger patty tied to the end of a whale's knob sure looks like the business!", and then I'd take it out for a spin and discover that it was indeed the business, as long as the enemies are polite enough to not stab you nineteen times while they're waiting for your character to go through all twelve steps on the mandatory pre-swing checklist.
Turns out some cues have been taken from Bloodborne's combat style where being able to hit faster is more important. And a lot of enemies can only wave back and forth in stun lock like an arthritic belly dancer while I dick-slap them left and right with my whippy little longsword, appropriately upgraded with the titanite that the game showers you with like it's being plumbed through the hot taps. Oh yeah, there's a magic meter now, that's a new thing! So now you can actually cast Soul Spear more than three times before needing to lie down and a Gatorade. But it's telling that the manner in which this bold and unique franchise has chosen to innovate is to do a thing that every other RPG does.
Frankly, I'm lukewarm on Dark Souls III, which is ironic for a game that's mostly about setting yourself on fire. My first run didn't seem to take as long as in previous games, and the final boss was squitted down like an early morning fart, but then that's practically traditional at this point. And after the usual trip to the wiki to populate the traditional laundry list of shit I missed (cause if you need everything to be sign-posted then you can sod off back to Google Street View), it turned out I'd missed quite a few things. So maybe I'll feel different after I've had a chance to play it to death, which I will inevitably do cause it's Dark Souls, and I will take whatever I can get in every slack, unlubricated hole. But I'm given to understand that From Software are declaring this the last one and that's certainly what it feels like - the last weary sigh before it lays its head down for a well-deserved sleep, followed by an idle midnight wank when the DLC comes out.
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