Sunday, 4 November 2018

Dark Souls Trilogy ★★★★☆

I previously reviewed Dark Souls: Remastered which goes more into detail about the more contentious point of its difficulty and how the more obtuse mechanics affect new players That review can be found HERE In short: this trilogy is worth getting for the first game alone. Each subsequent entry attempts to tweak the formula and improve certain aspects (to varying degrees) yet nothing has matched the masterful design of Dark Souls, even at its weakest points.

I like Dark Souls 2… a lot. It has objective issues regarding hitboxes, healing mechanics, enemy repetition (to name a few), and I can’t deny that. I won’t deny that. Yet I truly believe that it gets a bad wrap.

I admit that I was initially disappointed by the ability to warp between bonfires from the start, and the world lacking any physical cohesion. Yet over time, it seemed to me that the fundamentals of the game were designed to fully accommodate this change. I may prefer the interconnected world of the first game, but I don’t believe that Dark Souls 2 is worse for lacking it.

Dark Souls 2 makes great efforts to differentiate itself mechanically from the first. Change for the sake of change shouldn’t be inherently praised, but I will defend the attempt to update the formula. Truthfully, Dark Souls 2 has so many tweaks and changes that it’s difficult to really encapsulate how it fits into the trilogy. It’s considered the black sheep; a title I think is undeserved. I prefer it to 3 despite it being a worse game on a technical level. This is my bias showing, of course, but I’m more taken by interesting intentions than polished mediocrity.

I’d describe Dark Souls 3 as inconsistent. It features some of the most exciting and memorable moments of the series, but between that, it is held back by repetition and tedious design. To explain: Dark Souls 2 receives criticism for allowing the player to warp to any bonfire from the outset. Thus, the intricately woven world of DS is gone in favour of a more rigid level-by-level design.

Yet, Dark Souls 3 is caught between the two, failing to refine either style of world design. You still have the ability to warp from the start, but now the areas around the bonfires loop back into themselves. Yet the world is still cohesively connected...

On paper, this sounds like the best of both worlds. In practice, it makes returning to prior areas tedious because you are required to both warp to the bonfire (because while the world is connected by forward progression, it doesn’t loop back in on itself) and then traverse an interconnected area.
This causes problems for both mechanics; gone is the DS method of having to remember the lay of the land, making a potentially dangerous journey back. And gone is the Dark Souls 2 method of outright efficiency; warp to the bonfire and you’re where you need to be.

The boss-fights also suffer from differing intentions. Dark Souls 3 favours extravagant bombast over mechanically interesting fights. The arenas crumble, flames spread, embers swarm, and the enemy delivers a flurry of elegant attacks. It always looks incredible, I must stress, but for me, the most memorable fights were the simpler ones; Gundyr’s first phase, the Dancer, Wolnir, Dragonslayer Armour. These fights had a steadier pace, favouring a focused combat rhythm over speed and visuals.

And this problem is further compounded by the focus on speed. In prior games, the basic knight is (literally) weighed down by a slower roll and movement speed in favour of heavier armour with higher defence. Dark Souls 3, however, increases the equip load allowing the knight to quick roll with full armour. That tradeoff is gone, and so the entire speed of the game - enemies especially - has dramatically increased.

So overall Dark Souls 3 is far less methodical. I don’t want to sound too dour about it, because even with these issues my first time through was enthralling nonetheless. But I can’t deny that this conflict of design is why Dark Souls 3 is the weakest from my perspective.

This series is an inconsistent one, but an engaging one. I originally gave Dark Souls five stars - in spite of its flaws - and I stand by that here. However, it’s sequels - despite their strengths - have issues significant enough that they both stand at a solid three out of five. Put all three games together and you have a trilogy that momentarily loses its balance while attempting a pirouette.

Lewis Hill

Dark Souls Trilogy at CeX

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