Jun 072016
 

Status: Completed. Unlike Billy Joel, I lit the fire.

Most Intriguing Idea: Armor doesn’t really work anymore.

Best Design Decision: Really, just the main idea of the way souls still work

Worst Design Decision: Armor doesn’t really work anymore.

Summary:

As I mentioned in the previous post, Bloodborne fosters an aggressive, hit-and-run combat style by a push-pull approach. The push is that there’s no real way to block attacks and almost any enemy can stunlock the player. The pull is that the player has considerable capacity to interrupt enemy attacks, can dodge at low stamina cost, and can regain lost health by aggressively attacking after sustaining injury. Dark Souls 3 tries to push its players into a similar style of combat but fails to pull, and feels much like a lesser game as a result.

The key here is the behavior of “Poise”, a stat that is built by wearing heavy armor. Heavier armor makes dodging (the keystone of Bloodborne‘s combat) considerably slower, and in past Souls games this was compensated by improved damage absorption and Poise, which prevented enemy attacks from interrupting player actions. This is essentially gone in DS3—the developers have argued that poise is now “contextual” but there is no context in which it stops even pathetically weak enemies from interrupting me. Even if Poise really does somehow prevent staggering during attacks, that’s still useless because >90% of what happens in boss fights (and 50% of other encounters) is just ordinary movement. If Poise doesn’t even partially protect the player from stagger while walking around, that significantly disadvantages heavy armor builds that can’t effectively dodge-roll out of danger.

That’s not great, because it sacrifices a lot of the flexibility of builds that makes tinkering around with Souls games fun, but it’s not a disaster. Adapting to the game’s preferences, however, makes it a bit too easy overall. I found several of the bosses to be a challenge in DS3, but I never felt any doubt as to whether I could eventually take down a boss or finish a level that was on the main path. I just grabbed my uchigatana (I cheesed an NPC and got this right at the start) and longbow and dodged or shot my way out of trouble.

I also couldn’t avoid the feeling that this series has worn itself out creatively. So many of the levels felt like callbacks to ones I’d played in Dark Souls / Demon’s Souls that the whole game felt familiar almost to the point of being comforting. None of the NPCs have a really interesting arc and most of them are nothing but vendors. The atmosphere still works and the carefully-written flavor text legitimately adds a lot to the experience but I never escaped the feeling I had seen it all before. Dark Souls 3 is a perfectly good game but it feels like the magic, and to a large degree the series’ admirable flexibility, is gone.

Verdict: Cautiously recommended

  One Response to “Dark Souls 3”

  1. Nailed it.

    It all just feels so rushed. Areas felt like they were ripped straight out of Bloodborne (The Undead Settlement), and a number of areas never had any real pay-off. I remember walking into Dragon Barracks and it completely blew my mind! The sky, the dead knights, the dragons… and I couldn’t wait to discover more, discover clues to why it was all like this, but… it never happened. It was just one moment that didn’t last, or have anything else going for it.

    Not being able to upgrade armour is pretty disappointing. My first playthrough of Dark Souls involved upgrading both amour and weapons, and it felt so gratifying to have a fully upgraded starting set that was almost just as good as some late game set. I never understood why shield upgrades weren’t an option either.

    I find it hard to believe that the devs thought upgrading at a bonfire was somehow worse than continuously returning to the same old hub area!

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