Being a big fan of the Souls series, I have been looking forward to get my hands on Dark Souls 3 since its announcement. Now one week after release and having almost finished the game, I feel a bit confused. I never thought I would say this, but I’m disappointed…?
My disappointment stems from the fact that I can’t really remember much of the entire game. It all felt so familiar and so much the same. Many items and NPCs are directly reused from Dark Souls 1 and 2. Even some locations are revisited, although in a slightly different form. But much of the Dark Souls 3 has a very familiar feel to it: more undead in castles, more skeletons in catacombs, more silver knights in a city that reaches the sky. But nothing stands out, no boss is as memorable as Ornstein and Smough, King Vendrick or Father Gascoigne.
So why do I feel this? I clearly wanted it to be different. Perhaps Dark Souls 3 is not a good game or not at the same level of its predecessors. But this is not true, Dark Souls 3 is a very very good game. It bulks from creative level-design, has jaw-dropping graphics and has the most satisfying gameplay. This is the best game of 2016 in terms of pure, raw quality. Period.
The problem with Dark Souls 3 is that we have seen it all before. This is the 3rd Dark Souls after all and actually the 5th Souls game if you include Demon's Souls and Bloodborne. Having played all games except for Demon's Souls, its probably not the game that disappoints in itself, its probably me as a player who is simply saturated with the formula. That’s why new players might have a different opinion. I really hope they feel the same way as when I woke up the first time in an undead asylum at the beginning of Dark Souls 1. So is it really my problem and is FromSoftware not to blame?
Yes and no. I believe that the Souls games have been so well received because it gave players something fresh, and it came from nowhere. FromSoftware abandoned all gaming conventions in 2009 with Demon's Souls and we know by now that Sony was not impressed, initially. But we, the gamers, loved it. We found ourselves in this familiar RPG-world with knights and dragons and yet we were tested to the metal. The difficulty was relentless, there was no map, no tutorial, no regenerating health, and nothing was explained. We sucked it up and persevered.
But 5 titles later, this formula itself has become familiar. And this is where my problem with Dark Souls 3 lies. FromSoftware has become a victim of their own success. They broke their own rule of being unconventional. Its kind of ironical but Dark Souls 3 does nothing new, it plays it safe and sticks to all the conventions of a Souls game.
This must have been a terrible dilemma for Miyazaki and the team during the production process. Do we give the fans what they want JJ Abrams-style and rake in the big bucks or do we stay true to our philosophy: giving gamers the finger and creating something completely new? I think we have seen this inner struggle when Miyazaki said this would be the last Souls game. He was aware of the trap. But he still fell for it and we got a game I believe Miyazaki never wanted to make: another Call of Duty, another Assassins Creed, another milk cow. And to be honest: well done, its exactly what every sensible CEO should do who thinks in the best interest of their company.
But FromSoftware, please don’t make a Bloodborne 2, please don’t make a Dark Souls 4. We are becoming hollow of playing these games. It’s like every new Souls game links the fire and continues the cycle. Maybe it’s time to let the fire fade and start a new age.