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Dark Souls III hands-on preview: Prepare to keep dying, again

Hayden Dingman | Aug. 6, 2015
I played an hour of Dark Souls III last week, and I'll be honest: My first instinct is to fall back on that old stalwart, "It's definitely more Dark Souls." It would be easy to do so, because it's the truth. This is no Bloodborne-esque shakeup. No assumptions are being challenged here. The demo we played, set on a small section of the Wall of Lodeleth, was all pale yellow skies and crumbling castle walls.

The problem being that Dark Souls--its entire premise--relies on players not having this fluency. Dark Souls didn't make its reputation on being a realistic representation of medieval combat. Dark Souls made its reputation on being face-rockingly difficult. Obtuse. Punishing. Yet with each successive Souls game, the community untangles it faster.

See, MOBAs and fighting games and high-level shooter play all share one thing in common. They're multiplayer arenas. New tactics are discovered and dismantled in a constant game mechanic arms race that goes on and on until the community dies out. The number one player in the world might get bored up top, but for everyone else--from number two down to the bottom--there's something to strive for. You can't "solve" a multiplayer game.

But Dark Souls can be solved. There's really no good course of action for From Software, because each is antithetical to selling Dark Souls. I count three primary demographics: 1) People who've never played any From Software games. 2) People who only played Bloodborne. 3) People who are Dark Souls masters. I guess technically there could be a fourth category, "People who started Dark Souls and gave up," but I'm not expecting many of them to play a sequel.

How do you make a Dark Souls III that is simultaneously easier (to draw in people that have never played before) and yet hard enough to make longtime fans--some of which have run the first two games dozens of times with all sorts of artificial constraints--feel like the game is difficult again?

You can't. I don't think it's possible. Look at the reception of Dark Souls II. It was not a bad game--in fact, I'm pretty sure I said it was excellent. But a lot of players whined that it was too similar, that it was too easy, that it was too much like Dark Souls.

No Souls game will ever be as difficult as your first Souls game.

And some players won't care about that. I don't, for instance. I appreciate that the Souls games exist in their little corner of the industry. I've enjoyed playing each of them for about thirty or forty hours before growing impatient. I had some fun running the Dark Souls III demo and dying.

But the subset of players who would appreciate this article above and beyond an "It's more Dark Souls" level--who would appreciate being told that not all shields parry, and who would understand the ramifications? By and large they're the people looking to recapture that original Dark Souls feel. They're chasing the dragon drake.

Part of what made Bloodborne so successful this year was that it kept the same core conceits as the Souls games--difficult bosses, rewarding patience, punishing arrogance--but rewrote the rules surrounding those tenets.


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