Lordship's Last Reward
I recently wrapped up a complete playthrough of Dark Souls 3, including the two DLCs, Ashes of Ariandel and The Ringed City. I have a couple half-formed thoughts that I wanted to get down, so here we go!
Over the years, I've played and replayed hundreds of hours of Dark Souls I & II, but this is only the second time I've beaten Dark Souls III. The first time was back in 2016, when the game became accessible in the UK a little earlier than planned -- I was able to buy and download an Xbox copy by creating a Japanese Microsoft Store account.
This playthrough also marks the first time I've been able to beat the final boss of The Ringed City, Slave Knight Gael. That guy has a reputation for being really hard. Fitting for the last big encounter in the series.
I actually think my lengthy playtime in the first two games is a big contributor to having played relatively little of the third. That's because, on many levels, this game is designed to fuck with players who've grown comfortable with the conventions of the Souls series.
For example, the timing and cadence of enemy attacks have been carefully tuned to prey on the expectations of seasoned Souls players. Slow, lumbering giants will burst forward upon noticing you, unleashing a relentless assault where they may previously have delivered a single deadly, but well-telegraphed slam. Meagre undead, who in past games would wilt at the merest hint of your blade, will suddenly erupt into abyss-corrupted monstrosities, requiring you to retreat to a safe distance and completely re-assess your approach.
Meanwhile, enemies and bosses do much more to punish and throw off players who try to engage in playstyles commonly used in the first two games. Trying to get through this game using a shield is much tougher than in previous games, as enemies have far more powerful and lengthy attack patterns that absolutely hammer your stamina bar. Similarly, circle-strafing to attempt a backstab on a foe is no longer the sure win it once was, with most enemies having some kind of counter to your attempts to flank them. And daring to take a sip from your trusty estus flask can cause many of the game's monsters to hurtle forward in a desperate (and often effective) bid to claw the health you just regained away from you.
It goes further than combat mechanics, though; Dark Souls III delivers a series of gut-punches to anyone familiar with the characters and lore of previous games; fan-favourites like the friendly Giant Blacksmith of Anor Londo can be found curled up, dead, a solitary husk, in Dark Souls III. Laddersmith Gilligan, who sat dutifully alongside the giant hole in Dark Souls II's hamlet of Majula can also be found dead in the Profane Capital, the unceremonious victim of... gravity. And, in perhaps the biggest bamboozle of all, the beloved onion knight Siegmeyer of Catarina actually ends up being that grave-robbing bastard Patches in disguise. Truly, Dark Souls III is here to take every expectation you had, every lesson you learned about how to navigate both the world and story of a Souls game and douse it in gasoline before tossing a match onto it right before your eyes.
Oh great, even these guys are dead now.
I have to point out that I think this is actually incredible from a game design perspective. Playing the game now, with a bit of time since I played the other games, I found it much easier. I guess the muscle-memory developed over the course of the previous titles has softened enough to make adapting to the challenge of Dark Souls III easier. My relative inexperience with this game, and the many twists it offers, also made this a really fun one to replay. But everything I've mentioned definitely made Dark Souls III feel less like the comfort food gaming the earlier instalments became for me. It's glum and foreboding; this world is ending, folding in on itself. Seldom few remain who are sane enough to observe the passing of this realm into oblivion. There's a majesty in the desolation, and it's a truly wonderful end to an incredible trilogy, but not one I find myself wanting to revisit often.
Dark Souls III has a lively competitive multiplayer scene, but it's not something I put any serious time into. I got most of that out of my system in Dark Souls' infamous Darkroot Garden, and with Dark Souls II's covenants. The competitive experience was undoubtedly improved in Dark Souls III, but nowadays hacking is pretty rampant on the PC version of the game, and all but requires the use of fan-made anti-cheating mods to shield yourself from malicious players who can ruin your save, either by griefing you or by dropping hacked items that will cause your account to get banned.
Anyway! That's all I have for you. I'm really glad to have finally beaten that last DLC boss, as it's been on my to-do list to go back and do it since 2016. I came away from this playthrough thinking Dark Souls III is possibly the best in the series, even if it is the one I tend to revisit the least!