Dark Souls 3: The Case Against

Dark Souls 3: The Case Against

The following post is this author’s opinion and does not reflect the thoughts and feelings of Fextralife as a whole nor the individual content creators associated with the site. Any link that goes outside of Fextralife are owned by their respective authors.

After over 600 hours in Dark Souls 3, nothing could be more painfully clear to me that it’s nothing more than the mainstreamed bastard child of Dark Souls and Bloodborne forced into existence like the lords to their thrones.“A thing that feeds on souls,” the Gael within me chain-rolled and R1’d his way through the loops of the final Souls painting like a prisoner to the flame, and the old Firekeepers cackling in my mind, I resigned myself to the task. “This is my fate, for I remain among the accursed” chanted my mind – but wait, this is a game, and I don’t have to burn away the “rot” of the past in favor of the novel and ‘innovative.’

The common trend in defending Dark Souls 3 is to claim that our complaints stem from “nostalgia,” and that it feels easy because we already “got gud,” but every time I go back to previous titles I am floored by their difficulty and how much more I enjoy them. When I revisited Xenogears on Playstation years ago, I was shouting to my roommate until credit roll like an ape on three different pre-workout supplements, “It’s better than I remembered!” Metal Gear Solid 1 – 3 are better than 4 and 5. This is not nostalgia, this is the consensus, and just because one person’s opinion differs from another’s doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Far and few between, the games of the Holy Grail are not without fault, but be it Super Metroid, Metal Gear Solid, or Dark Souls, somewhere beneath the crags and through the formless fog lies tangible claim to their legacy.


Miyazaki said he had very little to lose when creating Demon’s Souls, giving him a large degree of creative freedom. Now the fourth and final game in the series, Dark Souls 3 plays so hard not to lose that it falls flat like every new album from your favorite metal band, everything a shadow of what was, with the very idea expressed through the lyrics, or as paintings representing the games we consume. New games in a series are vulnerable to all kinds of biases: the time investment bias, where every hundred hours spent only serves as more reason to justify it; the identity bias, where we become attached to our characters, performance, or builds and by effect defend ourselves; consumer bias, where we praise the game to reconcile the 60 dollars (or hundreds for a console) spent; and FoMO” where we stick with said game out of “Fear of Missing Out” to see beyond it’s flaws.

With better graphics and larger populations, new games lure us from the front page of Twitch to spit us out the other side when they are long forgotten. Video games fundamentally involve the self, but as we seek salvation in the finality of their coded constructs, it isn’t complete freedom we yearn for, but confinement and the stories told within the bounds. Unlike movies, games allow meta-narratives to form as the player finds meaning within their constraints, but if any Souls game lacks constraints, it’s DS3, in which the meditative combat that defined the series is replaced by unconscious frenzy, the player detached from the weightless world and evaporating into thin air along with it, armor and all.


A Labyrinth Closing

“Your first Souls game is always the hardest” is one of the worst myths to come out of the Soulsborne community. DS3 may be hard by the numbers, but it offers no space for mastery enemies are either ruined or rolled away from at it’s expense. Chain-roll or mash your weapon with R1, combat in the game is a binary repetition that rewards frantic persistence over calculated restrain, where the player endlessly rolls from endless chain attacks to be forgiven too often and punished by the unfair. The low stamina consumption of rolls, faster roll recovery animations, quick moving heals, and short lasting damage frames on enemy attacks are to blame, and while these things may be “necessary to compensate for the faster pace of the game,” one must ask, why make the enemies faster in the first place?

Resident Evil 4 has limited controls compared to the cinematic RE6, and REmake with it’s “tank controls” is widely considered the best in the series, while fans patiently await the remake of the second game. In the early RE games, choosing when to fight or flee was a shot-call only the most experienced players made with ease, but never did they deny the gravity of the lone zombie blocking the narrow path. Like the early RE games, the first Souls games use limitations to create a cohesive whole, matching their dreamlike mythos with the ‘underwater’ combat to pronounce the weight of the world and define the player in it. We hear that the early Souls games are “clunky” while Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 are “fluid” without any explanation as to what these words mean. Most games are fluid: Devil May Cry, God of War, now Bayonetta – we’ve known it for years but Demon’s Souls shattered the figurative hourglass to form real, weighted, substance from the remains. When reading through the Steam reviews for Hollow Knight, I found a wealth of 10/10 reviews, but what made me finally buy it was a 6/10 and a 2/10. One calling it “clunky” and the other, “too hard,” I bought it instantly.

The Space Betwixt

In PVP or fighting games, players compete toward a common goal, but when players compete without influencing the progress of the other, these games are called “flowcharty,” in which each player follows their own rigid script with the winner having merely followed theirs best. The result is is one type of game, every game, until it’s “Ded Gaem” and the community moves on in favor of a better competitive ‘narrative.’ PVE follows the same principle, where depth is the result of the integration of player and enemy in a process contained by their limitations. Here, “fluid” and “fast” can easily become invitations for waste, where efficiency is replaced by isolated inputs like aimless arpeggios in shred guitar noodling. Gameplay in Nier Automata amounts to linear hypnosis in near autopilot, where success is defined by only further adherence to its script.

This “more is more” approach can be rewarding enough to experience a good story, but turns to an obligatory annoyance when used to dramatize what isn’t fully there or fails to express what is. Yngwie Malmsteen may play guitar fast, but few of his songs match their speed with an emotionally engaging shape or narrative. Whether it be in music, art, or video games, boundaries exhibit the forms they contain, and how these boundaries are positioned in relation to our abilities gives meaning to our actions.

While the level design in Dark Souls 2 look like something I could have made in Unreal Editor at age 14, the gameplay itself is commonly praised as being the best in the series, where the slow pace of combat and stamina / chain-roll penalty system allows for miniature stories to develop within each fight. In Dark Souls 3, you find yourself either rolling away entirely or spamming R1 for guaranteed single combo finishes. The earlier Souls games reversely punish either attempt, forcing the player to enter into the process posed by each enemy like a digital form of “consecrated action.” The Harald Legion Knights in The Ringed City DLC are too fast to be enjoyably fought together, and so we are given a way to one shot and stun them. This is a far cry from a dance with the Sentinels in Dark Souls 1, or the Old Knights in Dark Souls 2, in which every action and non-action is a nod in agreement within a shared space of deliberate accord.

Our countless deaths send us back to the process time and time again to be who we are within this liminal space like a journey through the Buddhist Gateless Gate. This is elegantly mirrored by the mythology of the series, as we seek a middle path “beyond the scope of light, beyond the reach of dark,” but in DS3 we are barred entry, and instead roll around the periphery on a downward spiral to the end of the world, where all walls collapse with the hollow shell of our so-called progress. The game appropriately ends in ashen fields adust, where the final boss is the consumer and destroyer of boundaries in what could be the ultimate meta-commentary on video games ever made, but Miyazaki fails to understand the very value of his games to begin with: they were never paintings to be burned, or a “sickly sweet bed to lie upon,” but rather timeless works of art in which every guarded corridor was an extension of the soul. Pages of criticism could be written about the early Souls games, but they point to a idea too soon to be forgotten, now ossified within the graves of giants and obscured by the blackness of technological obsolescence.

What Do You See? (Dark Souls 1)

Mirror My Mind Cage

Just as the player is shaped by their surroundings, we too learn who we are through confronting our limitations, or “via negativa”: through what we are not. Making it to Anor Londo to meet Gwynevere should be just as soul-crushing of a trial as it is to behold such feminine beauty in the real world, however fleeting the illusion, and taking the chthonic plunge to reclaim our humanity from the abyss should feel no different than facing the greatest horrors from our past. A game should mirror our mind cage: impose walls in just the right places and with just the right height so we feel deserving when they fall. If Dark Souls 3 has walls, there’s no space for us between them. We are born, scarred, and forged within our boundaries, but alas, it’s no surprise the masses want games without limitations—they are incapable of seeing their own.

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I have over 1000 hours in the Dark Souls series, and live in Japan with my wife as a translator.

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14 comments on “Dark Souls 3: The Case Against”

  1. Avatar Fexelea says:

    Nicely written article! That I pretty much entirely disagree with haha. But great writing nonetheless :P

  2. Avatar IgnusKnavery says:

    It’s very well written, but anytime someone says they put 600 hours into a game, I can’t really take any criticisms of a game seriously. I guess in comparison to the other Souls games, it may fall flat in the author’s opinion, but it should be noted that it’s still one of the best games out there when compared to everything that came out that year. Just my two cents. If I hadn’t played the game, I’d be very apprehensive about buying it after reading that article. There needs to be some kind of baseline so readers can tell that while it may not be the best in the series, it’s a stellar game worth the money.

  3. Avatar announakis says:

    I have put probably way more than 600 hours is this game to finally rage quit three months ago. I indeed played it so much because this is still one of the best games ever but I pretty much fully agree with your analysis on the mechanical aspects: the fast pace of bloodborne was an interesting experiment that turned out great (love the game maybe even more than DkS1) but adapting it to Dark souls was a huge mistake that resulted in what you describe very well: spam roll and R1 is enough to go through the game without the need to ever actually learn the specific behaviour of the mobs. The same mechanistic default plagues PvP too in many aspects.
    Whatever FROM is working on, I hope they will reconnect with the weighty, calculated and eventually more strategic aspect of the game.

  4. Poutsos says:

    I totally agree with the article. I enjoyed the game but for me the overall feel is just not there. I adored DkS, i adored DS2 but i never got off DS3. I never liked Japanese Hack n Slash games before. They feel too fast, too spammy and not very deep on the RPG element. DS was the first Japanese IP that did not give me that impression, and with Bloodborne and DS 3, i felt like it was moving towards that direction.

    I know i am the minority, but my favourite combat was in DS2. The slowdown was a good thing for me. Shields were no more OP, healing was slower, stamina consumption is huge and there is penalty. Overall it feels like playing chess. When EpicNameBro was saying that DS is not about reflexes but about knowledge+trial and error, for me that was most true in DS2 than any other game. Also for me DS2 had by far the best balance, the best infusion system, the best dual weilding and the best leveling, and also felt the most RPG of all of them(which for me is a great thing). Still the first game is my favourite though, and the only one in the franchise that i would really call a masterpiece. The only thing i liked in DS3 was the more extented movesets on the weapons (weapon arts, charges R2s etc.).

    PS. I totally disagree with his comment on Ygwie Malmsteen.

  5. Avatar lordnoah says:

    agreed although i would make a case that the problem is the speed of heavy weapon and spells that make it so hard to hit it is true that in the pve the rolls don’t help either i feel like i got through most enemies by staggering them to death or roll spamming with the exception of those who cant like the black knights

    its important to think about the amount of iframes you get at 70% weight combined with the distance of the roll and the speed that is what makes it so hard to roll catch people, but since they made pve with thing like pointiff sulyvan it nearly impossible to fix now

    another thing to note is poise, yeah i know nobody wants to hear it again but the fact is that getting hit twice no matter what essentially doubles the ar of all weapons making fights twice as short and making trades(mistakes much scarier) since nobody wants to lose half their hp to a guaranteed second hit of a greatsword they all play passive as hell and this makes the game boring

  6. Avatar Rizen says:

    Adding to this parries can one shot you on certain builds. Lag and deceptive hitboxes don’t encourage you to fight close either.

    As someone who’s only played one souls game, DS3 is balanced great for offline runs. My first three times through were completely offline; it starts stupidly hard then gets to the point of still being challenging enough to keep the game from being mindless. Using different weapons and spells helps keep it interesting. It would be nice if there was better explanation of how things work in the game; I always play blind at first and everything is convoluted and cryptic.

    The problem is poor PvP balancing due it it being secondary to PvE. It really does reward spamming, partially due to lag. Unless you’re part of a gank you’re always at risk of being ganked. All this encourages lame play: you more or less are forced to. Invasions can happen at inconvenient times, like after I beat the Wyvern on Arch Dragon Peak I got invaded before I could even rest at the bonfire. An easy fix would be to have invasions only happen when you equip a special banner item, sort of like covenants but allow Co-op without it. Then they could cut loose and not worry about it being too hard for players to get through the levels and have invasions in areas you’ve cleared.

    With all that said DS3 is a great RPG and PvP being poorly balanced doesn’t ruin the experience. You have to take it for what it is.

  7. thflame says:

    I agree with this article wholeheartedly.

  8. Avatar Wark says:

    I feel like the only one who seamlessly enjoys all three games in the series and treat it like one single, great adventure. I find myself playing DS3 for a few days, then quitting for a few weeks before playing it again, starting a new character to try out different ways to play the game. Although I usually just go melee because I love rolling and close combat. I’m not into magic at all.
    DS2 I enjoy slightly lesser, I usually just play it to reach smelter demon and the Ruin Sentinels. I also love Sinh.

    If I had to pick one thing I love most per game, I’d have to put it this way:
    Dark Souls: the World
    Dark Souls 2: the Bosses
    Dark Souls 3: the Visuals and the overall feel of control (I feel like most of the time I’m in control of what’s happening) and, unpopular opinion, the speed of the game. I love how they increased the tempo of the combat. I remember when I picked up Lords of the Fallen because I couldn’t wait for the DS3 release and found it to be extremely heavy and slow paced, although it was a great game, and extremely beautiful. But too slow for my taste. Then I picked up Dark Souls again and felt almost the same because of how slow it seemed. Then DS3 came and it was just perfect for me.

  9. Avatar Nahztek-Shadowpath says:

    Oh, I absolutely loved all three titles. I just feel burnt out on it all, from gameplay to lore.
    This is a problem I’m having with action rpgs in general, not just DS. That’s why I’m mainly just playing tactical strategy games these days. More thinking and less mindless hacking. And if it’s turn-based, I can walk away at any time and do something else.

    It’s a good article, but I agree with other posters who mentioned how one-sided it is. You aren’t accounting for burn-out at all. And this is the main factor why old schoolers might complain. They might make this point or that point, but at its core, the problem is that they have probably played since DeS, and can no longer ignore the cons of the game.

    However, the article makes it sound like no real effort was put into DS3 and it sold on reputation alone. If anything, the biggest problem was that many players played in this order-

    BB was an evolution. So it felt different enough. DS3 was refinement of the original game that tried just a bit too hard to make it more BB-like in terms of speed and mobility. And like others mentioned, and like the article mentions, the result was spam roll and R1 stagger-to-death gameplay.

  10. Rangrok says:

    It’s also worth mentioning that Ds3 is a very rare example of a game series definitively ending. We keep judging the game by how it improves the formula, when it never really tried to innovate. I suspect their intention was to refine known territory, rather than step completely into the new like Bloodborne. As a result, it’s mechanics were more a distillation of the other games, rather than an attempt to experiment with them. Everything about DS3 has an air of finality, which I found immensely satisfying as a souls fan.

    HOWEVER , if Miyazaki decides to make Dark Souls 4, I’ll retroactively take away all this good will.

  11. Avatar Nahztek-Shadowpath says:

    I agree with this all the way, especially the last part.
    If they want to one day pass the DS torch to a new team, they better have a sub-title in the name and just begin their own sub-series offshoot rather than try to actually move the world forward. And like DS2 did, limit references to the original series and just do their own thing.

    Becuase one day, something like this is likely to happen. Money talks, and a few years from now, there will be enough consumer feedback to make it a reality.

  12. Wes says:

    I actually like Yngwie quite a bit! Just prefer Michael Romeo and some other guys. I love shred guitar, it literally brings me to tears.

    Wow, thanks for the kind comments everyone. I’m happy to see opinions on both sides. I wrote this precisely as a reaction to the comments I found or received online regarding my opinion on DS3. Some people called me an "idiot," pointed to "nostalgia" and the "bandwagon," and recited a bunch of other conversation killers that just really put me off. It occurred to me that new games, unlike movies, have a kind of immunity. Where was the harsh criticism on Final Fantasy 15? Alien Covenant got SLAMMED literally everywhere despite being enjoyable, but FF15? MGS5? The only "harsh" critiques of games are tinged with a kind of sadness or longing to belong, like we’re all afraid to criticize the game as if it was our own lover.

    That being said, Dark Souls 3 is a good game, if not better than the vast majority of them, just not a good Souls game to me personally. And I did have fun with it, to be sure.

  13. LautrecTheHugger says:

    Okay I feel like you’re ignoring the good and oft great aspects of DS3, but I also feel like you nail the shortcomings.

    I didn’t actually love DS3 like I did the others until Gael, but to be fair I hated DS2 going into it up until well past halfway (due to other people, the despawning, the various changes, the clunkiness, the graphics, and despawning again) through as I played through (and as I discovered agility was a thing) I enjoyed it more. Now it’s my favorite, somehow beating out god-like games like my first great love DS1 as well as BB. DS3 is an amazing game (w/ probably my favorite boss Gael, though the flawlessly designed Artorias and to a lesser degree the utterly fantastic dlc duo that is Fume and Alonne, may disagree) but it doesn’t have the same innovative magic as DS2 or the raw charm of the perfectly imperfect DS1.

    I tend to go back and forth between the games and each has had its hayday as my favorite (except BB which has always been 2nd regardless of who I put in 1st for reasons I can’t explain), but the truth is, I want to like DS1 the most as it gave me the most magical feeling. I like DS2 the most but some of that is b/c of my surprise in finding a gem in a game that people convinced me was bad, a game with strengths in areas none of the others could touch. And I can’t help but feel a pit in my heart when I think of DS3 in context of the others, but like DS2 that is at least partially due t how others talked up the game before I touched it. Regardless I cannot shake those feelings, and regardless of their flaws or whatnot, they’re without question the most disturbingly impactful games I’ve encountered.

    I hope you only gagged a little bit at my soliloquy, I wouldn’t want you to be more revolted with what I wrote than myself.

  14. Avatar ElCazador says:

    As much as I want to deny what you wrote… I really can’t. I despise the combat in Dark Souls 3, and adore that of Dark Souls 2. But I love the series enough to work 14 hours a day to buy the PC that runs it well enough though.

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