Ascent from Ash: A first timer’s Dark Souls Retrospective

The Dark Souls franchise has the fortune, or perhaps misfortune, of being known for the promise of death.  I was originally alienated by the claim that I would enjoy myself while dying repeatedly and foolishly made the assumption that this franchise was not for me.

It was not until becoming enthralled in developer From Software’s Bloodborne that I was sold on venturing into the world of Dark Souls 3.  Four full playthroughs and nearly 100 hours split between 3 different characters and I can confidently say it is one of my favorite gaming experiences.  With the upcoming Ashes of Ariandel DLC just over a month away, I thought I’d take a look as to why exactly Dark Souls is such a unique entity and how I went from feeling alienated by it’s motif of death to allured.

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“Ashen one, be sure to bring me more souls”

Difficulty

As I mentioned, Dark Souls loves to tout it’s “You Will Die” moniker, sometimes to the point where you ask yourself just how that could be fun.  Death serves several purposes in the game, but I think the most compelling purpose is how it teaches the player.  Similar to Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3’s difficulty is designed to teach the player how to approach the game.  Players who take a hack and slash approach to groups of enemies will likely find themselves being punished by a quickly diminishing stamina bar, as well as a trap or two and a death screen for their hastiness.  Rather than get frustrated at my unsuccessful attempts to progress, I found the game telling me in an abstract yet effective way that it takes a creative use of resources to overcome obstacles.

If I see a mob, perhaps I can lure enemies out with a firebomb.  If a heavily armored enemy blocks my path, a ranged approach might be the best option.  While some of these may sound like common sense, environmental hazards and other obstacles add complexity, and your strategy has to adapt with it.  This lead to each encounter being meaningful, as even the weakest of enemies have the potential to kill you if you make too big of a mistake.  In some cases, I just needed to “git gud” as the Dark Souls social media accounts encourage.

This is…Hyrule?

Dark Souls 3 contains nearly 20 interconnected locations in which the player will traverse.  Though each contains a disgusting amount of horrors who will all try to bar your way, each area made me question just what was going on.  As a huge Legend of Zelda fan, I immediately recalled different dungeons and other ventures from my time in Hyrule.  But I never found myself quite as enthralled or inquisitive toward what Hyrule showed me.  Towns in Hyrule were often lively, characters would interact with me, and the music was unforgettable.  But for me, Hyrule never made me question what was going on.  I found the lack of narrative and the absence of answers to be just as interactive, if not more so as when I first met Princess Zelda.  What does it mean to rekindle the flame? What happened to make Irithyll, a striking castle town, barren of life?  Each question answered gradually fleshes out the lore that is so intricately hidden within conversations, secret areas, and NPC encounters.  It’s what motivated me to press on, I had to know what was around the next corner and how it all ended.

 

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“Prithee be careful…”

You are not alone

As enthralling as I found the world of Dark Souls 3 to be, it wouldn’t be what it is without invaders.  While connected online, other players from various covenants will have the opportunity to invade your world.  For finding and killing you, they’re awarded special covenant items as well as souls.  In addition to the most heinous enemies you’ll encounter, you also have the change of another player lying in wait to ruin your day.  Frustrating as the feature might be to some, some of my most memorable moments were when my friend and I would face off 2v2 against members from the Aldritch Faithful whilst dodging giants and 10 foot tall rats.  I found this to serve a dual purpose of both alleviating the feeling that you are entirely alone in your quest to rekindle the flame as well as provide exciting diversions from the main story.

Success

Among everything else that made Dark Souls 3 so engrossing for me was the immense feeling of satisfaction you get from overcoming the games’ toughest obstacles.  You are rewarded for perseverance, you are rewarded for experimentation, you are rewarded for exploration and you are rewarded for finally toppling the boss who you thought you couldn’t possibly best.  Hidden endings, awesome gear, and fantastic weaponry are fun payoffs as well.

Dark Souls 3 entranced me in ways that I never expected it could.  I would recommend the series to those looking for a challenge and have an affinity for medieval fantasy settings.  I’m looking forward to more gear, new areas, and even more deaths when Ashes of Ariandel releases in October.

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