READ THIS PART FIRST!
This is the second draft of the Dark Souls 3 Script. This is meant to be accompanied with visual examples so not all of it will be as clear as it will be in the video. By reading this you may also spoil some of the enjoyment you could have by watching the video without knowing the script ahead of time.
However I also know that some people might enjoy reading this early. I’ve also wanted to start publishing the scripts for a while now because some people have requested it–so they can read along and follow what I’m saying.
The script might get one more editing pass before it becomes a video. I also want to say that sometimes things change when I record it; I’ve deleted entire paragraphs, and rewritten some parts on the spot. This doesn’t happen often, but I wanted to give that warning. Some of this might change. It also hasn’t been extensively proofread because I usually I correct mistakes like that while recording.
So that’s my disclaimer. Read at your own risk.
So yeah, Dark Souls 3. Hi. I’m Joe. And welcome to a video that I should have made three months ago.
If you’re a long-time viewer then you should know that this video won’t be a big commentary. There are a few reasons why I’m not doing that. The most important of them is that I don’t think it’s fair to do to Dark Souls 3, what I’ve previous done to the other games that had over a year of patches and major DLC updates. I’m still going to show a lot of flaws that I hope will be fixed with time, but I’m not going to come down with full judgement on them until the game is fully finished.
Because the issues this game has really show it to be anything BUT finished.
Regardless I’ll still be going into a lot of detail. And that includes examples. Of all the areas in the game and a brief look at all of the bosses. So if you haven’t played the game yourself, this is your spoiler warning. It’s probably safe to watch for a few more minutes to get the general gist of what I have to say, but you shouldn’t watch the whole thing if you want to save some surprises for your own playthrough.
So my first time through Dark Souls 3 was like a Disappointment Sandwich. I started out really disheartened at the start. Then I got into the game and was enjoying myself. And then I was sorely letdown again by the end.
That’s a pretty shitty analogy but we’re going with it.
Because I always end up coming across as more negative than I intend, I do want to say that I’ve played the game a few more times since then and, especially on my most recent playthrough that I did last week, I found a lot more to like. So much so that I feel comfortable saying that, in some ways, Dark Souls 3 is the best in the Soulsborne Series.
The thing is though, these games are so strong that I can say that about all of them.
Dark Souls 1 has the best world design. And quite possibly the best first half of any game I’ve ever played, period.
Dark Souls 2 has the best DLC, with its phenomenal level design and bosses.
Bloodborne has the best combat system and atmosphere.
And Demon’s Souls deserves a hefty amount of recognition for being the first game to introduce so much, and getting a shocking amount right on that first attempt. It’s the one I’ve played the least—and it’s also my least favorite of the five—but it holds up next to the other games that came later and benefit from so much refinement.
Dark Souls 3 does LEVEL design better than any other game on this list. It also has the best array of bosses. And a proper difficulty curve instead of the weird peaks and valleys that plummet by the end. But it also does things worse than any of the other games.
Let’s talk about the levels first, because I think I need to elaborate on what I mean.
This will also explain the first slice of Disappointment in the Stupid Sandwich I mentioned just a minute ago.
When I started up Dark Souls 3 for the first time, I chose my usual class that I go through for every first run. I thought the starting area was a bit lacking compared to the brilliance of the Asylum in Dark Souls 1, but I can also understand that it’s a lot more straightforward for multiple runthroughs so I can appreciate what they were trying to do.
I killed the first boss and I began to look around. I saw a lot of potential. I didn’t watch any trailers before playing this game. So I had no idea what kind of areas were waiting for me. As I went through this multi-leveled graveyard, I saw multiple paths. A locked door. A suspiciously enlarged coffin that might fall away at some point to reveal a hidden entrance to another level. And what looked like another path that could be revealed later to some massive kingdom high on a cliff.
The more I explored the more potential I saw. Another locked tower. The name Firelink Shrine popping up was a surprise but inside there were a lot of routes and stairs. I thought that the series was finally trying to repeat what Dark Souls 1 did so beautifully—multiple paths to many areas that are interlinked. Interconnected. Enthralling WORLD design.
And then I created the central hub bonfire and realized that it was just like Bloodborne and Demon’s Souls. This was a separate, foreign area. Severely ripped away from the rest of the game to act as your home base that is never woven intricately into exploration or a meticulously constructed world.
This was a massive disappointment for me. It’s something I’ve hoped to see again in the series for three new games now. And it’s just not happening. Someone commented on one of my videos a few months ago that the series isn’t meant to have that grand world design because—clearly—it would have been back in one of the games by now, and that fans should stop bitching that it doesn’t happen. I sort of dismissed that comment since I was so certain that Dark Souls 3 would have it! And here we are.
It’s gotten to the point now that I strongly suspect that this feature in Dark Souls 1 was an accident. I know that sounds crazy since it’s so carefully put together, with the aqueduct link back, the elevator from the church, going back to Lower Undead Burg, and looping back from Blighttown. But if you take these shortcuts away then suddenly it’s a lot closer to the separate, linear paths that you can find in Dark Souls 2 that branch out from the Majula hub.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the levels weren’t originally meant to work this way. And that these changes just sort of happened as development went on. Especially given that this type of world design doesn’t carry forward into the rest of the game.
This was also a letdown in Bloodborne. Now I’ve also gotten comments from people saying that they think Bloodborne does have this sort of world design. And I can’t agree with that. The game sort of has two hubs though, which is where I think some of that perspective stems from. There’s the Dream, but also the Cathedral Ward. This place functions more like Majula though in my opinion, it’s just that you start off at the end of one of the branches first and then fight your way there, rather than starting there with all of them available to you.
From here, there are only ever two instances that I can remember of levels bridging together. One of mostly worthless—opening the door after Darkbeast Paarl to Old Yharnam. And the other is a lot more interesting: climbing the ladder from the Forbidden Woods back to the Clinic at the start of the game. But this is only one moment.
In contrast to this however, Bloodborne has some fantastic LEVEL design that’s contained in these areas. And this is the same thing that Dark Souls 3 does. I’d go as far as saying that Dark Souls 3 does it better… but only when we’re purely talking about the layout and construction of these areas on a mechanical level. They’re a lot larger. They often use shortcuts that reuse bonfires. It’s a challenge to learn the layout of each one and how different smaller sections of them fit together. It’s something the series is known for doing well, and Dark Souls 3 does it better than ever.
I’ll back this up with examples soon, but the problem I want point out right now is the other side of these areas. The more subjective atmosphere and theme of them. Because this is a piece of criticism that I’m surprised I have to make: there’s very little originality in these levels. There are only a few new ideas. A lot of it are either recycled concepts, or the hybrid of multiple ideas from the previous games crushed together.
Here’s what I mean:
Right from the start you can see that there are once again an epic shit ton of gravestones everywhere, like crystal clusters growing out of the ground. This fits a lot of themes in the game so it’s understandable and welcome at the beginning, but they keep showing up as the game goes on.
Right after that we warp from Firelink Shrine to the High Wall of Lothric. Which has a lot of tightly crammed vertical layers just like Undead Burg, but the same war-torn castle theme as Boletaria in Demon’s Souls. If that’s not enough to convince you, you’re fighting a bunch of normal undead and the occasional more powerful armored knight opponent. There’s a dragon that shows up that’s guarding some tower for no discernible reason. It’s also an inversion of the path you need to take in the first level of Boletaria. In that game you’re working your way around to climb one tower, explore part of the city inside and cross the top of the ramparts to another tower, which you then use to open a shortcut back to the start at the bottom.
Here you start off already at the top, cross the ramparts to a tower. You work your way down, explore part of the city, then climb UP another tower to open a shortcut back to the beginning. It’s the same thing in reverse.
There’s even a big set of doors associated with the boss of the area.
Next up is the Undead Settlement, but not before you can get a look at everything you’ll be exploring as you play. Most of the levels are visible here. And the path you take through them is mostly linear. There are a few moments that you can do some of them in a different order, but they don’t loop into each other or share any paths that you can open. They’re all small branches that begin their own linear path to the end.
And this is probably the best time to say that this is all fine. It’s something that I’ve grown to accept about the game. Because it was an easier way for Dark Souls 3 to have a difficulty curve. Many levels are gated behind easier ones, so that progress can be matched by an increase in challenge and complexity. I think there could have been better ways to accomplish this while still achieving a much more interesting world, but what the game delivers is enjoyable once you accept it.
You can look at Dark Souls 2 and the back half of Dark Souls 1 for how this can be done poorly. In theory these choices should add variety and options. Ultimately though they can make the game easier as it goes on instead of harder, since if paths open at the same time then they’re usually around the same level of difficulty. In these cases they are at least. In some ways Dark Souls 3 has benefited from this decision.
Let’s get back to the Undead Settlement. If you’ve played Bloodborne then you’ll immediately see the striking resemblance it has to Hemick Lane—especially if you went there before killing Amelia. There are a lot of similar styled buildings you’ll go into that are often dark inside. It feels similar to the Forest of Fallen Giants to me too, with more stone structures around the limits of the level and parts permanently blocked off with a portcullis. There’s also a big bonfire with a huge group surrounding it like you can see early on in Yharnam.
Unfortunately this kind of repetition keeps going. The next area is a standard forest, which eventually recedes into a swamp. Which, again, are things the games have used many times. Then there’s ANOTHER swamp right after this which can poison you. This may also literally be Blighttown by the way. And I do mean “literally”–since it’s likely what became of that area since Lothric is Lordran all over again. What I hate about these swamps is that they aren’t used for anything interesting.
You could argue that the one in the first Dark Souls is there as the cruel punchline of a grueling joke after finally getting to the bottom of Blighttown—to reinforce how much you’re out of your comfort zone since, at this point in the game, you are so far from your home in Firelink that you might feel straight-up lost.
Similarly, in Shrine of Amana, your movement speed is hampered so that the challenge of this level works. You have to learn how to deal with the ambushes from the monsters in the water while dodging the ranged attacks. I know it’s not everyone’s favorite level but you can’t deny it has an idea and executes it. Which is one of the reasons why I like it.
Here these swamps don’t add to any concept, idea, or challenge. The first one feels like it’s just there for decoration—or an excuse for the crabs to be here—but that doesn’t explain the few patches of deeper water that slow you down just to be annoying.
The second swamp poisons you, which I guess is meant you make you feel pressured to explore the area quickly. But it doesn’t build into any new type of challenge. It’s comes across as annoying instead because it’s the fifth time that the series has done this.
Continuing on: it goes without saying that Catacombs of Carthus are just like the Catacombs from Dark Souls 1. There’s also a lot of Sen’s Fortress whisked in—it’s a maze with boulder and arrow traps, and a lot of narrow hallways. The central open chamber with the deadly fall reminds me a lot of it too.
Smouldering Lake is a semi-hidden area under the Catacombs. This is a desecrated version of Ash Lake. Which I thought was a pretty cool setting even if it does reuse that concept. There’s another maze down here though which again smashes two levels together. This is Lost Izalith and the sewer Depths combined. Even some of the enemy types are similar down here. Regardless, without them the vertical layered maze with a lot of falls is clearly similar to the Depths. It’s like those sewers collapsed and fell through Quelagg’s Domain, then into Lost Izalith, and that conjoined mess fell together to eventually corrupt Ash Lake.
Next we have Irithyll of the Boreal Valley, which is one of the most visually striking areas in the entire series. This place is a mix of Yharnam, Eleum Loyce, and Anor Londo—that last one can’t even be debated because… yeah, it’s actually Anor Londo. It has the same ostentatious city atmosphere of Yharnam, and the cold environment of Eleum Loyce, or Painted World if you’d rather connect it to Dark Souls 1. It has a similar enemy concept too with monsters that are easy to miss and will ambush you if you’re not careful.
There’s a separate dungeon level here that reminds me of the Tower of Latria from Demon’s Souls, and the Lost Bastille in Dark Souls 2. To be clear I think this, and almost every other level, is a lot of fun and has interesting ideas, but thematically I think the similarities are easy to see.
Lastly we have the second part of Lothric and the Grand Archives.
For the city this is once again very similar to Boletaria. But with the added recycled concept of Yahar’gul, the Unseen Village from Bloodborne, surprisingly enough. The sky has changed and there’s a new, ominous entity glowing up there. Along with these crazy looking dragon-ish monsters floating in the sky. It’s like this part of the world has gone mad. Which, again, it’s interesting. But it’s been done before. In the game that came out right before this.
Grand Archives is the combination of Duke’s Archives and Cainhurst Castle. You spend the first chunk in an elaborate maze of a library, which I think succeeds far better than the laytout of Seathe’s version. The interior here is more lavish however, just like Cainhurst. The similarities don’t end there though, since you end up exploring a lot of exterior walkways and the roofs above the Archives, to get to places that don’t really make a whole of sense to be built… on a roof, but yeah you get the idea. It’s like Cainhurst.
If you’ve played the game yourself then you know that I skipped over some levels. The reason for that is that they’re the exceptions to what I’m pointing out here. Cathedral of the Deep, the Profaned Capital, and Archdragon Peak. Now you could argue that these also have some similarities to other levels. It’s another grand cathedral with gravestones. Archdragon Peak looks sort of like Dragon Shrine. The Profaned Captial has some resemblance to Sanctum City.
However, I’d argue these comparisons aren’t as clear as the others I made. The farther you get into Archdragon Peak the more you realize it has a really creative concept built around what looks like a broken bridge. It’s a really cool setting that I wish had been expanded on. Despite its size it’s surprisingly small once you explore everything. I think there could have been more to do here with some creative ways to climb to different sides of the bridge to get around.
Profaned Capital is also unique when you get past the first area and see the ruined temple full of discarded goblets and treasure. I really liked the theme of this area, and so I was deeply disappointed when it turned out to be the smallest level in the game. This part here, when you get inside, is pretty much it. There’s a separate area that’s another swamp nearby that’s mostly more of the dungeon rather than this lost city. I think it’s a real waste that more wasn’t done with this.
Lastly, Cathedral of Deep is different enough outside AND inside that I think it stands on its own, even though it sounds like it’s been ripped out of Bloodborne. It’s probably my favorite area in the game too. And it’s a good way to start talking about how Dark Souls 3 uses shortcuts and bonfires.
So this is what I mean when I say the level design is great despite the theme or location type of a lot of levels being reruns. Dark Souls 3 continues the trend that Bloodborne executed so well—fewer bonfires. More shortcuts. Testing the player to find ways to link back to skip early sections in levels instead of just plopping down a new bonfire so close together like was done in Dark Souls 2.
The problem is, some of you might be confused that I’m saying this. Because, unfortunately, the game still has a bit of that.
See there are two kinds of levels in this game. There are the larger, complex mazes. And then there are these sort of weird connecting parts where the developers seem to have forgotten how they work. An example of this is the area leading up to the Cathedral of the Deep. You kill a boss here—this big hat black mage—and you get a bonfire. Then a little after this you get a bonfire right away. A little after that you get… another bonfire. They’re so close together. Yet this last bonfire is used to explore a gigantic, massive sprawling level, and has shortcuts leading back to it.
Same goes for parts of Undead Settlement. And a lot of the connecting portions between levels after bosses. Originally I thought the issue was caused because all bosses leave a bonfire when you kill them, and that these are seen by the game as extra checkpoints that “don’t count”. But sometimes THESE bonfires are the important, well-spaced ones, and it’s another that comes right after that’s the problem.
The clearest example of this is close to the end of the game. You kill the Dragonslayer Armor boss, which then creates a bonfire. And then you move onto the next area and find another bonfire seconds later—which is the staging one for the Grand Archives. A bonfire that is used wonderfully for a gigantic level and functions with multiple shortcuts that you find and open—I think it’s about three or four so it’s quite a lot. And yet this bonfire is so close to the one you got from the boss, that you can SEE IT while you’re standing next to it.
I’d say there are about six or so bonfires in this game that could be removed completely and the game would be better for it. This is a really weird issue.
It’s made even weirder by how expertly some of the other bonfires are handled. Like I said, Cathedral of the Deep is one of my favorite levels. You use this bonfire to explore the area around the foundation of the cathedral, then you go through a graveyard with infinitely spawning undead—which is an okay mechanic; it’s different—and then open a ladder shortcut down to that foundation. You have to make your way around the cathedral after that, which is quite a long stretch to complete. There are a lot of enemies here and the game doesn’t hold back with ambushes either. It’s great.
You then find the entrance to the cathedral and, if this was Dark Souls 2, there would be a bonfire right here. Instead you find an elevator and open a locked door back to the bonfire for another shortcut. There’s a second one like this later on as you’re now exploring the INSIDE of the cathedral. You also get to open a second entrance from within that can act as yet another shortcut.
This place also has some substantial secrets. There’s a hidden bonfire that I missed my first time through, but it’s actually not that much shorter to the boss than the first bonfire—it might even be longer; I haven’t timed it. It’s close in either case. And an extra secret to find for you to explore the upper part of the outside of the cathedral.
And this is all one level! All these shortcuts and enemies and areas. The boss here isn’t that great which is a shame because it might have been a candidate for my favorite level in the whole series if it ended well. The boss isn’t terrible. It’s a neat concept. Just not as good compared to the others.
I do want to say here that the shortcuts could still use some work. It’s the same criticism I had for Bloodborne: the game shows you locked doors and broken elevators ahead of time. The shortcuts you open are rarely surprises. I think there was only one that caught me off guard in the game—when you find an elevator and open a switch at the bottom that lowers a bookcase in the Archives. I really wish the game tried to be more creative with its shortcuts instead of putting so many obvious paths around the base bonfire.
This is the standard that many other areas follow. The opening area in Lothric is similar. It’s not as elaborate but it’s the first level so it really shouldn’t be. Irithyll is a bit more straightforward but it’s similar in many ways. The ending at Lothric and the Grand Archives is closer to this and, combined with other larger levels, it’s why I think the game has such consistently great level design.
Which is another reason why I think that Dark Souls 3 could be seen as the best in the series. Because it maintains this level of quality. It doesn’t fall to unfinished pieces like Dark Souls 1 does. And it doesn’t sulk in mediocrity like much of Dark Souls 2. It’s only competitor is Bloodborne really. And I go back and forth on which one I think accomplishes its goals better. There’s no bad level in this game.
The thing is though, I’m only talking about the base games here. No DLC. Which means that Dark Souls 1 doesn’t get to have its latter half elevated by how much Artorias of the Abyss adds to the game. And Dark Souls 2 doesn’t get to be saved by how much of a dramatic improvement its DLC packs are. Same for Bloodborne which, when you consider only the base game, feels like it’s missing a chunk of content. It’s too short.
I know I said this at the start, but it’s another reason why I don’t want to judge it. The DLC in the series is usually some of the best content. If Dark Souls 3 continues that trend, then it might be a contender for being the best game in the series outright… but I think that it has a bunch of other issues to address first.
Because despite my saying how much I think the game maintains a high level of quality, there was that last part of the Stupid Sandwich I brought up at the start. The first time I finished this game, I was left staring at the credits going:
The game felt too short. It also felt too easy. I had breezed through the whole thing. And I was certain that the game had half of the content it should have. For a brief second I had some paranoid conspiracy thoughts that parts of the game had been chopped off to be served as DLC later.
It was about this time that I tweeted out a question asking what people thought was the largest level in all of the Soulsborne series. And I got quite a few good answers. Sometimes it’s good to wait for a while before deciding something, because now I’m pretty sure that Dark Souls 3 is a bigger game than Dark Souls 1. It may have fewer named “Levels”. But the ones here are larger and more involved. And, y’know, actually finished.
I think it’s fair to say that, at the very least, the game is about equal in terms of content to Dark Souls 1. When comparing the base games. And that my initial reaction was wrong.
This is tied to the other half of that disappointment: the game’s difficulty. Now this is a very awkward topic for me to address. It’s tangled with a lot of the game’s strengths and weaknesses.
Those strengths being the game’s combat, enemy variety, and bosses.
And the weaknesses being the game is glitchy and was rushed to release.
So let’s try this by starting with combat.
Dark Souls 3 is a combination of Dark Souls 1 and 2. The way movement and attacks are handled feels identical to the first game. But it runs at 60 frames per second and has adopted some of the improvements from the sequel. An example being you can wear more armor before your movement is lowered. These changes were enough for me to have no issues whatsoever with multiple enemy encounters. The game ran smoothly enough, and I could move freely enough, that I could drop my lock-on and deal with all the fights against multiples. It was just as enjoyable as it was in Dark Souls 2.
I know there are some other things that are different. Poise and parrying come to mind. These aren’t things I want to discuss in great detail in this video—I won’t be covering everything. I do want to get to backstabs though.
For now let’s look at healing. The game brings back the estus flask but, instead of kindling bonfires with humanity, you use collected shards to increase uses like in Dark Souls 2. There are no life gems. There’s no rally healing either. For the vast majority of the game your only options are your estus flask, and one time use of an ember to restore your life to full, similar to how you could use humanity in the first game. Except there isn’t a growing number to this. Once you use it, you have to die and lose your ember form before you can use it again for the heal.
You can increase the amount of healing your estus does by finding bone shards to burn back at Firelink Shrine. The end result is your effective healing increasing as you play, to a maximum of a +10 flask and 15 charges. This has a lot of positive and negative consequences.
For the positive, this continually growing number of charges means that levels can be larger and more complicated, since it’s pretty much guaranteed that players will be increasing this number. It also acts sort of like life gems did, since you have more charges to use and spend for new players who are struggling to learn how to deal with multiple enemies. I still think the game should have a better way to teach players to drop the lock-on feature in these situations but I’ve said that too many times in the past.
Increasing this number also feels good. It’s another way you’re growing in power. Leveling up. Increasing options. Health bar. Stamina bar. Better equipment. Killing enemies in fewer hits. More healing. It rewards exploration too since these items are precious, and there’s one shard in almost every area for you to find.
Toward the end of the game you get a ring that has a permanent slow life regen. This is SO SLOW that it’s not a viable option for me. But some players will use it as a way to stretch their estus charges. It’s not all that hidden either. It does come so late that I’m not sure how I feel about it. Rings aren’t like they are in Dark Souls 2 either—they can’t be broken. For the sake of argument let’s ignore it.
So this means that Dark Souls 3 has the purest healing system in the series when it comes to strictly limiting how much you can do. I’m sure there are some glitches to get around it. Or maybe there’s some method with magic for unlimited healing that I don’t know about. But for most players on their first time through, just like in the earlier games, this number is going to be how many mistakes you can make and recover from before you’re kicked back to the bonfire.
And I think that fifteen is simply too many for experienced players.
This is like having a kindled bonfire that follows you around like you owe it money. And for me this was a big problem because, while I agree that having more charges is necessary for the larger levels, there’s too many of them when the game switches from exploration to boss time.
With the exception of Nameless King, there wasn’t a single boss in this game that I had to sit down and really put effort into learning attack patterns and how to react to things. Because I had so much estus that I could get to the fog door with so much healing that it didn’t matter. I could make mistakes and play really greedy. A risky hit is worth it because I can heal. The boss can’t. So I can whittle them down while still putting some effort into avoiding damage, and still win with plenty of healing to spare.
The game also liberally grants you bonus charges while exploring. Some enemies seem to “drop” them, just like some enemies would randomly give you soft humanity in Dark Souls 1. So there’s even more healing given to you to keep you going. There weren’t many times I felt challenged enough to really learn the enemies of an area either because of this.
This is the same problem that Bloodborne had. And the only solution I can think of is one I’ve been saying for a while. The game needs a hard mode. Now I know a lot has been said about this series and difficulty options. Mark Brown over at Game Maker’s Toolkit did a good video on it. The game is meant to be about the experience—of the player beating overwhelming odds. That video was on whether the game should have an easy mode for new players. For me, the problem is more about series veterans.
The idea of a game having a specific experience for the player, and having difficulty modifiers to alter that experience, aren’t mutually exclusive in my mind. In fact I think they go hand-in-hand for players of different skill levels to be able to get the intended effect out of the game. The biggest problem is figuring out exactly what option is right for what player—you also have to consider people playing on a lower difficulty setting out of fear when they’d enjoy a higher one, and people playing on higher due to an inflated ego when they should be on a lower one.
Mark Brown’s video also highlights games that solve this issue by baking the difficulty options into the game, instead of a select screen. Now I think that the Soulsborne games could greatly benefit from a select screen for challenge runs after you’ve beaten it, but for first playthroughs I think that this seamless method is the best one.
And what’s tragically hilarious to me is that Dark Souls 1 already nailed this problem. Like, completely solved it. Non-issue. And Dark Souls 3 regresses from that.
You had to choose to kindle bonfires in the first game. It was a choice to save and spend humanity at every bonfire in order to have the same amount of estus from it, or to try each new area with the base amount and then throw in the towel and kindle the bonfire if you find that it’s too much for you. I had to kindle a few bonfires on my first playthrough—the one above the Blacksmith for both the Gargoyles, and Sen’s Fortress. The one in Undead Burg because I refused to leave the Black Knight alive and had to kill him before going to Taurus Demon. And the one before Ornstein and Smough.
I was pretty bad my first time through let me tell you. And it was a really cool moment when I replayed the game and didn’t have to kindle any of these bonfires again. This was the difficulty selection the game gave you for every level. And you had the chance to try to get through it before deciding whether to make it easier or not. Which tied in brilliantly with the scarcity of humanity, and that you might want to avoid wasting it on each new bonfire you come to.
And this choice is just gone in Dark Souls 3.
If I had been smarter, I would have realized that I could go to the blacksmith in Firelink Shrine and allocate my estus from healing to the ashen flask. But even if I had thought of this my first time through, is that really a good solution? I’m not convinced. I think choosing to kindle the bonfires works so much better. Unfortunately it does remove the exploration reward tied to finding shards but I really do think the game would have been stronger with this system.
Having said that, however, I can understand why the game gives you so much healing. And due to the prevalence of glitches during combat, it’s probably a good thing. Because that idea of “Whenever You Take Damage, It’s Your Fault” is less true in Dark Souls 3 than in any other game in the series.
I’ve gotten a few messages from people saying that the game borrowed too heavily from Bloodborne—that the combat is too fast. At first I didn’t agree with this. It felt about the same to me. But there are some enemies in the game that do attack a lot faster than others, and it took me a while—and a few playthroughs—to realize where this complaint was coming from. At least, I THINK I understand where it’s coming from.
Let’s look at that before we get to the glitches.
We can break down incoming damage on the player in a number of ways. The simplest one is whether the attack is a melee strike or a ranged one. Let’s focus on melee.
The first are standard attacks that you need to block or dodge. These start an animation that you can recognize, and then they come at you. A standard example—enemy raises a sword into the start of a swing. You dodge as soon as you realize that it’s coming.
The second version looks similar, but this time the animation starts and then has a build-up period. An example being, a sword is raised but the enemy holds that pose for a second or two, and then attacks afterward. You can’t dodge or block this immediately. It requires more precise timing on your part. If you dodge too soon then you’ll get hit.
Now these two categories also have two distinct variations. I’m hoping visuals will help with this because it’s sort of tricky to explain. The simplest way I can put it is that some attacks have a telegraph that you can react to AFTER the swing starts. Meaning that, you can wait until the enemy weapon is actually coming at you for the hit and THEN you can dodge. Whereas others have this warning animation that you need to time your dodge at the end of, because if you wait for the swing to start at the end of it then it’s too late. You’re going to get hit.
The giant enemy crab is a great example of this. He has this move where he rears up and starts to blow bubbles out of his mouth. This ends with a rapid snatch at you with his right claw. If you wait until the claw starts to move then you’re going to get grabbed. It happens too quickly for you to react to that movement. Instead you have to learn the timing and when you need to dodge during the bubble animation, so that you’re already moving before the claw grabs you. But you still can’t dodge too soon. It’s toward the end of the bubble warning.
Once you understand it, it’s straightforward, right? Some attacks you respond to instantly. Others you need learn a specific timing to avoid. There are also a lot more combo strikes in this game. Where an enemy will launch in a 3, 4, 5, or even more attacks in a row that you might need to react to instantly or wait for a precise time.
While this all fantastic in theory, there are many issues with this system in Dark Souls 3 that I can only see as sloppy refinement on FROM’s part. I can’t see the following problems being intentional.
The first is that some of these standard attacks that require a quick response from the player can trigger and deal damage faster than is reasonable for a player to notice and react to. The average reaction time is about a quarter of second for visuals. It’s a bit faster for sound. Translated into a game at 60 frames a second, that would be about 15 frames. Considering that the player is also tasked with recognizing what kind of attack is coming, I think that anything below this is on the verge of becoming unfair. This isn’t exactly science though, since the game is meant to be challenging.
I’m going to use Pontiff Sulyvahn for a lot of examples here. He’s one of my favorite bosses in the game so I don’t want to give the wrong impression that I think this guy is a shitty fight. He just happens to be the enemy I got the clearest amount of footage on to show these issues.
Let’s start out with this forward stab here. Even without slowing it down you can see how quick this attack is from beginning to damage. If we go through it frame by frame, you can see that it’s pretty hard to even determine when this attack starts. At the most generous position though, I clock this at 10 frames from the twitch on his arm to stabbing forward.
Secondly, there’s another attack that has him raising his other sword and then swiping it at the player. Again shown here, you can see that it’s fast even at normal speed. This one is also hard to pinpoint the start of since he’ll naturally stand up straight between attacks. When his sword is raised is the clearest moment and, from that frame to damage, is 12 frames.
What really puzzles me about these two attacks in particular is that these warning animations are used for other attacks that give you more time to react. And they are exactly the same, which sort of compounds the issue doesn’t it? Because the swings are so fast that you need to dodge these immediately if they’re the quick versions, but if you guess wrong and they’re delayed then you may end up dodging into damage.
Then there are third versions which also use the same animation that are so delayed that you have time to dodge the first time just in case, and then a second time after you realize you went too early.
The overhead slash seen here is actually a few seconds before he does it again at a much faster rate. In this version he holds the sword above his head in warning for longer than the second attack takes to complete entirely.
Here’s another instance of him doing it quickly again. And it’s the same timing as before. It’s like when the game chains attacks together it munches half of the animation so you have to just automatically assume that these attacks are coming and dodge preemptively. For that first stab example I showed, it looks like he skips right over the part where he’s meant to draw his arm back in warning.
This actually wouldn’t be so bad if there was some consistency to it. Like—the boss enters this rage slashing phase that you need to avoid. Unfortunately it’s random. Sometimes he won’t do the full combo. Sometimes he’ll pause if you go out of range during it and then resume it when you’re close again without any warning. This is also troublesome if you’re trying to weave in a counterattack, and you just have to play the guessing game of “is he actually done attacking yet” since he has infinite stamina to chain these together.
I do not think this type of thing is intentional. If it is, then I can’t say that it’s good. Having different timings tied to the same animation alone is worth reconsidering, nevermind whether or not those attacks start and finish in about a fifth of a second.
I think that this is one of the reasons why people say the combat is too fast. The other are those warnings that end in a sudden snap attack. I like these a lot—the giant crabs are one of my favorite enemy types—because you need to learn and recognize what kind of attack requires what dodge. But for your first encounter it can be frustrating to see this attack coming and the only way you can realistically learn when it is you need to dodge is by trial and error. Especially given that these types of attacks tend to do a lot of damage.
For the sake of strengthening this argument I want to show a few more of the examples I noticed of this type of “animation munching”–there’s probably a term for it that someone might comment below.
Here we have one of the hairy gaping dragon beasts in Irithyll. Seen here the monster darts away and then immediately completes the animation on an attack that comes at me very quickly. Then right after it shows what the telegraph is meant to look like on this attack.
Compare that sort of thing to the Nameless King, which is what I consider to be the toughest boss in the game, and you can see him do something similar. He darts away and then starts to attack immediately but here, this end-game boss, still has a telegraph tied to this attack despite them being woven together.
Oceiros does this a lot worse. He moves from a spinning attack into a charge that doesn’t even have any animation tied to it at all. It’s like he becomes a rogue hovercraft that instantly kills me.
Another example similar to this is possibly the worst moment I had in the game. This skeleton enemy hits me once on my shield and follows up with an attack so fast that I didn’t understand what happened until I slowed it down.
So this attack not only kills me through my shield, it also makes his entire body become active with damage. It’s not his weapon that kills me. It’s his skull? I think? The jumping slash he does through me occurs after I’m already dead. This is a very strange death.
The Prince Lothric fight has a teleport mechanic that I love a lot. It adds a cool twist to the fight and keeps you ready to have to change direction and dodge an attack. This almost always means a light appears and then the prince emerges from it with several different attacks that you need to react quickly too. But he has this one, shown here, when he appears from the air already in the attack animation. If you’re pro enough to notice his legs appearing then you have 4 whole frames to react before it hits you.
An answer to this might be to learn that if he has a delayed appearance from the teleport light then you need to dodge early, but I don’t think that’s a fair expectation considering his other attacks require a better timed dodge. I could be wrong on that though.
Other issues that I’m more certain are bugs involve hitboxes and unavoidable hits. We’ll be looking first at Champion Gundyr here which, once again, despite these problems is still a fantastic boss. It might be my favorite in the game because of how he can weave through so many different moves so quickly in a fair way that tests your reflexes. He’s highly aggressive about it all too and it feels like the most frantic battle in the game.
The first problem is here:
I dodge one of his attacks and he follows it up so quickly that I’m hit before the dodge completes. I’m not able to react to this second attack because my character isn’t finished reacting to the first one.
Somewhat similar is an issue carried over from Bloodborne. His joust charge into a swipe knockdown leaves you in a state that’s unrecoverable. You can’t roll away while on the floor. So before I regain control of my character he attacks again and kills me. I went back in and got hit by this again on purpose to test this and, in this second example, I am close to breaking the circle button my controller and I still can’t roll away. Funnily enough he killed me again here too.
This sort of thing shouldn’t be happening.
We can stay here on this fight for the beginning of the Hitbox Extravaganza section too. Which I know some people have just accepted about the series at this point. But just like I think Bethesda shouldn’t ship buggy games, FROM should be held to a higher standard. Especially since it feels like they’re getting worse with each game.
So here you can see his shoulder charge hits me from about a meter away after I dodged it. It’s like there’s single player lag.
Next up we have a demon goat that registers a hit on a grab attack from 90 degrees away and the game turns the enemy instantly in the space of one frame for it to connect.
We have a grime puddle that teleports from its straight, vertical fall to land on me mid-roll. Once again that’s an impressive one frame difference there.
The Pontiff Sulyvahn block starts here with a lot of examples. The first being the worst of all—his stab hits me here. Somehow. Yeah. This is the frame that damage was dealt.
Almost the same thing from another angle here. This time I’m teleported onto his sword and killed.
In this one it looks like the game decides this his arms are swords too. And also his sleeves should be part of the attack as well.
This one is a bit sneaky since it looks like it hit me, right? In reality this is the frame that deals damage, which then knocks me up to look like I was in the path of the sword. This one is really close though and I’m willing to say this is an acceptable level of hit detection—at least compared to the other stuff we’ll be seeing.
Something similar here. This hits my foot in a roll which somehow means I’m teleported onto his sword, impaled through the chest. This is an example of what should be a glancing strike or something instead. It should deal some damage. But not trigger a full hit or big grab.
Here, once again, his arms and sleeves become active for damage I guess. The sword is nowhere near me when this deals damage. Same goes for the next attack right after this. I’m comfortably under his purple blade but his arm sleeves deal full damage on this frame.
Some people might think this is nitpicky. But this sort of thing is important. You can see examples of this working as intended to see the potential of how good this can be. This armored knight hits the stairs really close to me and doesn’t deal damage even though the weapon nearly connected. It’s really strange that Pontiff can also do this so well that certain attacks that make your character duck can be used to avoid some of his horizontal strikes. It’s inconsistent.
On the flip side you have an attack that I try to do against this crab, but it happens to go through when it rears up for an attack of its own. My sword whiffs through the air because the hitboxes are so good. And the crab kills me.
Let’s go through a few more because I can already foresee the comments saying that Dark Souls 2 was worse.
Here we have the Dark Souls Tree. Its cursed arm is sticking out. Not only does this attack start and then deal damage in about 10 frames, it also misses me by about 2 handspans and still deals full damage.
Soul of Cinder starts his big combo, which you’re caught in if it deals any damage to you. I dodge and yeah… this example speaks for itself I think. That’s one of the worst ones.
Example number two shows how large the game thinks the sword’s hitbox is in more detail. I’m on the other side of him when he attacks with an upward slash. Yet here, when the sword is way above both of us, it thinks it hits my hand and launches me up faster than the sword.
And last but least, because this one is really funny, this snake with an axe on a chain throws it at me right before I make this roll. And the game has already decided it’s hit me to the point that the axe changes direction in mid-air to match my new position, and deals damage to me while it’s still in the air. Like six meters away from me. The axe doesn’t connect with me for another 10 frames or so.
Unfortunately we’re not finished with this sort of thing, because I want to hammer home the legitimacy of these issues by showing how broken this game is. And how it was rushed out before it was fully tested. I think it’ll help in proving that the weird animation issues are probably bugs instead of intended “features”.
So first we have the more tame graphical glitches. There’s constant pop-in for the environment that I don’t remember seeing in the other games. Sometimes it happened in Bloodborne when you first loaded an area. In Dark Souls 3 it happens all the time as you run around. I’m not sure if this will be visible on YouTube footage unfortunately. But if you’ve played the game you should know what I’m talking about.
There are missing textures. These blocks in the Catacombs are the best example. But there are also two sections of floor in the game that are just missing. One of these is part of a secret you drop down to get some hidden loot so yeah, it’s not like this is somewhere you’re not supposed to be.
Same goes for this bugged texture that gets warped and messed up every single time I respawn at this bonfire and slide down this ladder.
These issues are forgivable. But they should have been patched within weeks of release. They’re still in the game as of July.
The worst bug I encountered of all was clipping through the floor after being grabbed by the Klingon ogres. I couldn’t find a way out and ended up accidentally killing myself while trying. Nothing like this ever happened in the previous games.
There are weird things that happen too like Aldrich slithering half of his entire body into a wall during an attack so there’s no way to know when it’s coming at you.
This dog teleports from behind me to right next to me. He also ran through the wall once to get around me. Originally I was going to say that this area might be glitched but later on another dog does the same thing to get around my shield so my guess it’s just an issue with dogs in general.
This demon guy blocks one of my hits without having his shield up. Later on Oceiros just randomly becomes immune to one of my hits and doesn’t take damage even though the sword goes through his leg. Something similar happens to a wheel skeleton—becomes immune after I hit it. The more I look at this the more I think I must have triggered a knockdown here and it went invincible like some enemies do in that state. So this is probably an example of a poor animation tied to the knockdown rather than a bug.
You can see this sort of thing in other areas too. The jailers with their branding irons look really stupid sometimes with their attacks even though they’re legitimately hitting you. The issue here isn’t a hitbox one it’s that it looks wrong. Same goes for some grab attacks in the game. I don’t dodge this mimic’s grab but the game sort of thinks I do for a few frames here before deciding to teleport me back into its arms.
There’s more of this general sloppiness in some enemies. The game usually does a good job in making it so you can notice ambushes ahead of time. Especially on the little enemies that cling to walls. Yet there were two cases where the game just makes the enemies teleport out of thin air to ambush you instead. This one on the bridge is the more forgivable of the two. But these two jailers appear in this room after you leave it. This isn’t good for a game like this in my opinion. This has nothing to do with immersion either. It’s about rewarding perceptive players, and the fact that I noticed this happening twice makes me wonder if it happened other times too and I just didn’t catch it.
Another example of sloppiness is this enemy here. It looks like a normal undead and, while waiting for an attack, a whole other torso monster appears to grab me. Admittedly this is hilarious but not something that should be considered a good thing in a game about rewarding careful play.
Parrying suffers because of this too. Half the time I would still take damage even if the parry was successful. Bloodborne had this problem but the rally system solved it since you would regain any life you lost when you followed the parry with an attack. Here it’s damage you eat instead. I don’t know if my timings are ever so slightly off and that’s why I’m taking damage, but then I’d argue the parries shouldn’t be working at all.
What Bloodborne did improve however were backstabs. Dark Souls 3 is a half step back from this in my opinion. I criticized the first game for being inconsistent on recognizing when a backstab should go through. Bloodborne solves this by asking the player do a charged attack aimed at an enemy’s back, which then triggers a vulnerable state. The only issue I see with this is that it’s double dipping on damage since the charged attack by itself is a big hit, but it solved any of the ambiguity the game might have about whether or not the backstab should have triggered.
An attempt was made in Dark Souls 3 to have a very smooth transition from what appears like a normal attack into a backstab. At first I liked this solution but now I don’t. Because it has the same issue as before. First off, sometimes it just flat-out doesn’t work. The enemy is meant to be stunned into the animation if you get it right, which you can see on some of the examples here. The enemy goes rigid for the hit to complete.
Sometimes the enemy gets priority or immunity to this stun however. And you’re still locked into the attack because the game can’t decide what to do. Either way something is wrong here—either the game shouldn’t be stunning any enemies when this starts. Or it should be stunning all of them.
This is frustrating because sometimes the game will do the backstab attack when you don’t want it to. Or the backstab will miss when a normal attack would have landed instead. Sometimes I don’t think I’m even behind the enemy and the game goes through with a backstab. Othertimes I really am behind them and the game goes for a regular attack.
The system here is better than Dark Souls 1. But this issue was solved in Bloodborne as far as I’m concerned. Charge attacks are in Dark Souls 3. They don’t have the same visceral flourish, but you can hold down a strong attack for more damage in the same way. It confuses me that this wasn’t carried over from the previous game.
So that was a hell of a lot. It may have come across as excessive but I wanted to show just how many issues the game has that are mostly on the technical side of things—at least I assume so. It’s not a good thing that some of these haven’t been fixed yet, and I hope by the time that the last DLC pack is out that they will be. These examples came mostly from just two playthroughs and, although it was earlier on in the video, in a way it makes those extra healing charges a good thing. The game is looser when it comes to dealing damage to you.
Ideally these issues shouldn’t be in the game though. And I highly doubt the extra healing is there as a cushion—it’s probably a coincidence. I think a solution might be to make healing work differently for bosses. You could use the estus flask with all the shards you find while exploring levels like you usually do, but when you step through the boss’s fog door your charges are stripped down to a predetermined level. This could be increased with something close to kindling—weakening the fog door maybe to allow more estus charges to survive your trip through. Of course this isn’t quite as compelling as testing players to get from bonfire to fog gate with as much healing as possible, but my guess is that most players tend to run past a lot of the enemies after each death instead. They’re not cutting much out.
This is just a band-aid solution though. I’m sure that a better one exists.
I want to end this video on a positive note and, after that long list of problems, it may seem strange that I still regard the game so highly. This is something I tend to do—if I play a bad game I try to find some good in it. If I play a great game I try to find the flaws so it could be even better. Dark Souls 3 is in the second group. Despite the lackluster world layout, I’m still impressed by the level design. And that extends to the enemies in those levels. And most of the bosses at the end of them.
Each area has its own set of fodder and more dangerous monsters. While it is true that most of these are humanoids, that doesn’t bother me so much when their attacks are so varied. There’s a lot more variety in spells and ranged attacks coming at you. Or more hard hitting, threatening enemies that patrol around. Lothric has the knights that I would guess someone new to the series would have a lot of trouble with.
Undead Settlement has the spell casters with the sweeping staff attacks. As well as the rampaging giant guys that are immune to backstabs. They’re a lot different than the usual fodder undead you encounter, and this trend keeps going.
I already mentioned how much I like the giant crabs. The giant tree wielders are also really interesting—with AoE blasts and lots of magic projectiles being spawned with each attack.
The Catacombs have enemies that are acrobatic and attack with a lot of visual flair. Then there’s even more variety in the next areas with more aggressive spellcasters with fire, and fast hitting dual-wielders who are like mini Pontiffs. The floating spider monsters are visually cool even if they do die quickly. The jailers in the Dungeon get a lot of hate but they’re like this game’s version of the singing tumor heads in Bloodborne. They make it so you have to play in a different way. Although it would have probably been better if you recover your health as your bar reverts to normal, as long as you didn’t take any damage during the effect.
Now that I’m thinking about it I think the only enemy I had a problem with were the corrupted undead that explode into the writhing sludge snakes. They just… Look this is really subjective, but they look so stupid to me. They thrash randomly. It’s hard to tell which part of them is capable of dealing damage. Their heads clip through the walls and floor around them.
The first boss was also part of the disappointment for me at the beginning. It burst open into this thing and it honestly looks like a sock puppet to me. This isn’t scary or intimidating. It looks like a black sock that’s been stuffed with fluff and had red eyes sown onto it.
This isn’t a good fight for beginners because this version also thrashes around in a way that doesn’t make sense like a standard enemy does. Veterans are going to plow through this thing first try so this is mostly here as a welcome back to those players, and a learning experience for those who are new. And yeah, I don’t know. I think another boss could have worked better. Or hell the standard version of Gundyr who doesn’t attack as quickly.
Like the difficulty curve the game has, the bosses start out sort of bad and increase in quality as they get more difficult—or rather, they get more interesting. I only want to briefly go through them all or else the video will get too long:
Vordt is a better boss for new players but he also has a phase wherein he darts around like crazy. This is more understandable than the evil sock puppet though.
Some of the bosses feel like they’re missing a mechanic. Like another monster was meant to crawl out of the evil tree after you destroy the outside pustules. There should be something to avoid on Crystal Sage while you’re waiting around for the next version to spawn.
Deacons of the Deep should be the first phase of a more involved fight, although like I said earlier I have a soft spot for this even though I think I shouldn’t. There’s something satisfying about carving through so many enemies at once. And the game handles it really well for all the enemies that are on the screen.
Abyss Watchers has a more interesting phase one than phase two, since you can play parts of them against each other. Phase two feels like a weaker version of the Artorias fight. Although it is the first proper duel of many in the game.
High Lord Wolnir is like the evil tree—a cool concept that feels like something is missing. So much of this fight is time that you slash at his bracelets without anything trying to stop you. It’s kind of boring.
Old Demon King in Smouldering Lake is a lot more interesting. But many of his mechanics have the same solution: run away from him. Whether he’s spawning a circle of fire, or a storm of meteors, or a big fire blast around his body. It’s all the same thing really. I thought a cool idea for this boss would be to have it so he slowly regenerates his health if he goes for a few seconds without taking damage—a lot slower than the snake queen in Dark Souls 2 in her poison but still something. Just so there’s an incentive for the player to learn how to maximize the amount of time they can stay close to him and do damage before avoiding his moves.
Things get even more interesting with Pontiff Sulyvahn who, despite all my examples earlier, is still an excellent boss. He’s a duel with a lot of varied attacks that you need to be able to recognize. A lot like the later fights again Gundyr and Soul of Cinder. Halfway through he summons a spectral copy of himself and the fight turns into one of the most brilliant instances of a boss with multiple enemies, since both versions always mimic each other. So you can predict the moves that the real Sulyvahn will use after you avoid the first attack, and strike back accordingly. You can learn to use his empowerment to your advantage. It’s a really good concept and, although I still prefer Fume Knight overall, I really like this boss.
Aldrich continues the trend of more interesting encounters. He has a few moves that he cycles through and can chain together. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to hug close to him and attack the whole time, so you need to learn to run away from arrows and roll from some of his spells. His melee swings are really strange, and I do wonder if he might have been better suited to a different boss arena rather than reusing Ornstein and Smough’s. Maybe something more open like the arena you fight Soul of Cinder in. But I still enjoyed this fight.
Yhorm is a step back from the last two but is still fun. I killed him with my normal sword on my first run because I originally thought I was going to knock him into some sort of vulnerable state if I hit him enough. After a while I realized I was wrong and that I was missing some trick to it but I was stubborn enough to just keep going and killed him. His attacks are very predictable, probably because the fight needs to be beatable by all builds—including those who aren’t familiar with using great swords. You use the storm ruler from Demon’s Souls that is conveniently kept in the same room as the giant you’re meant to kill it with. I wonder if this was the original intention or, just like how this area feels so short and unfinished, that it was slapped together when FROM ran out of time to make the game.
It would have been more interesting to have the boss here that you COULD fight early on, but have another, larger area to explore with the sword at the end. And maybe a few monsters to fight with it so you have a chance to learn how it works. Either way, it’s okay. More of a puzzle than a boss.
Dancer is next and I really like this fight. The way she attacks is distinctly different than the other bosses in the game—slower, smoother motions. I found this difficult to dodge at first and, although I managed to get through it thanks to all the healing the game gave me, this is a fight that I’d like to spend the time to learn how to do properly. I like how a relatively small change makes it so you have to play so differently.
The end set of bosses are also great. The Dragonslayer Armor is quite aggressive, but fairly easy to avoid. This helps make the fight fair since you have to keep track of the weird dragon things in the sky—they pelt ranged attacks at you with a generous warning. This isn’t the most challenging boss in the game but it is interesting enough that I like it a lot.
The two princes are just as interesting but also bring a challenging fight along with them. I can never decide which boss mechanic I like the most in this game, but the prince’s teleport, while seemingly simple, is one that I find really engaging. It’s adds a little more depth to how you have to recognize where the boss is and what attack he’s doing. It also has a second phase so you need to get confident at dodging him when you have some new spells to deal with at the same time. It’s like the Dancer—a relatively small tweak that ends up changing a lot.
For two bosses that aren’t so great, we have Oceiros and the Ancient Wyvern. Oceiros is like a bad Bloodborne boss. Lots of flailing. Lots of rampaging. Pretty easy to dodge. I know some people don’t like it when I dismiss a boss because I don’t find it appealing but that’s all I can do here. There are regular enemies in the game that have more going for them than this guy in my opinion.
Likewise, Ancient Wyvern is an okay idea. I just didn’t find it all that interesting or fun. This is a puzzle boss. You have to avoid him and run around to do a plunging attack instead, which strangely kills him outright. There are enough bosses in the game that I don’t mind that this is one of them. If the others weren’t so great however I’d probably dislike this one more.
The final three are up there in my opinion as some of the best fights in the series. We have the rematch with a more difficult Gundyr, the final boss Soul of Cinder. And arguably the real final boss The Nameless King.
I think I spoke enough about Gundyr already so I don’t want to repeat myself—I’ll just say again that it’s one of the best standard duels in the series. Unfortunately it’s another instance of repetition with Dark Souls 1. This level is another version of the starting area, with a rematch against the first boss who is now much more difficult. Just like your return to the Asylum to fight another Demon. It’s not strictly a bad thing but worth pointing out.
After thinking about it for a while I’m comfortable saying that Soul of Cinder is the best final fight in any of the Soulsborne games—when we’re looking at the base versions without any DLC. It’s quite literally a better version of Gwyn, since you fight him again at the end after beating the first phase.
Not only does this fight have a lot of different mechanics for you to learn—with the boss moving from different melee and magic builds—it also ties into one of the core themes that the bosses have in the game. It’s also the most challenging final boss in my opinion. Two phases means it’s a longer fight. And the different movesets make it more complicated.
So it’s pretty clear that this is meant to be the Chosen Undead from Dark Souls 1. I think it’s more than that though—it’s a few of the Chosen Undead. A bunch that completed the cycle, relit the first flame, and were then absorbed by whatever entity was brought into existence that took over Gwyn. The multiple builds are multiple chosen undead joined with that. It’s Captain Planet.
If you look back you can see that a lot of the bosses are this merging of entities. There are multiple things that comprise the boss. Some have symbiotic relationships and it’s not always clear what’s the parasite and what’s the host. The first boss starts this. The tree is similarly infested with something. Crystal Sage splits into copies. Deacons of the Deep is some sort of supernatural, infinite clergy. Abyss Watchers are the same sort of thing—and it’s the combined energy of all of them that you fight at the end.
Aldrich has infested the corpse of a boss from Dark Souls 1 and wields him like a puppet. Dragonslayer Armor has some sort of tie to the nerve dragons since they die along with him—considering that the boss is called Armor probably means these monsters are controlling it and not the other way around. I’m not sure.
The Princes are linked in the same way and join as one thing in phase 2. And a weaker example of this would be the additional copy that Pontiff summons of himself.
Not every boss fits this theme. But most of them do. And I think it’s intentional. Like most things in the series I don’t think it carries any deep meaning or message. But it’s interesting that the bosses adhere to some sort of common theme.
Nameless King is no different. I said this boss could be considered to be the true final fight because getting to this area is the most convoluted thing ever put in the series. I also think this is intentional—it’s meant to be something that almost every player will miss, so they have an added surprise to return to the game after they’re finished and look up some things online. It’s meant to be something you do after beating Soul of Cinder. The original intention might have been to go here earlier on to get the Storm Ruler to beat Yhorm though, since it’s a much better thematic fit than having the sword just hanging out in the giant’s throne room.
This fight is another epic duel. It starts out with Nameless King riding on this storm crow beast. Some people say this is a dragon but I don’t see it. Either way, this first phase is okay. It’s a little awkward because it can be difficult to tell where the bird’s head is at times—and whether it’s in range of your attacks. It’s a slight expansion on the lesson taught to you by Ancient Wyvern before this—attack the head because it’s a weakspot.
Phase two is more interesting. The bird dies. Nameless King absorbs its power and body into itself. Fused together, he’s now more powerful. I found this fight to be very difficult and it’s one of a few in the series that I couldn’t do purely by dodging. I had to use a shield as a back up for when I messed up some of the timings. I think I can pull it off eventually though. Hopefully when I do another runthrough with the DLC.
Like Gundyr and Soul of Cinder, there are quite a few moves to learn here. And having to beat the first phase before you get a chance to see it means that there’s more tension for you to make the most of each attempt since you need to beat the storm crow again every time you die.
He moves around more than some of the other bosses—jumping into the air and darting away for more sweeping attacks. Some bosses have had issues with this sort of thing in regards to the camera in the past. I didn’t have any of those problems here, so this fight was enjoyable even though it was very challenging. I know people usually have a different boss in each game that they find easy or difficult, so I know this won’t be the choice for everyone. But it was for me, and I like that it also happened to be the final part of the game.
And although I have a lot more things I could say, I think we’re going to call it here. This video was longer than I thought it would be. I’m saying that a lot lately and it’s becoming frustrating. When I have a lot of thoughts on a game they tend to get tangled together and it’s difficult for me to separate them into more condensed videos.
I’m saving some points for a commentary playthrough of the game like I did for Bloodborne. I’ll do that sometime in the future, but it’ll be long after the DLC is out. I’m hoping to do some smaller videos on each new content update that FROM releases, and then a larger review of the finished game later on.
The biggest problem Dark Souls 3 has is that it was rushed to release. It doesn’t feel like an early access title. But it doesn’t feel finished either. I’d say the second biggest problem is it’s easier difficulty for players who have put a lot of time in the series. And the largest personal problem I have with it is that there wasn’t an interconnected world to explore. And that I had to keep teleporting back to Firelink Shrine to level up. Instead of being able to do it at every bonfire. Seriously Dark Souls 1 did so much of this right and the sequels keep rolling things back to something that’s worse.
I play these games for world and level design, the combat, the bosses, and the difficulty. And Dark Souls 3 delivers some of the best experiences of some of these, even if it does fall short on some others. I have to admit that at this point I’ve given up on the idea of there ever being another Souls game with the world design of Dark Souls 1. I guess another series will have to do something like it instead.
Time will tell where the full version of the game will land on the spectrum of the series. For the base games though, it’s a contender for the top spot. I don’t play these games for the lore and story however, so it’s worth saying that it may not hold up as well in that area for a lot of players. For me it was just as much vague background noise as ever. And I like that. It means I don’t get interrupted from enjoying the rest of the game.
Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next time.