You’re all being really dumb about Dark Souls 3. “Oh no! Not my precious ‘Souls’ games! Please don’t turn them into the next Assassin’s Creed - yearly churned out stale on arrival sequels that offer little new with every installment! Stop making them, despite them being literally the only title that makes FROM Software money.”
Shut up. The problem with Assassin’s Creed isn’t entirely down to the fact that it is yearly. The problem with Assassin’s Creed is that it is a game that has a really quite pants core gameplay mechanic that they haven’t changed in what seems like a thousand games now. Call of Duty comes out every year, and although it takes a while for that series to make huge leaps forward in terms of the gameplay it provides, it’s a solid amount of fun at its core and therefore, every iteration is at the very least a good laugh and an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. Dark Souls has the advantage here of being - at its core - one of the best videogames ever made. We all know how mechanically sound Dark Souls is. That doesn’t need to change. If it did, it wouldn’t be Dark Souls. The gameplay is a huge part of the experience.
Dark Souls 2 got an unfair amount of shit for basically not being the new best game ever made. It was Obafemi Martins, stepping into the Newcastle number 9 shirt the season after Alan Shearer retired. Sure, it wasn’t a patch on what came before, but look, it still scores goals and this cunt can do backflips. That’s pretty cool. The gameplay at the heart of Dark Souls 2 is still brilliant, only the worldbuilding, level design and some of the bosses were weak - all three being areas where the original game really shone. A lot of the blame for this was aimed at Yui Tanimura, who directed the game while Hidetaka Miyazaki worked on Bloodborne.
In an interview for the Dark Souls 2 Design Works book, Tanimura indicated that Dark Souls 2 had quite a challenging developmental process, including basically being started from scratch at one point, with surviving assets being repurposed to fulfil now radically different roles in this ‘new’ game. We all saw the original lighting engine and heard the promise that having to light your way using a torch carried from a bonfire and we all played a game that simply didn’t have those things in it (and in the case of the torch thing, I’m convinced was removed as they approached the 11th hour because, frankly, it wasn’t a very good idea.) In fact, based on what has been said about Dark Souls 2’s development, it is a pretty amazing achievement that a game even approaching the quality of the first game came out of the process.
So, the game ships and a few months later three DLC packs are released and they’re a bit of a revelation. At the first opportunity Tanimura has to put his stamp on something Dark Souls, rather than piece something together from broken parts, he delivers some of the finest levels in the entire series. Brume Tower, with its verticality and devious enemy placement stands alongside Sen’s Fortress and The Duke’s Archives in terms of the kind of fantastic level design you associate with the series’ finest moments. Then there’s the Flume Knight - a giant dual-sword wielding bastard that brings to mind the fantastic scrap with Artorias in the Dark Souls DLC. When he’s not salvaging a project, Tanimura proves that he has some impressive design chops.
Let’s not forget, masterpiece it may be, but Dark Souls features a few sections towards the end of the game that are very much unfinished. The Design Works book for the original game states that the entire Lost Izalith area, which is terminally dull, was created towards the end of development and rushed. It’s summed up best by the boss - the Bed of Chaos - which feels like a half-baked ‘puzzle boss’ idea that just isn’t very good, but they didn’t have time to cut it or change it and we’re left with one of the lowest points of the game. Miyazaki even publically apologised for how poor this section is. Then, there’s the infamous Blighttown framerate, which is downright shocking to anyone heading down there for the first time. FROM were nowhere near the company they are right now and obviously at this point the clock was ticking on release, which is likely something they are now in a position to be more relaxed about, given all their filthy Bloodborne dollars.
Of course, there is the big issue that Dark Souls 3 won’t be bringing anything new to the table. There’s no longer any surprise to any of the content. You know what you’re getting. That seems to be the general consensus coming out of the recent network test and public demos and that’s something that just doesn’t sit right with me at all. First of all, the demo is likely a section of the game that is the most instant and familiar, so it doesn’t instantly turn show floor rando off. The systems we’ve seen - Estus, Humanity etc - appear to be stuff we’ve seen before but again, who knows what new stuff they’re going to bring to the table in terms of Covenants, those ‘weapon arts’ and perhaps totally new ideas altogether? Dark Souls 2 started to explore some really interesting PVP stuff and I’m interested to see if they take that further. Who knows what bosses hide in areas we haven’t seen yet? Yes, the core gameplay might be familiar, but the chance to test my skills in all new locations and against all new bosses? Sign me up.
Dark Souls 3 is being made by a company who have had a lot of recent success in terms of sales and critical opinion. They don’t need to rush this game. Their talismanic leader is onboard for this title and he’s working alongside a director who eventually proved has an eye for what makes a damn good bit of Dark Souls. This is likely to be the most complete Souls game, one made without developmental issues plaguing the project, time restraints and, of course, without Miyazaki overseeing the whole thing. The first one to actually be properly finished. That’s something to be excited about, not just dismissing as more of the same. Sometimes, a new spin on a reliable formula can be pretty good!