Flames they are 'a-Fading - Dark Souls RE vs 3


#1

Being able to dedicate the last 60 hours of gaming time to 2 very different gimmick builds in Dark Souls Remastered and then 4 hours to Dark Souls 3 right after made me realize how much 3 revels in From’s worst design choices and the worst attitudes capital G gamers have towards the Souls moniker.

Dark Souls 3 turns every encounter into the Artorias fight; that being a fast, twitchy and almost discordant array of unpredictable swipes and slashes. Dark Souls combat falls into an extremely particular niche, it requires the player consider simple attack patterns that are slow enough to observe yet threatening enough to require the player avoid them and keep their distance all while making attempts to enter different ranges that trigger different patterns and behaviors. This all sounds very entry-level in terms of game design, establish patterns that players are rewarded for exploiting but what happens when there aren’t any patterns… what happens when attacks are too fast to dodge or behaviors are too erratic to be even identified? You are left with the antithesis of Dark Souls 1’s design. I don’t want this post to sound like the persecution of Dark Souls 3, I do feel that it does have strong elements, for example it’s level design aesthetically and spatially is far improved over Dark Souls 2.

Other design nitpicks I have deal with how Dark Souls 3 prioritizes Dark Souls 2’s difficulty adjustments based on bonfires over estus in stark contrast to Dark Souls 1’s adjustable estus and limited bonfires. I think Dark Souls 3 fails 2’s design philosophy by incorporating Dark Souls 1 style shortcuts into a game that already has bonfires a-plenty, it digs deep into the game’s pacing and makes levels far longer and more horizontal than the need to actually be. Dark Souls 3 errs more towards Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne when its levels get their widest and, personal opinion ahoy, I think that’s unfortunate.

My last disagreement I have with Dark Souls 3’s design is how it treads backwards into Demon’s Souls upgrade systems. On top of reintroducing Demon’s upgrade complexity back into the fray, these upgrades are ridiculously expensive to boot and are a slog to obtain.

I am curious if anyone here agrees with me or has their own opinions on Miyazaki’s shift in design focus after Bloodborne to character action-style combat.


#2

While I will say there are identifiable attack patterns in DS3, From undoubtedly shifted the pacing pretty significantly after Bloodborne’s success towards a kind of abrasiveness that… doesn’t feel great for Souls, especially with how much 3 calls back to DS1 so overtly. Despite Soulsborne being an umbrella term of its own, BB is a distinct entity with a different tone and texture from DS, and i never jived with how they tried to fold a lot of BB’s pace DS3.

Honestly, DS3’s whole philosophy seems to wipe away a lot of the nuance of DS1’s theming in favour of being more of what’s expected from its reputation as a story of nihilism and game of difficulty, both of which are actually antithetical to what makes DS1 stand out. Between the more nihilistic story and a gameplay loop that leans more mean-spirited than anything else, there’s this sense that DS has been eclipsed by the many cultural problems in gaming that came to define much of its reputation.

I know a lot of people like the shift towards forced aggressive playstyles, but i dunno, DS1 felt like it founded a lot of new ways to present nonlinearity, creativity and organic difficulty that’s been made only more obtuse and de-emphasized since, and i don’t think it’s a coincidence that the fandom’s perpetuated the “right way to play” nonsense even more aggressively as time’s gone on.


#3

I whole-hardheartedly agree that Dark Souls 3’s direction is largely to do with BB’s success with the mainstream (which is baffling by the way). From took a lot of the “hehe hard video games are very hard and difficulty is epic” to heart and kept pumping that feedback and notoriety into making these games “more difficult” when in reality, its just making them more tedious and unfair as a result. Combat pacing is equally as important as “perceived difficulty” and threat when it comes to making combat challenging yet engaging, the reward is solely up to the player themselves and how they internalize that engagement yada-yada hokey spiel about how much I love Dark Souls 1. Nihilism has too sides to it in fiction, the lack of reason and feeling and the drive towards purpose that lack of purpose creates. Dark Souls 3 is intended as a huge send off to what was already known to be a cyclical narrative about an inevitable entropy however it just comes across as a teenager who really likes Tool got a hold of a Nietzsche study primer and went to town on some notepad paper. It’s a bummer too because I am super curious to see From handle this kind of cycle resolution well or in a different direction.


#4

I enjoyed many of the bosses in Dark Souls 3, but I still sort of agree with you. I don’t like that most of them have two phases, where the second one is often straight up annoying. “Oh, you got this far, but how about this!!” I’m sure many players like this but I think it mainly disrupts the flow, and adds annoyments for the sake of difficulty.

One example is Dragonslayer Armour, with the weird blood balls from the sky, that aren’t that dangerous, but they completely ruin what is a good, tense duel, forcing the player to run around and periodically fall over.

Bloodborne did this a bit too, sometimes perfectly (Father Gascoigne) sometimes less so (Orphan). That game had sense to make bosses with many subtle phases too, like Amelia. Maybe DS3 does this too, I can’t remember. I’m in favour of boss fights evolving, new attacks appearing, but not a complete shift. Like Nameless King where the first phase is the worst boss fight in Souls history.

I realise now you are not necessarily talking about boss fights. Now I agree even more. Regular enemies are terrible in DS3 in a way they aren’t in the others. And the souls community is a broken record, but I really think it’s because of the lack of poise. Which they probably turned off just to make it more difficult for difficulty’s sake.


#5

You brought up a great point that I forgot to even mention, those boss fights are rough! I am not particularly too fond of games that employ multi-phase boss fights in an attempt to raise the difficulty and DS3 does this for what seems like the majority of bosses. It feels cheap and just downright nasty when the game suddenly doesn’t have to play by it’s own rules.


#6

I haven’t played DS3 for a while, but I remember DS2 also feeling really cheap in just throwing a load of enemies at you at once, where even if there were individual patterns there was no way to actively engage with them without being cheesy (either pulling an individual at once, using a shield to absorb multiple attacks etc).

Another issue is that the flurry of attacks works in BB because you have an equally good way to counter it, if you can react quickly enough you can regain 70-90% of the health lost by counter-attacking.

Without that mechanism in the DS games, the flurry of (often chip damage) just feels cheap


#7

Why would a Japanese company take an incredibly Western sentiment and run with it? I see this all the time and it makes no sense. I think people forget that Dark Souls are character action games and so whenever From tried to do things more in line with that genre (see: DS3 where they heavily nerfed turtling) people saw it as a betrayal of some made-up ethos of the series that they had decided on.


#8

The Artorias fight is anything but unpredictable and discordant. On the contrary, that fight was the first time I really felt like I was forced to learn the nuances of DS1’s combat and really concentrate on using everything I had learned up to that point. It was a huge struggle but by the time I finally beat him I was dodging and striking in what felt like a deadly duel with someone who had all my skills but was better at using them. It’s one of my favorite boss fights of all time and the way that DS3 takes that and runs with it in many different directions is very good, actually.

It’s fine if you don’t like the increased speed and aggression in DS3 but there absolutely are patterns, and they are not “too erratic to be identified,” the enemies just have a larger number of more complex behaviors and are faster and more aggressive. The enemy design and animation in DS3 is some of the very best I have ever seen in a character action game and as someone who has also been playing DS:Remastered there is so much more depth and lasting challenge to the combat in DS3 because of this. It is not just aesthetic, the animations are incredibly well-tuned, such that you almost always have enough time to dodge or block at the last moment, whether it’s finding an opening in a barrage of attacks or staying nimble with your own attacks by dancing around your opponent. This also makes different builds more interesting and helps avoid the whole problem in DS1 where a strength build can just oneshot or stunlock pretty much anything as soon as you can use a zweihander or great club.

This may be beside your point but this also carries over to PVP, which is way more like a fighting game, with actual room for a back and forth or upsets and comebacks in DS3, due to the better animations, more balanced weapons, and lack of dominant overpowered strategies. I was surprised by how miserable the PVP in DS:Remastered was in comparison.


#9

Every ethos is “made-up” and none of us know what the internal ethos actually was, we can just guess based off of interviews what the intent of each game was, and “make up” our own based on what we see in the work. Just because you can classify Dark Souls as a character-action game doesn’t mean people can’t take issue with the diversity in playstyles being pared down.`Even if it’s done with knowledgable intent, what the result of that intent is can still be taken issue with, i.e, DS3 is more aggressive and player-apathetic/antipathetic, tying into its more direct nihilism, but IMO that makes for a far more cliche & meandering dark-fantasy take than the mix of fatalism and existentialism the first game (that DS3 keeps calling back to) represented. That doesn’t mean they should have had the same story & themes again, just that the direction they evolved in can be seen as contestable, or in my case just kinda bland and underwhelming.

None of us can know how much From is truly influenced by their fanbase, but for one, Japanese developers can listen to Western players, especially when a huge part of their base is in there, for another, abrasive exclusionary difficulty is not an exclusively western concept, and for another another, the arc of balance across the sequels tracks pretty well with the growing sentiments amongst the fanbase. I wouldn’t say it’s totally unreasonable to believe its reputation (so well known there’s an edition of the first game that references it) had some kind of influence on the series.

edit: Like the OP says, this isn’t a straight-up condemnation of DS3, but with Remastered putting DS1 on the same platform and putting the series in the limelight again, there’s a lot of things that still make DS1 feel so unique that are either not present or drastically undermined in 3 by making it more of an apocalyptic character-action game than a contemplative action RPG.


#10

For me the folding in of Bloodborne’s distinctive elements into DS3 goes beyond the aggressive pacing and twitchy boss design. They’re clearly using some variation of the Bloodborne engine and lot of its art assets, and the result is a Dark Souls game that looks like it’s trying too hard to look edgy. The feedback on the strikes is super punchy; the art design is exaggerated and therefore fantastical, it’s all a bit much.

I can pretty comfortably call DS3 a Fantasy RPG, inasmuch as genre classifications still convey any meaning. Demons’ and Dark Souls share a lot of the same elements but the way that engine rendered architecture and the understated designs of the enemies gave them a verisimilitude that DS3 just lacks.


#11

This is a common misconception, there isn’t actually much in the way of reused assets in DS3 aside from a few pieces of special effects work and some sounds. There are a lot of visual similarities though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they re-purposed cut content from Bloodborne for some parts of DS3. DS3 was in development at the same time as BB, by the DS2 team, so I’m sure there was crossover between personnel and sharing of ideas.

The more extreme aesthetic and tone is something I actually like about DS3. It’s about the end of the end of the world, the final desperate last gasp of life before death in a world that has been kept alive far beyond its natural end point. The exaggerated horror of the enemies and more stylized decay of the environments worked toward that really well, I thought. Almost everything in the game works towards expressing these themes! I also disagree that DS3 is nihilistic, though I can see why it would be interpreted that way. To me it’s about finding beauty and acceptance and peace in embracing death as something that inevitably must happen.

Do you mean that the more elaborate architecture and focus on crumbling cathedrals and castles in DS3 felt more High Fantasy to you than the sort of massive Romanesque brutalism of DS1 and Demons Souls? I guess with the more advanced technology available for DS3 they could put in more geometric density and detail, whereas in DS1/DeS the engine limitations forced them to make massive looming sheer walls and such. The verticality and recursive nature of those game’s worlds also contributed to that I think. DS3 definitely keeps you a little more at arms length with regards to its scale, since the different areas you can almost always see in the distance are functionally pretty separate from each other.

Yeah I getcha. I’ve felt some similar things playing Remastered, and for all the things I love about the gameplay, aesthetic, and tonal changes in DS3, it does lack a lot of the quieter moments and atmosphere of DS1. For example, in DS1 there are a lot of really interesting liminal spaces that basically only exist to connect areas back to other ones in interesting ways, and serve to make the world feel larger and more real and enveloping. A lot of these spaces barely even have enemies in them! Being able to warp right away and the less dense, less vertical structure of the overall game world means those sorts of areas are mostly gone in DS3, in favor of the individual levels themselves being larger, denser and more varied. Which is an interesting tradeoff to me but I get why people who loved the atmosphere of the first game might be a little disappointed.


#12

Japanese companies take into consideration western ideals, design philosophies and tastes when making games, this is global market and From was technically partnered with Namco Bandai at the time, who would do this even further as they have an even greater western presence. Character action is a very loosely defined genre and I see it thrown around frequently. CA is, I feel, defined by specific design approaches that reinterpret 2D beat 'em ups into 3D. Dark Souls is an action RPG that has some flavorings of CA but those flavorings do not ultimately change its entire genre. If you like the character action elements of these games, that’s absolutely fine. however, I think these elements are often the franchise’s weakest because they’re the least congruous and are poorly executed more often than not.


#13

There was a very clean split with the Souls audience after 2, some people latched onto the more aggressive combat while others didn’t. By no means do I want to sound like I dislike the Artorias fight, my problems lie with how Artorias was the herald of this shift in design. There are still patterns to be identified I fully agree, I feel that the larger array of combat actions on the enemies part can result in AI behaviors that are more in line with BB, pushing you to act more aggressively and force them to break out of that chain. I think that some animation priority in DS3 makes this a fools errand at times but still. I’m enjoying my time with DS3 even if I came off as very standoffish towards it and I can completely see why people love this game, my heart just lies with 1’s approach just as a matter of personal opinion and having them on the same platform makes for a very interesting contrast.


#14

Thank you for clarifying, I think I somewhat misinterpreted what you said. I actually feel kind of similarly toward Dark Souls 2, where much of the animation just feels off to me in that game so it can lead to a lot of frustration when I die due to some perceived problem with the responsiveness or unfair enemy design. In reality, that game isn’t unresponsive at all and is mostly fair, it just has weird animations that make it feel worse than it actually is. I think it’s definitely interesting to compare how the series has evolved, since the core gameplay verbs and controls are pretty much exactly the same but the way each game uses them can be pretty different.

Another thing is that since I’m playing on PC, they’ve always been on the same platform for me, so I didn’t really consider that angle of your opinion. If you’re on console, do you think having the 60FPS in Remastered makes DS3’s fast combat feel rougher to play in comparison? I know going from 60FPS in DS3 to 30 in Bloodborne was pretty rough at first for me, since the higher framerate feels so much smoother and more responsive regardless of whether it actually improves the controls’ response or not.


#15

I absolutely do think the 60 in DS RE is a huge boon for that game and hurts DS3 by comparison. What actually hurts DS3 though is the PS4 Pro’s unlocked frame-rate leading to a decent amount of hitching and frame inconsistencies.


#16

I played Dark Souls 3 before I had a PS4, and so I hadn’t played Bloodborne at all at the time. The difference from Dark Souls 1 and 2 was striking, and the combat never really clicked for me in the way that it did with those games. For that and what they chose to do with the story it made Dark Souls 3 easily my biggest gaming disappointment that year.

I’ve played it again several times since and I enjoy it more than I did the first time, but it’s still my least favorite of the Souls games. They made the enemies fast and aggressive like in Bloodborne, but you still have a Dark Souls protagonist so there’s no quickstep, ranged parry, or rally system like Bloodborne uses to help mitigate that aggressiveness. If you’re used to the way DS1 and 2 did it it feels like you don’t have the tools to deal with how quickly everything moves. I think someone going into DS3 fresh and new may have an advantage in this respect even, since they wouldn’t have expectations.


#17

I’ve been playing the DS series since Demon’s Souls came out, and I’ve beaten Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls 2. I’ve been playing Dark Souls 3 for the first time, and I’ve not been more frustrated by the bosses in a DS game than I have with those in DS3. I’ve enjoyed several fights, and I’m actually loving the final boss fight, but many like the Dancer, Pontiff, Sister Friede’s second and third forms, the Abyss Watchers, and Aldrich were completely overwhelming. I threw myself at these bosses 50 to 100 times each before acquiescing and summoning whomever would help so I could just move on. Make no mistake, there were a few bosses in DS2 that were equally frustrating, but I felt like I needed to ‘give up’ much more consistently in DS3.

To the OP’s point, I feel that a lot of this trouble comes from the speed and variety of movement from many of these bosses (Dancer’s, Abyss Watchers, Pontiff, lookin at you shitheads). I do agree that this speaks to intelligent enemy design, but I never felt like I was fully equipped to respond to everything as it happened. I’m wholly uninterested in taking this into a character build discussion, but suffice to say I used Rosaria’s Fingers to respec FIVE times just to be sure it wasn’t my fault that I was having this trouble at this level.

I was also frustrated by the bonfire placement before bonfires. It wasn’t just kinda tough, it was often outright clear that it was meant to be frustrating. Even when I’d figure out how I could sprint by the three knights before the Dragonslayer Armor fight, or the route through the goat people that required the least conflict before the Abyss Watchers fight, it was still terribly time consuming given how often I needed to repeat these fights. I love Dark Souls’ gameplay, its world, and character building, but fuck me if the DS series doesn’t give a motherfuck about the player’s time. I just don’t have the patience for all of this dickery anymore, and it’s to the point that I consider it flagrantly bad game design.

It wouldn’t be so rough if the loading times weren’t unnecessarily long (I have this game installed on my OS SSD), but man does that not help at all. Death means something in DS3, not because I lost a bunch of souls, but because I could spend 3 hours trying to beat a single boss and half of that time is the collected time spent loading between deaths and then running to the fight again.

DS3 is a very long game. I’m at SL80~ and around 70 hours played, and I just don’t have it in me to go play the Ringed City DLC. The further I got into this game, the less personal satisfaction I got out of beating bosses, and the more elation I felt knowing I was that much closer to finishing this game.


#18

I’ve not played DS3 yet, although I’ve gotten all achievements/trophies for Demons, DS1, and DS2. Well, I would have gotten all the trophies in Demons’ if my PS3 hard drive hadn’t died before I could craft the final weapons… but I digress.

The Souls series feels like it has that Mario Kart phenomenon where your first is always your favorite and everyone dislikes the tweaks after that. I’ve heard staunch defenses that Demons and DS were the best, but declining returns ever since those two.

First, I don’t think “git gud” is necessarily a totally western philosophy. You heard it in bits and pieces from other Japanese devs over the years, like Itagaki and the notorious “difficulty” of Ninja Gaiden. Eastern devs, much like us, cut our teeth on a different game design mentality and it’s neither surprising nor unexpected that some would want to recreate that kind of experience in modern games. They might not be as confrontational (read: shitty) about it, but there are plenty of games from Japanese developers that are unforgiving and don’t make any sort of conceits for it.


#19

I don’t have much to add here, other than that no DS boss has made me as furious as Pontiff. The moment I finally killed that bastard was a quintessential “NO NO NO NO NO YEEEEEEESSSSSSSS!!!” moment.


#20

I have yet to get to DS3 in my write up thingy but my main thesis is that it is almost the greatest game ever and the gap between actually being the greatest and almost being it is very wide.

I’d still take it over 2 though as at least it had the good sense to end and I like a lot of the boss fights a whole bunch. The Tree being a really interesting take on the series puzzle boss fight and Pontiff being a really fun fight in the arotorias mold