Delving into Dark Souls III | Games, Gamers, & Gaming, May 15, 2016

Dark-Souls-III-21.jpg52316There have always been games of all kinds that legitimately challenge a player’s skill. But the norm was for video games to be a shared experience, one that told a meaningful story and was approachable to a wide variety of audiences.

Then Demons’ Souls came along. An early Playstation 3 title, its claim to fame was its insane difficulty. The game itself wasn’t very successful, but it garnered a cult following large enough that the developer, From Software, went ahead with a spiritual successor, Dark Souls, that was more refined, better balanced, and sported a cleaner design.

From a rough formula established in Demons’ Souls, in Dark Souls From Software delivered a fully realized way for players to interact with one another: leaving messages on the ground, warning players of challenges ahead, or offering themselves to be summoned to help someone else past a tough level or boss. Bosses don’t appear too frequently, but they are heavy-hitting walls of armor and muscle that can take a ridiculous amount of punishment. Gamers could also “invade” another player’s game, with awards going to the victor. It was a new way of looking at both cooperative and competitive play.

A sequel followed, and this year saw the release of the final entry in the series. It’s the best so far and is essential even for inexperienced players.

From ember to ash

The lore of the “Dark Souls” series is rich and complex, with its own fully realized mythology resembling the Norse cycle of global destruction and rebirth. In Dark Souls, the world is kept in balance by the First Fire, the source of the gods’ divine power and humanity’s salvation. However, the First Fire eventually burns out, and humans turn Undead. A Chosen Undead must relight the First Fire and birth the world anew. Each game in the series has its own variation on this basic tale. Thus, players who place stock in knowing the narrative of a game can safely jump into this with no worries.

At its core, Dark Souls III, which is rated M and is available for PS4, XB1, and PC, is a role-playing game with a focus on real-time combat and exploration. It is an immersive game set inside a dark world of death, decay, and occult magic. Each game begins with a character creation that allows participants to build a hero to their liking. There’s no need to fuss over the particulars of this step, however, as throughout the game character strengths can be built to fit one’s preferred play style and to take advantage of new weapons and armor. Characters level up by trading “souls” (which are dropped by enemy players) for increasing their stats. However, souls are also the monetary currency here, so deciding whether to buy equipment or build up attributes is a constant concern.

Gamers who rush into combat will find themselves dying frequently. Enemies deal massive damage and move incredibly fast, but they are also highly predictable. Upon observing their movements, it’s easy to see holes in their defenses and exploit them. The difficulty, then, comes in the form of taking the time to play defensively and uncover these weaknesses and to be sufficiently aware of your surroundings such that you don’t end up fighting more enemies at once than you can handle. When you do die, however, a bloodstain marked by a glowing orb spawns on your last location; if you can reach this point on your next turn and claim it, you reclaim all the souls you had gathered. If you die before doing so, you lose those souls ­permanently.

Rejuvenation & collaboration

Throughout the game there are bonfires at which your character can rest. These bonfires refill health, magic aids, life, and magic points and offer a chance to travel to other bonfires you’ve visited. However, resting at a bonfire respawns all of the enemies you’ve killed, except for bosses. This means that if you rush back to a bonfire to refresh your health and power-ups, you’ll have to fight back through all of the enemies you bested before progressing further. It also means that you can rack up more souls to level up faster and buy more equipment. If you learn an area well and can clear it with little damage, you’ll find yourself gaming this system to level up and buy more items faster, which can help negate some of the crippling challenges from the game’s legendary, screen-filling, anxiety-inducing bosses.

It’s a good thing, then, that you can call for help! By using a power-up, you can see “summon signs” on the ground. Activate one of these, and another player currently online will jump into your game and help you out. You can also leave your own sign, offering to help others. Another option is to leave and read messages to warn (or be warned) of challenges, though the game only offers fixed templates and keywords for messages. Invading another player’s game is still a possibility and can create some genuine frustration and serves as something of a toxic environment; however, this game has one of the best online communities ever, so there’s far more cooperation than competition.

Dark Souls III may scare away less practiced and casual gamers, but it is still an experience worth trying. This is a game that belongs in your collection and in your patrons’ hands.

Until next time, keep telling yourself: just one more level!

RobbinsWebfinalM. Brandon Robbins is Media Coordinator, Goldsboro High School, NC, and a member of the 2011 class of the American Library Association’s Emerging Leaders

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M. Brandon Robbins About M. Brandon Robbins

M. Brandon Robbins (mbrandon.robbins@gmail.com) is the Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, NC. He's a member of the 2011 class of ALA Emerging Leaders.