There is something disconcerting about the third and supposedly final installment of Dark Souls. Make no mistake, it is a beautiful game. The world of Lothric is vast with landscapes after landscapes of tragic horrors - the fallen dragon, crystallized in its defeated state, a memory from a battle we are yet to understand.

But let me backtrack for a while. The first time I played a Souls game was in the start of 2011. My friend had given me a secondhand video game as a present, something he had picked up at random from a friend of a friend who's selling his games for less than $10. This was Demon's Souls. And yes, the game itself was unashamed in making sure I am humiliated-forcing me to cop out a pre-owned DualShock 3 after I had, in a fit of embarrassing rage, smashed my original controller onto my poor foot. I swear, these types of games were made to boost controller sales.

Demon's Souls was brutal. And if there was any game that is truly unforgiving, this was it. This was the manifestation of pure hatred toward humankind. But we have to consider why Demon's Souls was fucking hard.

First: the controls are a little bit clunky-which demands great skill more than anything else. Second: the Archstones a.k.a. checkpoints, are so far apart-which, "encourages" you not to die, or at least, die less. Third: die twice in a row without reaching your bloodstain (the spot where you died), and you'll lose every experience points you've collected for the past hour. This is how the game rudely tells you with a middle finger, don't die, "git gud lolz."

Fourth: this was an early era of newer games blossoming into the world. People had been so used to hyper aggressive action games such as Devil May Cry, God of War and Bayonetta. This is not to say those games don't require skill. Try any of those in the hardest difficulty, and you'll know you need skill to get through those. However, those games offer modes to change difficulty, making them accessible to casual players.

Demon's/Dark Souls and Bloodborne offered no such option. Dark Souls 2 even made a mockery of difficulty settings by giving players the option to make things harder, x2 or 3, up to nine fucking times. And there's no turning back.

The end result of this pre-set difficulty couldn't have been any more surprising. Like many others, the difficulty of the game grew onto me. I get a sense of euphoria, going through hell, slaughtering the boss and demolishing that Archstone. It was also a trial and error progress. You will die again and again when you trigger a trap, when enemies ambush you, and when you learn that this kind of boss can OHKO you. But in the next or so rounds, you'll be able to flawlessly dodge their attacks.

Demon's Souls is a learning process with a steep and dangerous curve. The acquisition of souls to become stronger and how to use them is the meta game as you, the player, obtain new profound skill and a power that is beyond human imagination.

To put it simply, Demon's Souls is a game that demanded the player to improve his skill if he wishes to play the game. Indeed, it's not for everyone.

Which brings us to the first Dark Souls! At its core, it's Demon's Souls with, what I assume, a bigger budget. The graphics are much more refined, combat is a little bit more fluid-really, just a tad. And any Souls veteran will come to understand that the game is nearly identical to Demon's Souls. Not only that, Dark Souls was immensely easier compared to Demon's Souls, simply because there were more places of rest and respawn points, hence the player had a wider margin of error.

After going through Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2, Bloodborne, and then Sin of the First Scholar (DS2's update with all DLCs and new stuff), going through the fog gates of Dark Souls 3 was easier. Combat is a refined version of Bloodborne's, with swift, fluid controls, fast attack animations, fast healing, faster enemies, and everything else that pretty much puts the game on speed. (Though it is nowhere near DMC/GOW speed.)

The challenge continues to present itself as enemies are indeed tougher, and from what I see, smarter. They time their attacks, careful in their approach toward their own deaths by the player's wrath. Some are just as aggressive, with violent slaughter in mind. This is where players need to think and move fast. Players can turtle around as many did in the past, but there will be times when ruthless aggression is demanded. 

Enemy placements are smarter this time around. They are well-placed-or should I say, properly placed, with thought and delicacy, giving respect not only to the players, but to the name Dark Souls is known for - a fair but challenging gaming experience. Bloodborne eventually dove into cheap tactics by giving enemies an unfair amount of damage and an unfair number of hordes, and forcing players to fight groups of hunters-which, even on a one-on-one combat, has proven a fair bit of challenge. But two or three at a time? Previous players of Dark Souls 2 will understand this pain as well. Enemies of all types placed in a single area. Archers there, mages there, giants there-it's a jumbled mess. It was made difficult for the sake of making something difficult. It was an unfair difficulty, and there's no shame in dying in Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne more times than any other game.

Dark Souls 3 then, has taken a deep consideration of what they had done, and did their best, it seems, to make everything a reboot. It's as if you're playing Demon's Souls and Dark Souls for the first time again, fair but challenging. Sure, there are groups of enemies that come your way once in a while. Some encounters are challenging, some are a bit easy to dispose. But it was never to a point that made, at least myself, want to ease the pain by smashing my head into a concrete wall.

In fact, Dark Souls 3 seems to be a nostalgic adventure for the game director. Elements of Demon's Souls were found in Dark Souls 3, as if to pay tribute to a game that changed everything.

Going back to the first Dark Souls, what made that game stand out-at least for myself-is how the world is connected. You wander through the darkness in the Tomb of the Giants, only to find over the distance, the Demon Ruins. A little farther, you can see the odd, alien lights coming from the Ash Lake-which is linked to Blighttown, which is itself, linked to the Demon Ruins. The world isn't even presented to you as something big. You progress through area by area, without really noticing you'll actually be able to explore that huge castle over the horizon. On top of the bell tower in the Undead Parish, do you see that massive fortress and the mountain beyond it? Well, both can be explored. The world itself begins small, linear, though puts you in the middle of nowhere. You must figure everything out on your own, and as you progress, everything erupts into something bigger, epic in scope, and weaves things together in a nice little bow. This is how everything about Dark Souls simply fucks my brain out in amazement. 

Well, this is where I feel disappointed about Dark Souls 3. Yes, the game is vivid, rich in detail, and the lore is as intricate and beautiful as it ever was, demanding to be weaved together to form one story that turns out to be, a simple story. But, the game itself feels more linear than anything else. Never had I felt lost in its immensity. It always felt like, whichever direction I headed, was the right path. There was no "whoa" moment, similar to spotting the Undead Parish and the Duke's Archives on top of Sen's Fortress. You started out in a massive world, and you begin to realize that, the farther down you go, the smaller things become. You run into castles after castles, a swamp, and some ruins, a forest.

Of course, that was quite the nitpick. I find it hard to imagine what else they can use as a new, unused location for a dark medieval game. Perhaps what I had experienced is a Soulsborne fatigue. Still, it would have been wonderful to explore different settings-deserts, an underground half-buried castle, a sky graveyard where coffins were laid out in the face of the cliff, a water-based city that isn't named Amana and is 95% less shitty, the deepest insides of a great giant dragon. So many things that could have been used.

Yes, there is much to explore in Dark Souls 3. And yes, it is the bigger game - but it feels smaller with fewer "wow" moments. Those moments that make you appreciate the game a little more.

Make no mistake, the game deserves the highest rating possible. But for the purpose of this review, I will not give it that. Call it an injustice. But it feels like the right thing to do-not because of my tiny nitpickings, no. But because this is a game that is not for everyone. I do not want to fool some people looking for a casual game to suffer the series of horrors Dark Souls 3 will make them experience, especially if they have no intention of purging through the game. Dark Souls 3 requires a sacrificial ritual-where you clock in long hours, honing your skills, learning and re-learning.

On the other hand, if you're a "casul" and want to trudge through Dark Souls 3, better "git gud," cause this game is still one hell of a ride.

I'll give Dark Souls 3 several ratings: For people who really want to play it, GULP IT DOWN! For those who only want a super casual game, DON'T GULP!

For me and everyone else who's played other Souls games, it's... 

About the author: Karen Benitez

Skater, musician, carpenter, gamer. Karen is interested in culture, science fiction, and Cthulhu. She participated in MMA bouts, got her ass kicked many times, and ended up with broken bones. Life is good.

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