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Two Dark Souls III Amateurs Discuss Their (Mis)Adventures

by Jeff Marchiafava on Apr 20, 2016 at 01:19 PM

From Software's Dark Souls series has garnered a dedicated cult following over the years, but not everyone is a true believer. Jeff Marchiafava and Jeff Cork discuss their early adventures in Dark Souls III, along with what they love about the game, and what they would chuck into the nearest bonfire.

Jeff M: So Cork, we both have kind of been caught up in the communal excitement for Dark Souls III, at least enough to try out the game. Before we dig into our main thoughts, what is your past experience with From Software's previous games?

Jeff C: If we're talking specifically about the Souls games, I've played a bit of all of them to varying degrees. It's a series that I'd like to like more, since the various components that it's assembled from are things I generally love. I'm a huge fan of exploration and discovery. I like dark-fantasy settings and themes. I like cryptic, minimal storytelling. I'm up for a good (but fair) challenge. I like dinking around with stats. But for some reason, the franchise hasn't clicked completely for me. That could very well change with Dark Souls III, though.

Jeff M: I think I'm a little more enthusiastic about the series than you – I played some of both of the first two Dark Souls, as well as some Bloodborne, but I haven't beaten any of them. I like a lot of the elements you mentioned as well, but inevitably something else comes out and steals away my attention, and I never have the urge to go back to them. I'm definitely in the honeymoon period with Dark Souls III right now. Has something changed for you this time around?

Jeff C: I think some of it has to do with the fact that we're still in the middle of the Dark Souls III hype cycle. Previously, I jumped into the games after most people had moved on, so it didn't feel like I was part of the conversation. That typically doesn't matter a whole lot – I'd guess a lot of us play single-player games in relative isolation – but whenever I hit walls in the previous games, it was easier to stop playing. Being late to the party did mean I was able to lean on walkthroughs, though. I know that some people might think that's a horrible way to play the game, but for me it made the experience a lot less frustrating.  

Jeff M: For sure, and it seems like the Souls series is built on that shared enthusiasm and sense of community – there are things you just aren't going to figure out for yourself, and probably aren't meant to. Despite the anti-walkthrough crowd, there sure are a LOT of walkthroughs for Dark Souls III out there. Speaking of, where are you at right now?

Jeff C: I'm still pretty early into it, or around the High Wall of Lothric if you want to get all nerdy. I've probably been playing a couple of hours, taking my time and exploring as best I can, and being thorough and cautious. You?

Jeff M: I'm currently in/on the Road of Sacrifices, which is a couple of areas in. All I can say is giant crabs are not fun. What was the last thing you've done?

Jeff C: I circled back to the Firelink Shrine and did the tree-hopping trick that Tack mentioned in his big-beats guide. Basically, I bypassed an elevator ride that would have otherwise cost 20,000 souls, getting a ring that earns me additional souls per kill and an additional swig of Estus juice. Now that I've got that out of the way, I imagine that I'll be doing a little farming for a while. There's a dragon who likes to throw impromptu barbecues, and he doesn't mind roasting bad guys for me...

Jeff M: Heck yeah, the Covetous Silver Serpent Ring. I'm wearing that too courtesy of the tree jump. I think we do eventually have to buy the key though, because there's more stuff in the belltower. Anyway, that dragon torched me good the first time he showed up, and may or may not have caused me to yell out loud. Did he burn you too?

Jeff C: He got me once, but I was able to limp away. Here's the thing though: I said I'm going to farm for a while, but I don't have much of a goal right now. That, ultimately, is what's left me cold about the series as a whole. I like mysteries, but I feel like I've never gotten a real good grip on the series at a base level. That starts at, appropriately enough, the beginning. When I start a new character, I don't have any clue what is and isn't important. Are any of these starting gifts essential? Do they potentially lock me out of anything critical? Am I making a mistake by not picking one at all?

Jeff M: I always spend way too much time sweating those details. I went with the ring that gives you minor HP boost, but I know what you're talking about – even with experience in the series, I don't know which class would be to my benefit, which is going to be harder, etc. The Souls games are known for their secrets and intricacies too, so I get paranoid about any choice that I have to make. If the game asks me if I'd like to give an item to a character, the first thing I do is hop online to see what the ramifications are.

I think the notorious difficulty plays into this as well: You always hear about how punishing the series is, so I'm always worried I'm going to hamstring myself in some way. I think a lot of that is in our heads though – in all likelihood, you could pick any class and still make it through with some course corrections along the way.

Jeff C: I hope so. I'm leveling up, but it looks like the progress is so numerically tiny that it's hard to imagine it holds any real significance. Oh great! My vitality is now 142 instead of 141! Umm, now what? I'm not expecting – nor do I want – for my hand to be held throughout the whole game, but the game sure devotes a lot of screen space to spreadsheet-style RPG crap that doesn't communicate its importance to me. Am I crazy?

Jeff M: No, you're not crazy – it's already really hard for me to sink 8,000 souls into a level-up that brings my Focus Points from 96 to 98. Sometimes I just have to goad myself into saying "whatever" and pressing the accept button. Ultimately, we can always respec later in the game if our build isn't working out. How has the difficulty been for you so far, and which class did you pick?

Jeff C: I picked mercenary, because I liked starting out with a pair of swords, I like to roll around a bunch, and his scarves covered up a bunch of his face. Seriously, the face presets are HORRIBLE. I cannot overstate how awful they are.

Jeff M: It took me at least 30 minutes just to make a face that wasn't totally repugnant, only to have it immediately covered up by my knight's helmet – so that's a solution as well.

Jeff C: As far as the difficulty goes, though, so far it's been completely reasonable. To be clear, I'm still quite early into the game. But my cautious approach is paying off. When I walk into a new area, I expect the worst, clearing the corners and darting the camera around like I'm the first one into a building in a movie SWAT raid.

Jeff M: That's the key. You've got to be super cautious and not take anything – even the slowest, weakest enemy – for granted. I can respect that, too; if you can just blow through an enemy without any thought, then really what's the point? On the subject of difficulty, Tack wrote an opinion piece about how Dark Souls II wasn't hard, and while I wouldn't go that far, I think people do overstate the case and do a disservice to the series in the process. It's difficult, but it's surprisingly fair, and once you figure out an area and its enemies, you'll be amazed by how quickly you can run through it.

Jeff C: Agreed. Playing Bloodborne helped me to get into that mindset, too. The markings that people have been leaving – at least early on – have been a big help. This morning, I was given a heads up that someone was lurking around an area I might not have otherwise noticed, while another warned me that an enemy had firebombs.

Jeff M: Some blessed player left a message that prevented me from getting eaten by a treasure chest. Instead I got the drop on the freaky mimic, and got a sweet magic-infused axe out of the deal. The messaging system, as well as the bloodstains and invasion mechanics, are some of the coolest multiplayer mechanics I've seen in years.

Jeff C: Jumping back to the concept of fairness, I must say that the times I've died have been because I was getting sloppy or arrogant. Well, except for maybe one time, when I was backstabbed by a dude who I am convinced appeared from thin air.

Jeff M: Some guys are just waiting to jump out from behind a corner and pounce on you. Or drop out of the rafters. Or burst through a wall. Basically, you're never safe. 

Jeff C: You said you're in the third area right now. Do you see yourself playing through the whole thing?

Jeff M: That's really hard to say; I have a whole stack of unfinished games on my coffee table, so even if I do quit, it's not necessarily because the game is doing anything wrong. So far though, the game has encapsulated everything that I've enjoyed about the past games. The combat is exactly what I want in a third-person action RPG: It's precise, deadly, and above all, strategic – it doesn't just devolve into frantic button-mashing (even if I occasionally do). I'm also continually amazed by the settings; they are the perfect mixture of feeling like massive, open locations, while still offering linear, handcrafted areas to explore. It's always cool to make your way through a long, winding area, only to have it dump out to a shortcut you couldn't access earlier. "Oh man, that's where I am?!"

Jeff C: It's definitely a game that rewards you for paying attention. I noticed an out-of-reach item this morning, and when I retraced my steps in my mind, I realized that I could drop down on a ledge and gain access to that area. That's the kind of stuff that I love, and I hope to see more of it in the game.

Jeff M: You will for sure; the Undead Settlement is the next area you go to, and at first it's staggeringly big, but then you start to break down each area and figure out how they all connect. You'll also fight a gross tree giant that butt-scoots across the ground. He's weird.

Jeff C: Sold. I don't know that I'll be turning into a slathering evangelist like Tack or some of the other people in the office, but I think DS III could be the one that finally hooks me. Possibly. Maybe. Hopefully?

Jeff M: Yeah, and it helps to have those slathering evangelists to ask all our amateur-hour questions. Wanna forget the rest of the work day and go home and play more Dark Souls?

Jeff C: Might as well. If I play my cards right, I can end the evening with 145 vitality!

If you're looking for more Dark Souls III coverage, you can read our review, watch our Chronicles video series, or check out Tack's big-beats walkthrough and guide to get the game's secret ending