Author: Liam Riker
It’s been quite some time since I started this series, in which I planned to compare various aspects of both the original Dark Souls and Dark Souls 3. Since then, I’ve been sucked back into Kingdom Hearts hell, with the release of Kingdom Hearts 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue, where Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD has been monopolizing a majority of my time. I’ve also been busy having a devilishly good time in Resident Evil 7 (I still don’t know how my friends convinced me to play the game in front of them, but I’ve been having a surprisingly amazing time with it; I’ve even considered blogging about the game, even though horror games aren’t my designated topic on the The Gamer’s Smorgasbord, and still might if I can clear it with my fellow co-blogger Sharon Salazar).
Well, anyways, I haven’t had anytime since I started the series to play more of the original Dark Souls, and while I’ve completely finished Dark Souls 3, I feel like I still haven’t gotten far enough into the first Dark Souls to give an analysis on more complex topics such as the games’ varying environments, combat differences, storytelling differences and differences in narrative and character design as a whole. However, I did notice one major difference between the two games, from what little I’ve played of Dark Souls, and I thought I’d write this post on that observation, till I’m able to delve deeper into the game.
While Dark Souls 3, is by no means a game with linear level design, when comparing it to the Dark Souls game that started it all, it’s hard not to notice how linear the level design feels in comparison. After leaving the Undead Asylum in Dark Souls, the player is brought to the original Firelink Shrine, where they are given at least two major paths to choose between and which are fully accessible upon reaching the Firelink Shrine. These two paths lead to two completely different areas, one of which is the intended one for the player’s level, and the other which is ensured to give the player a rude awakening when they struggle to get past the path’s first two guarding skeleton enemies. The player is able to proceed down the harder of the two paths if they so choose to, at the cost of a much more painful and arduous time, but the scaling in difficulty of the enemies guarding this path should immediately indicate to the player that perhaps they should be exploring elsewhere.
This is excellent Level Design, as the developers have intentionally designed a “push-system” (where the player is pushed away from/towards a given objective) with the difficulty of the skeleton enemies the player encounters first along that path. Yet, the player is still given the choice to proceed down that harder path if they so choose to, contributing significantly to the feeling of player freedom/control, which will always make a game feel more fun to a player.
This is not the case at the beginning of Dark Souls 3 where the player linearly progresses from the Undead Graveyard -> Firelink Shrine -> High Wall of Lothric -> Undead Settlement -> Road of Sacrifices. It’s not until the Road of Sacrifices that the player is given a choice as to which location they want to proceed to: either the agonizing swamps of Farron Keep or the Cathedral of the Deep. However, even after this branching path, the player isn’t given much of a choice as to which area they are allowed to proceed to next. Even if the player chose to complete the Cathedral of the Deep second, as has already claimed one of the Lords of Cinder: Farron’s Undead Legion The Abyss Watchers, they will have to return to Farron Keep to proceed to the next area, The Catacombs of Carthus.
To be fair, in Dark Souls 3, there is an option presented to the player in the High Wall of Lothric area, to proceed to a different area than the Undead Settlement. However, this area the player is allowed access to is a very late-game area, that is guaranteed to destroy the player until they are broken, unless they are a Dark Souls veteran. The branching path I’m referring to is that which allows the player access to Lothric Castle early. One minor thing that should be noted, is that in order to access this path the player will have to defeat one of the hardest bosses in the entire game at an extremely low level, a task that would make even the most seasoned of Dark Souls veterans tremble at the proposition. The boss I’m referring to is of course the infamous Dancer of the Boreal Valley. I’ll be covering this beauty in a later series in which I explore every single boss in Dark Souls 3, and rank them from easiest to most difficult, in my opinion.
So to close, Dark Souls 3, while a fantastic game that’s completely engrossed me over the course of just a few months, doesn’t compare to its predecessor when it comes to intricate and branching Level Design, and variety of player options presented, especially at the beginning of the game.
I hope to continue my profile on Dark Souls soon, so I can delve into more complex topics and comparisons that stand out for me between the two games. But until then, this is me signing out for the Dark Souls 3 vs. Dark Souls – Beginning of the Game Analysis series. Be sure to check out my first post of this series, in which I compared the opening cinematics for both games and how the story content contained in them is presented to the player differently, and keep an eye out for my upcoming series in which I give a rundown of all of Dark Souls 3 bosses, and rank them from easiest to hardest.