Ranking the Dark Souls 3 Bosses – Hard to Soul-Crushing Part 5

Author: Liam Riker

Hey guys. So after Part 4 in this series, where I literally just covered one boss, Halflight, Spear of the Church, from the new “The Ringed City” DLC,  I though I’d get things back on track with this post. I’ll be covering two more bosses in this post, who come in at #15 and #14 on my countdown. For the rest of this series, the breakdown will go as follows: Part 6 will cover the bosses ranked #13-#11; Part 7 will cover the bosses ranked #10-#6; and lastly, Part 8 will conclude my Dark Souls 3 Boss Countdown series with the Top 5 hardest bosses in the game and accompanying DLC’s.

Just a reminder, this is a completely opinionated series of posts. This is just how I personally rank all the bosses in Dark Souls 3 from my experiences with the game, and I’d love to hear from any of ya’ll if you have a different ranked list than mine!

So without further ado, let’s jump right into the countdown with the boss that comes in at #15.

*Potential Spoilers Below*

15. Champion’s Gravetender and Gravetender Greatwolf

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The Champion’s Gravetender and Gravetender Greatwolf is a boss fight that the player will encounter near the “Depths of the Painting” location in the “Ashes of Ariandel” DLC, which came out late last year. This boss fight, while not particularly difficult, is definitely one of my favorite boss fights in the game due to it’s incredibly cool (no pun intended) design and FANTASTIC ost! The fight still can be pretty punishing still, especially in it’s 2nd phase, and thus is worthy of holding spot #15 on my boss countdown. Before I go into a bit more detail on this boss, check out the boss’s ost here, to see just exactly what I’m gawking over. It’s by far my most favorite boss ost in the game!

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When you first enter the massive boss room for the Champion’s Gravetender and Gravetender Greatwolf boss fight, you must navigate through this wide-open and gorgeous frozen field of flowers, till you reach the ruins near the back of this area. Upon reaching the ruins, you see a figure seated next to what looks like a grave accompanied by one of the numerous wolves the player will have encountered inside the Painted World of Ariandel. The figure proceeds to stand up, turns to face you and the 1st phase of this boss fight begins.

In this 1st phase, if the player is able to take care of the Champion’s Gravetender’s three wolf friends relatively quickly, this phase should go by rather smoothly, as the Champion’s Gravetender, leaves himself open after every lunging and jumping attack for punishment. While the weapon art for the Valorheart shield the Champion’s Gravetender wields can be startling and thus punishing, if the player plays too aggressively, the Champion’s Gravetender feels no more difficult than any of the numerous NPC’s the player has had to fight up to this point of the game. That is until the player brings his health to the halfway point, at which point the Champion’s Gravetender will motion his sword to the sky and the 2nd phase begins.

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Enter the Gravetender Greatwolf, who pounces down from somewhere above the frozen field of flowers. This beauty should be a familiar site to the player, since they’ll likely have encountered phantom like versions of the Greatwolf on two separate occasions on their way to the Champion’s Gravetender boss fight. The Gravetender Greatwolf has a full boss-sized health bar of it’s own this time and will fight alongside the Champion’s Gravetender for the rest of this fight, and boy does this bad boy have a mean bite.

For the 2nd phase, the best strategy would be for the player to quickly finish off the remaining health of the Champion’s Gravetender, before the Greatwolf, has much time to protect it’s master. Once the Champion’s Gravetender has been taken care of, the player can focus all of their attention on the Greatwolf, who’s a heck of a challenging adversary due to the nature of how agile and powerful he is. The Greatwolf has good combo game and is able to roll catch the player fairly easily with one of these combos of bites, and doesn’t leave the player with many openings, as he’ll often throw in a move where he’ll bite at the player then make a spinning leap backwards to avoid being hit if the player dodged his bite. However, the Greatwolf’s most dangerous move by far, is when a whirlwind of snow begins to circle around him and he swiftly charges at the player two times. If the player doesn’t dodge the first of the two charges, there’s a good chance he’ll get caught in the second, at which point, it’s plausible that the Greatwolf can kill the player, even from full health, depending on their build.

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As if this wasn’t already challenging enough, this boss fight technically has a 3rd phase, which occurs after the Gravetender Greatwolf’s health bar is brought down halfway. At this point the Greatwolf gives out a loud howl and his eyes start glowing red. While his move-set hasn’t changed all that much for this final phase, the Greatwolf will be far more agile, throwing in that move where he charges at the player in a whirlwind of snow more often, and will also deal more damage to the player. The Greatwolf does throw in one new move that’s particularly nasty, where he’ll charge up briefly and then proceed to breathe a stream of frost as he gradually sweeps his head from left to right. This move is very reminiscent of the move Vordt of the Boreal Valley (#21 on my countdown) uses in his 2nd phase, however, the Greatwolf’s version comes out way quicker than Vordt’s, giving the player very little time to find cover and deals ALOT more frostbite damage. If the player gets frostbitten from this move, their mobility will be decreased, which will spell nearly certain death for them for the remainder of the fight. Pretty nasty am I right!?

While the 2nd (and technical 3rd) phase of this boss fight are quite challenging, it’s still a very manageable fight, that will likely take the player only a handful of tries before they are able to get past it. While a lot of people were disappointed with the lack of any considerable difficulty with this boss fight, being that they’d come to expect only the most challenging of boss fights from a Dark Souls game DLC, I personally feel that this fight is fantastic. While it might not be the most challenging, it has such a cinematic feel to it, and sets itself apart from any other boss in the game. The mystery behind the Champion’s Gravetender: like whose grave is he watching over? And how does he have some sort of pact with the wolves of this world, including the towering Greatwolf?; far make up for the relative easiness of the fight. And, in case I didn’t emphasize it enough, the ost for this fight is amazing!

If you want to see a play through of this wonderfully unique and captivating boss fight, click here.

14. Abyss Watchers

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Coming in at # 14 on my Dark Souls 3 Boss Countdown, is the second of the Lords of Cinder on my countdown and the first the player actually encounters in the game, after navigating through the hell that is the Farron Keep swamp. The Abyss Watchers, a fan favorite boss of Dark Souls 3 and even the entire Souls series, while not the most challenging of boss fights, is still a very high hurdle the player will have to overcome, especially considering how early on in the game the player gains access to this fight. It’ll likely be the first “holy fuck” moment of Dark Souls 3 for most players.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this fight, is how rich the lore is for the Abyss Watchers, and how tragic their story is. While fighting tragic bosses is a very common theme throughout the Dark Souls series, with Dark Souls 3 being no exception, this is the first boss in the game where the tragicness of the boss is made evident to the player.

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The introductory cinematic for this boss fight spells out the craziness and tragicness of the Abyss Watchers, as you walk into the boss room where two of them are fighting one another, until one is able to make, what appears to be, the finishing blow. The prevailing Abyss Watcher proceeds to rip his sword out of his fellow member of Farron’s Undead Legion, and then turns ominously to face the player, whose finally gained his attention. A brief summary of the lore behind the Abyss Watchers, is that they were all members of Farron’s Undead Legion, who were sworn enemies of the Abyss, and followers of the Wolf Blood Master (who according to many is undoubtedly the character Artorias from the original Dark Souls). But after sharing the blood of the Wolf Blood Master, their souls were linked together into one, hence why they are in a constant purgatory like state, constantly fighting and “killing” one another. Halfway through the 1st phase of the boss fight, an Abyss Watcher rises from the ground with red eyes and proceeds to fight the two Abyss Watchers you’re fighting, the red eyes being a constant symbol throughout the game that the being has been consumed by the Abyss.

Well that’s enough of the lore, let’s get to why I ranked this fight above all the others I’ve covered thus far.

The 1st phase of the fight begins with the player fighting the main Abyss Watcher, who’s in possession of their cumulative souls, and who slew his brethren in the introductory cinematic. The Abyss Watcher has a particularly nasty move set, with combos, that will catch the player with the anticipation in-between each move of the combo, quick attacks with a handheld dagger, to prevent the player from being able to hack away at him for too long, and several sliding and slamming attacks with the Abyss Watcher’s Greatsword that close the distance quickly and punish the player if they ever try to flee carelessly.

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However, the fight doesn’t really get serious until a second Abyss Watcher rises in the boss room and starts chasing and attacking the player along with the main Abyss Watcher. This second Abyss Watcher has a mini health bar of it’s own, independent of the main boss’s health bar, so the player should still focus their attention on the Abyss Watcher they were fighting at the start of the boss battle. This is much easier said than done though, as both Abyss Watchers are relentless, cover eachother’s backs, and provide very few openings for the player to attack them. Fighting both Abyss Watchers at the same time is extremely difficult, but luckily the boss fight lends the player some aid before things look too bleak. A third Abyss Watcher rises in the room, this one with red glowing eyes, who’s clearly been corrupted by the Abyss. Since the Abyss Watchers are sworn enemies of the Abyss, both the main Abyss Watcher and especially the second Abyss Watcher with the mini health bar, will be drawn to kill this red-eyed Abyss Watcher, instead of just focusing on you.

The red-eyed, corrupted Abyss Watcher will also focus the other two Abyss Watchers, however, it still can attack you and definitely will if you get too close to it while it’s fighting off the two other Abyss Watchers. In order to get through this 1st phase of the boss fight (yes this is all STILL the 1st phase of the fight :P), the player will need to utilize the corrupted Abyss Watcher to the best of their ability, since taking on both Abyss Watchers at the same time will almost certainly end up killing the player. The other options are for the player to either focus the secondary Abyss Watcher, take care of his small health pool and then focus the main Abyss Watcher, or draw enough separation between the two Abyss Watchers to go at the main Abyss Watcher’s boss-level health pool. Luckily the Abyss Watchers are able to be staggered, so getting in a number of attacks on them is manageable, so long as the player is able to find an appropriate opening, and with the assistance of the corrupted Abyss Watcher, this 1st phase really isn’t as bad as I may be making it out to be.

However, the 2nd phase of the Abyss Watchers boss fight is a completely different story.

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The grueling 2nd phase of the Abyss Watchers boss fight has no gimmick, no way to cheese the fight, nor ally to help the player with the fight. The 2nd phase requires pure skill on the part of the player to get past it. After the main Abyss Watcher’s health bar has been brought down all the way to zero, there’s a cut to another cinematic, where blood from all of the dead Abyss Watchers littered across the boss room raises into the air and flows into the body of the Abyss Watcher you just took down. The Abyss Watcher rises, his greatsword now covered in flame, the player knows shit’s about to get real.

Even more so than in the 1st phase of the fight, the Abyss Watcher is relentless as HELL! Giving the player barely any openings to attack, while at the same time feigning that he’s done with a combo to trick the player into approaching him only to get punished severely by the final devastating hit of the combo. On top of this, every one of his swings with his flaming greatsword now is followed immediately by a flurry of flames, to catch the player if they don’t dodge the initial attack perfectly. The attacks he uses to close the distance between himself and the player are all especially nasty too, one of which consisting of a lunging stab, a swift sliding attack that leaves a trail of fire behind it, and a leaping spinning attack that’s sure to catch even the most adept dodgers. For this 2nd phase, the player will just have to buckle down, stay focused, and above all be patient! The greed for a third or fourth attack against the Abyss Watcher will almost certainly end with the player dying.

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Once the player gets a good idea of the boss’s patterns and move set, the 2nd phase is certainly a very manageable one, but this process of learning the 2nd phase’s patterns, especially when the player will have to first get past the 1st phase which is, by no means, a slouch of a phase, will likely take a number of tries. This will definitely be the most difficult boss fight for the player for where they’re currently at in the game (unless they were feeling especially gutsy and attempted the Dancer of the Boreal Valley WAY before they should’ve) and will prove to be a very memorably difficult boss fight for the player’s entire experience with Dark Souls 3.

Like the Gravetender Greatwolf boss fight, the Abyss Watchers boss fight also has a fantastic ost! If you’d like to hear the ost and also check out the riveting cutscenes and gameplay of this fight, click here.

Alright, well that’s all for this section of my boss countdown! As you can tell, we’re finally getting to some of the actually difficult bosses in Dark Souls 3, bosses that are worthy and characteristic of the “Dark Souls” name. We’re not quite to the soul-crushing bosses, but trust me, we’re getting close.

Check back next time, as I cover bosses ranked #13-#11 on my countdown. Thanks for your time and your support! Please feel free to like this post and leave any thoughts or opinions in the comments.

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Dark Souls 3 vs. Dark Souls 1 – Beginning of the Game Analysis Part 2

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Nioh: How Similar is it to Dark Souls?

Author: Liam Riker 

I had the rare treat of starting Nioh this past week, and while many were comparing this game to the Dark Souls trilogy, long before the game was released, I couldn’t help but notice some of those noted similarities as I played through the beginning of the game.

Nioh is an ARPG developed by Team Ninja for the PS4, in which you play as William, an Irish sailor, who is trained in the art of the samurai, and travels to Feudal Japan, in pursuit of an enemy, the game’s main antagonist: Edward Kelley. Going off of this description, you’d think that this game couldn’t be farther from a Dark Souls game, but once you gain control of William, as the opening cinematic comes to a close, you realize how similar they actually are. I unfortunately, wasn’t able to get that far in the game, as one of my friends was just letting me play his copy for a couple hours this past week. However, it’s not necessary to even get past the game’s Prologue, to be able to notice how much Nioh has in common with the Souls games.

From the second the game starts you are already given the impression that you could be playing a Souls game. The player is dropped suddenly into the game world, without much of an explanation as to where they are, and given the sole objective of trying to escape from their current prison. This sort of sudden, dropping the player into the middle of action, that every single Souls game, including Bloodborne, is known for, is exhibited here in Nioh as well. The element of safety and complete control is immediately ripped from the hands of the player, and they’ll need to quickly adapt to the game as they play, or they’ll die. There is no tutorial, well there is but it comes later, or relative “safespace”, for the player to practice their controls on inanimate test dummies or weak grunts that could only kill the player if they were AFK. Just as in the Dark Souls games, every single enemy can and, if given the chance, will kill you. So, unforgiving enemies and the lack of any sign of holding-your-hand on the part of the game developers? Check.

So, how about a punishing combat system, that the player actually has to use strategically and carefully in order to survive? Nioh‘s got another check for that one as well, with its version of the stamina game system from the Souls games, where nearly every single action the player takes, costs stamina, and if the player runs out of stamina they will be unable to do anything. However, in Nioh, the punishment for a player running out of the stamina they’re allotted is even more severe than what it is in the Souls games, as the player is left stunned, unable to even move for a few frames. This nearly guarantees, that if a player runs out of stamina in the middle of combat, that they’re going to take a few nasty, and indefensible, hits.

Along with the Stamina Game System, Nioh also has its own version of the Souls System from Dark Souls, where if a player dies, the EXP units they had on them, in Nioh this takes the form of the mystical golden mineral Amrita , are lost at the place of death. If the player is unable to recover their dropped Amrita before dying a second time, they lose that Amrita permanently, a sadistically addictive game system that players of the Dark Souls games are very familiar with. If the player dies, they’ll respawn at small prayer shrines, this game’s version of bonfires, which look like these:

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One striking similarity to the original Dark Souls, that Nioh had, was the Prologue/Tuturial location of the Tower of London. William starts the game inside a cell in the Tower of London, and must find a way to break out of not only his cell, but the entire prison-like fortress. This design choice is very similar to the area in which the player wakes in the first Dark Souls, The Undead Asylum.

 

Even the bosses for these introductory locations have some resemblance to one another.

While the environments in Nioh, for the most part, seem very different from those in Dark Souls they still embody that dark aesthetic and atmosphere. For as far as I got in the game, these were the notable similarities that I was able to find between Nioh and the Souls game franchis. While the games have a number of differences between them, for instance, the gameplay of Nioh is much more fast paced than the Dark Souls games, or even Bloodborne, which stands out from the other From Software Souls games, partially because of its speed of gameplay. There is also no character customization in Nioh and the plot points of the story of the game seem to be handed to the player more freely than they are in any of the Souls games.

Overall, Nioh, from what I can tell so far, is a fantastic game, that feels like a much-needed spiritual successor to the Dark Souls trilogy. Especially, with the last Dark Souls 3 DLC, “The Ringed City”, marking the official end of the Dark Souls franchise with it’s release this upcoming March 28th, Dark Souls fans will be in desperate need of a punishing ARPG with brilliantly designed real-time combat to fill the whole left. And Nioh certainly fits the bill. blog-post-5-pic1

Dark Souls 3 vs. Dark Souls 1 – Beginning of the Game Analysis Part 1

Author: Liam Riker 

Over the course of the past several months, I’ve clocked in over 150 hours on the critically acclaimed ARPG Dark Souls 3. The game has quickly become an obsession of mine, probably an unhealthy one at that, and I can now confidently say that I’m a Dark Souls fan. There’s only one problem…I had never played a single “Souls” game before Dark Souls 3. I know that this might seem like heresy to many of you, especially those of you who have been fans of the series since the original Dark Souls was released in 2011, but I feel as though I may have redeemed myself ever so slightly, after a couple friends of mine sat me down this past weekend and “forced” me to play the original Dark Souls. 

I didn’t get too far into the game in the 5 hours I spent playing it, but far enough to critique the game’s beginning and analyze how it compares to the beginning of Dark Souls 3.

The first major difference that should be noted between the two Souls games, is how much richer the story feels in the original Dark Souls. The game starts with a breathtaking and chill-inducing opening cinematic that, especially for the time that it was made in, is gorgeously animated. The opening cinematic gives the player a very clear understanding of the massive and dangerous world they’re about to venture in, while showcasing a few notable figures: a god, a cult of witches, an undead behemoth of plague and disease, and an infamous dragon that betrayed his own kind to end the war between the dragons and the Lords. While Dark Souls games have always been known for their rich and detailed lore and world-building, rather than their story, this opening cinematic for Dark Souls fleshes out this massive world better than any other Souls game could. It certainly does a more effective job of establishing the lore of the games and the game world than the opening cinematic for Dark Souls 3 does. I guess I should’ve started the series with the original Dark Souls right?

If you’ve yet to see the opening cinematic for Dark Souls or haven’t been introduced to the Dark Souls games properly, I highly recommend giving it a look. Trust me it is worth your time.

Although there appear to be obvious differences in how much richer the story feels at the beginning of the original  Dark Souls, it should also be noted that Dark Souls 3 is the third and final chapter of the Dark Souls trilogy,  and so vast world-building and rich lore outlining isn’t an essential element of the game’s opening cinematic. Fans of the series, who have already played the first two entries, won’t need as an informative of an opening to re-introduce them to the world they’ve already become fully immersed in. It could be that I only felt slightly disconnected from the story and world of Dark Souls after watching the Dark Souls 3 opening cinematic because of the fact that I started with the third entry of the trilogy instead of the first.   

To compare, here is the opening cinematic of Dark Souls 3.

Here, within the opening cinematic to Dark Souls 3, there is very minimal world-building and lore, because at this stage of the series, fans of the games already have a firm grasp on those elements. In fact, it could be said that the opening cinematic for Dark Souls 3, establishes more of an outlined storyline and a relatively clear objective for the player, elements that aren’t seen as frequently in previous “Souls” game entries. The omniscient sounding narrator outlines how The Lords of Cinder are needed to rekindle The Flame, to prevent the world from returning to darkness, and even gives equal screentime to 3 of the Lords of Cinder: Aldridge, Saint of the Deep; Farron’s Undead Legion, The Abyss Watchers; and Yhorm the Giant, who she then states will undoubtedly abandon their thrones. At the end of this opening cinematic, the player already knows they are going to have to hunt down these elusive Lords of Cinder, while the player objective at the end of the opening cinematic for the original Dark Souls is more ambiguous. Some prefer the fact that the opening to Dark Souls is more open-ended than Dark Souls 3, which they believe to be too linear (I’ll be covering the difference in linearity in regards to level design with the two games in my next post in this series as well). But regardless of where you stand in the argument, it is worth noting the stark contrast in how the story is introduced to the player in both of these games.

One final thing that I believe is worth noting before I wrap up Part 1 of this series of blog posts, is how spectacularly cinematic the openings for these games feel. These cinematics are actually worthy of that title, as they truly feel as though they belong at the beginning of a major motion picture. The only thing that gives it away that you’re actually booting up a video game and not watching a movie, is the lower quality of animation that is used in video games in contrast to cinema. That, along with the faster pacing and the direction of the dialogue at the viewer.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Dark Souls 3 vs. Dark Souls 1 – Beginning of the Game Analysis”, where I’ll begin my analysis on the varying gameplay and level/environmental design elements of these ARPG masterpieces.