Dark Souls III might be the game that converts me.
While I can appreciate what the Souls series is doing, and that it’s doing this damn well, it’s never really been able to hold my attention. In Dark Souls, I got as far as Blighttown before growing weary of the game, and in Dark Souls II, I made it up to the Ruin Sentinels before throwing my controller through the TV, setting my PS3 ablaze, and claiming a hefty insurance payout from the resultant house fire*.
So I must admit, I was a little bit skeptical about previewing Dark Souls III. This skepticism soon evaporated, however, as I found myself actually enjoying my time with the game (a first, for me and Dark Souls). So much so that come the end of my time with the preview build, I wanted to keep playing! (Another first). I wouldn’t be surprised if, after I left, the folks at Bandai Namco double-checked to make sure I hadn’t buggered off with one of their Dark Souls III-having PS4 dev kits.
A lot of this comes down to accessibility. Now, “git gud scrub” Dark Souls fans, don’t go grabbing your pitchforks just yet - I never said it was easy. It’s just better at inviting new players into the fold, and showing them what makes the series great.
Most importantly, there’s a more sensible difficulty curve, especially compared to Dark Souls II. The early enemies, and even the first couple of bosses, tease you into Dark Souls’ iconic “fail, but fail better” brand of difficulty, but without being so brutally hard that you get stonewalled from the outset. You’ll get hit, it’ll hurt, you’ll pop an HP-restoring Estus Flask, and (hopefully) know better next time you see that attack. You could argue that these early fights teach bad habits with being trigger-happy on Estus, but the encounters a few hours in will make quick work of deprogramming that.
With this, you get a little taste of the struggle at the heart of Dark Souls - and that great feeling of overcoming those challenges - but without it being alienating to newcomers.
I’m also grateful to see the back of Hollowing, my most loathed aspect of Dark Souls II (it was in Dark Souls as well, but worked differently). In the previous game, each death would take a chunk of your max HP, to mechanically symbolise your gradual degradation into being Hollow (aka undead). On its own, it’s a neat idea, but it’s completely at odds with that “fail better” school of difficulty, because it’s a long-term punishment for failure. Death is more or less required to learn fights well enough to overcome them, but Hollowing in Dark Souls II made each subsequent even harder.
In lieu of Hollowing, Dark Souls III has something called Kindling. Using an item called Ember, which are reasonably plentiful early on in the game, will make you Kindled - giving you a significant HP boost and a really nice, subtle burning effect for your armour. As long as you can stay alive, you’ll keep your Kindled status, but die, and you’ll need to pop another Ember.
Functionally, this is actually quite similar to Hollowing - dying means a cut to your HP that can be restored with a finite consumable - but the psychological effect is powerful. You’re no longer being punished for being bad; you’re being rewarded for being good.
I came away from this Dark Souls III preview wanting more, more, more. More time with the game, of course, but also more knowledge of the complex, obtuse systems that make it tick. I went from being almost completely uninterested in this game to almost certainly being a day-one buyer - and it didn’t even take the bizarre “Slashy Souls” pre-order campaign that GameStop and Bandai Namco are running in the States.
*Disclaimer: this may not actually have happened.