I put around 60 hours into Dark Souls 3 and somehow the experience has unfurled into a single continuous feeling rather than highly memorable moments. DS3 didn’t ooze with the style and singular worldbuilding offered in Bloodborne. It didn’t surpass the graceful level design traversed in Dark Souls. Some even argued that the franchise’s iconic difficulty eased with this entry (I chalk this sentiment up to franchise fatigue).

And you could go on, but these shortcomings are internal ones. Dark Souls 3 competes only against itself. For veterans, the game was likely only good enough, but in relation to the games that were released in 2016, Dark Souls 3 manifested vision at a level beyond the usual AAA fare. Comparisons to anything else in 2016’s gaming canon are useless because, frankly, there’s nothing else like a Miyazaki led Souls game.

Dark Souls 3’s rises to excellence in the same way that the great From Software games do: striving for something to akin to literary density. Lore, weapons, enemy placement and world design are all woven into the narrative like prose sinews a novel.  The atmosphere drips dread and imminent peril. The architecture is beautiful yet terrifying, insistent in its need to humble you through scale and precariousness. It doesn’t hurt that DS3’s combat is nearly as polished and elegant as its Lovecraftian sibling Bloodborne.

Like a novel, DS3 has the sensibilities of a single auteur. It’s a game that must be close read, played closely, and given close attention to if you want its greatest aesthetic and narrative rewards. Dark Souls 3 like other entries in the franchise functions according to a give and take, a transaction, establishing a relationship with the player that promises an unmatched catharsis in return for your persistence.

With the purported final entry in the series, Miyazaki and the From Software team have continued to pioneer action-adventure video games as text, shooting for the inexhaustibility of literature, not through words but through a holistic, inscrutable, and interactive mise en scène. In less confounding terms, Dark Soulselevates the dark fantasy book from a story to be read to an experience to be had.

 

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