By Sam White
I had my reservations about Dark Souls 3. I consider the original to be one of the best, if not the best game of all time, and after the wayward quality of Dark Souls II it felt like this threequel might suffer from the same problems.
But somehow, Dark Souls 3 is everything it needed to be; the game may not reach the novel highs of Dark Souls, but then again it never could have. The huge sprawl of this new world, Lothric, is matched by its incredible density - the attention to detail and depth are astounding considering the speed with which From Software makes these games. Only a year after Bloodborne, it’s impressive.
Obviously, there are a load of spoilers here – the first part of this photo diary covers the first 20 hours or so in Lothric, so if you’re spoiler-sensitive and you’ve played that far, you should be safe. This diary is in order, so you get a sense of the kind of adventure that most Dark Souls 3 players will undergo. Obviously, I can’t visually recreate the intense challenge and frustration of learning a boss’ moves over about 50 attempts to defeat them, and some players might experience these areas in a slightly different sequence, but I’ll take you down, up, and through some of the most beautiful places From Software has ever built
Click the images to see the 4k versions.
We begin in the Cemetery of Ash, a barren area atop a cliff edge. Dark Souls 3 starts with splendour – an incredible series of views across a snowy mountain range, with the new and improved Firelink Shrine off in the distance, flanked by a huge tower. This is the starting area, with a number of bog-standard easy enemies to kill, followed by a tutorial boss. He’s tricky if you’re a newcomer, but a cakewalk if you’re a veteran. After that, the game starts properly.
After reaching Firelink and exploring your safety hub for the first time, you teleport to the High Wall of Lothric - one of the battlements of the enormous cityscape. Naturally, it’s full of undead.
Much of Dark Souls 3's world is physically interconnected, but not all of it. It’s somewhere between the incredible single-world design of the original game, and the bonfire teleporting of Dark Souls 2: the world is broad, and varied. It feels similarly linear to Bloodborne, but much bigger.
Once you’ve taken down the game’s second main boss – Vordt of the Boreal Valley, a frostbitten bear-like demon that has a set of ferocious attacks that’ll demolish you if you’re not quick with the dodge – you’re met with this. Every distant landmark is a place you will visit later on in your quest. You’re then lifted, literally, down to the Undead Settlement (the town on the left).
The Undead Settlement is the first time you truly get a sense of the scope of Lothric’s weaving landscape. It branches off in several different directions – secrets up above and down below. Some pathways lead through different buildings and areas to reach the same end point, but others lead you off in other directions. It’s a higgledy piggledy mishmash of structures that feels similar to Bloodborne’s Hemwick Charnel Lane, but also has its own recognisably Dark Souls vibe – cathedrals and caverns lit only by dozens of candles. Classic.
No Dark Souls game would be complete without a poisonous forest; this time, one full of absolute bastard-hard enemies capable of crushing you with the crucifixes strapped – or nailed – to their bodies. Still, you fight on, and the sight of a building often signifies safety. Bonfires in Dark Souls 3 are more frequent than you might expect, but they’re often just out of sight, so it takes a brave player to explore enough to find them – when you’re being chased by hordes of enemies and a massive crab, you need to be careful where you tread. It doesn’t help that areas are so large. Even after 30-or-so hours of play, I’m still finding segments of areas that I had no clue existed.
It’s about this point that Dark Souls 3 starts to get properly dark. It’s a surprisingly bright game, considering how miserable it is, but once you’ve made your way to the Cathedral of the Deep, it’s a fast downward spiral. You’re set to head through some disgusting toxic bogs toward the toughest boss yet, and the first of the Lords of Cinder – a trio called the Abyss Watchers, who inhabit the dreaded Farron Keep. It’s a fight that’s taken a lot from Bloodborne’s breakneck speed, and it tests everything you’ve learned so far. After several painstaking attempts, I managed to defeat them, only to venture into worse places...
Catacombs! Anyone who’s played the original Dark Souls will know what this means: the enemies you kill don’t actually stay dead. It’s a real bastard, a signifier for Dark Souls 3's eventual, sudden and incredibly unforgiving difficulty spike. It took several hours to get through this place; it never felt quite as claustrophobic or hopeless as Blighttown, but the mandatory boss, High Lord Wolnir, kept me scratching my head for quite some time. An enormous skeleton with dark magic powers that can essentially one-hit kill you if you venture too close, he also commands a small army of undying skeletons to his aid whenever you start attacking him. It was only after he was dead, banished to the eternal abyss, was I able to escape up and out the other side.
“Escape to where?” You ask.
Catch Part 2 in the next week to find out what lies at the top of this staircase, and in the rest of Dark Souls 3.