I'm about halfway through Dark Souls 3 at the moment, I think, crossing fire-imbued swords with a particularly troublesome boss who lives at the top of some cathedral steps in a snowy city full of blade dancers. I've seen spectacular things, and disturbing things, and I am enjoying it exactly as much as I hoped I would. For that reason, I'm hoping that this is the last Dark Souls game - if not ever, then certainly for a long while. Not because I'm sick of them, but because I want it to end before I get sick of them. I don't want Dark Souls to become one of those series that offers diminishing returns with each yearly iteration - which, let's face it, is inevitable if FROM is forced to keep making them at such a rate.
When Dark Souls 3 was announced at last year's E3, it was actually billed as the last Dark Souls game. Namco-Bandai and series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki were quick to walk that back. This worries me, because usually, the inevitable trajectory of any successful series - TV, video game, whatever it is - is for whoever's making money out of it to milk it until nobody wants to buy it any more. I like the idea of a dignified end to Dark Souls, a conscious decision to leave it be before it inevitably starts to decline. Miyazaki's comments at the time seem to suggest he feels the same way:
"I believe it's the turning point for the Dark Souls series. First of all, Dark Souls has a really unique worldview. It's not a good idea, continuously releasing titles for this series because of that factor. And this will probably be the turning point of From Software as a whole - it's the last project we started working on before I became president."
I've heard on the grapevine - though I can't vouch for the veracity of this claim - that FROM and Namco-Bandai had a five-year, five-game deal for Dark Souls at the time when the publisher signed it on. After Dark Souls, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition, Dark Souls 2, Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin, and Dark Souls 3, that would mean FROM was released from its obligations at this point. That wouldn't stop Namco-Bandai from taking Dark Souls elsewhere or handing it to another developer, theoretically, but it would mean that FROM wouldn't have to keep putting these games out at such a pace.
When you think about it, it's a miracle that all the Dark Souls games have been such high quality, when you consider how quickly they all had to be made (add Bloodborne and Demon's Souls into the mix, and it's even more impressive). But nonetheless, Dark Souls 3 is starting to show signs that the developer is stretched. So many locations, enemies and bits of environmental decor - carts, chairs, chains, trees, parts of levels, buildings - are extremely similar to those in Bloodborne, re-skinned but recognisable. It's difficult to actually get upset about this when you appreciate how good both games are, especially given that they were released almost within a year of each other. But nonetheless, it's something I've noticed.
Speaking of Bloodborne: that game is an extremely good argument for why FROM Software and Hidetaka Miyazaki should be given the time to turn their collective energies towards something new. Bloodborne shared a great deal of Dark Souls' DNA - the death philosophy, interconnected environmental design, the unique multiplayer, much else - but a new setting and different combat brought so much new energy into the mix. It is more focussed than Dark Souls, more aggressive, disturbing in different ways. Bloodborne is the second-best FROM game after Dark Souls, in my estimation - and for some people it is the pinnacle of the developer's achievements. There is no doubt that amazing things could be made using the same principles, with without the conventions and expectations that come with the Dark Souls name.
Another thing that makes me slightly wary about the potential future of Dark Souls is Namco-Bandai's approach to marketing it, which is... well, hardly in line with the subtlety and intelligence of the game itself. As exhibit A, I present the horrendous merchandise "unveiled" a few weeks ago, comprising a bunch of cheap t-shirts with forced memes on them, designs that are actually cheap rip-offs of existing Olly Moss designs. "Git Good or Go Home" makes me vomit a little bit in my mouth. I am 100% convinced that it makes Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team want to cry. And then there was Slashy Souls, which I couldn't even bring myself to download.
Dark Souls t-shirt designs, alongside the Olly Moss ones that "inspired" them
Something I'd rather play in the next couple of years than another new Dark Souls game is a remake of the original Dark Souls - a spectacular, almost bottomless game whose various technical wrinkles could be ironed out to make it truly timeless. The original Dark Souls, running perfectly, with updated multiplayer and technical improvements to bring it in line with the various mods that have made it almost perfect on PC, would be a gift to culture.
The indications are that Dark Souls 3 is selling better than any previous entry in the series. It seems, from observing online conversation around the game, that there are plenty of people playing it who have never played a Dark Souls game before. This makes it even more unlikely that it will be the last entry in the series - nothing that's making money is ever allowed to cease with dignity, especially not in video game world. But wouldn't it be perfect if this Dark Souls game - huge, fascinating, critically adored, beloved by fans in a way that Dark Souls 2 wasn't - were the end? If it could go out on a high?
There is no escaping the law of diminishing returns. The games whose reputations last decades are the ones that are given breathing space. It might not be time for Dark Souls to end just yet; perhaps there is more for FROM to squeeze from this world. But it's definitely time for a break.