It’s hard to deny the pure aesthetic pleasure of learning that things are connected. The feeling that the universe you currently occupy has been designed. That it makes sense. That there is order in chaos.
In Dark Souls there are moments like this.
I remember one in particular. You stumble for what seems like hours, low on health, one hit from death, burdened with thousands of souls, so much to lose. Where is my bonfire goddammit? Where is my safe haven?
Death ekes from every blind corner. In the darkness of an abandoned church you spy an elevator. You dare to go down that elevator. The elevator trundles and squeaks. Slowly stone and concrete makes way for a glorious vista. The music changes; everything changes. It takes a second, but soon you realise – you have circled back to the beginning.
You didn’t need a new bonfire. Dark Souls led you back, all the way back to where the game had began, to one of the very first bonfires. You were world weary, you were almost broken. But you made it and this world, this universe in which you exist, makes perfect sense, if just for a second.
I am here to tell you that Dark Souls III does not have that moment.
That may disappoint you. But it hasn’t disappointed me. Dark Souls III may never circle you, world weary, back to the beginning. Dark Souls III will deny you that aesthetic pleasure. But Dark Souls III does something different.
Dark Souls III never lets you forget where you came from.
There are multiple moments like this. Here’s my favourite example: you'll gone deep into a forest, a forest that makes way to a lake — a lake with a bewildering amount of exits. It’s extremely easy to get lost in this lake. It’s easy to get distracted and go down a wrong path. Easy to lose your place, die and surrender a good 10,000 souls into the ether.
Bugger it, I’ll go this way. I head down a ladder, deeper into the unknown.
Now the lake is a swamp. It’s a fucked up swamp. Stay in the muck too long and you’ll get poisoned, but you have to get knee deep in that muck to progress. The air is thick with this shit. It’s gross. Everything you touch has the potential to kill you. No respite.
No respite, but a ladder.
You spot the ladder. It’s surrounded by a gang of poison slugs the size of Dobermans. This does not deter you. You are curious. You weave in and out and start clambering up the ladder.
The poison disperses as you climb. The thick air evaporates. All of a sudden you’re climbing up a ladder in the cool, clean air. You climb all the way up to the top. You turn around. You admire the view.
Holy shit, look where I came from. Look how far I’ve come.
You keep climbing. Eventually you make it to a bridge that spans across the horizon. You will kill a giant on that bridge. You’ll look out into the distance. You’ll see the areas you fought through to get here. You will never circle back to those areas, but you’ll never forget what it took to get here, in this moment.
Hours later, in one of the most beautiful areas From Software has ever created, you will be guided towards a door. Dark Souls III may not lead you back in the grander, meta sense, but each specific area is endlessly intricate. You’ll open the door fully expecting it to lead you back to a bonfire you lit hours ago.
But it won’t.
It’ll lead you to another vista. It’s a dead end, but that won’t matter. Because there, in the distance, a bridge that spans across the horizon. Hours ago, in another lifetime, you clambered up a ponderous set of stairs. You climbed into the clear blue sky.
You killed a giant on that bridge.