If the games we play are anything to go by, the depths of hell are one of humankind's favourite destinations when it comes to travels of the mind. Few fantasy RPGs or horror games could be considered complete without at least a quick excursion into the domain of demons and sinners. And what better place to conclude your game than hell itself? What better villains to fight than the citizens of Pandemonium? Hell has found a steady home in many kinds of games, and its popularity shows no sign of abating.
Humans have gazed up at the sky and wondered about their place in the cosmos since the very beginning. Do the same in a game like, say, Breath of the Wild, and you're presented with vivid images of clouds, stars, the sun and the moon. It's an important part of this and many other games that helps to create an illusion of a continuous space that stretches beyond what we actually experience within the confines of the game. The sky implies that Hyrule, despite being a fantasy world, is a part of a cosmos very much like our own, and we accept this even though we cannot fly up and check.
The most frustrating trial of David Bossa's YouTube career came earlier this year, as he was macheting his way through the lambent sprawl of Persona 5. That game's campaign is infamously long-winded, with heaps of incidental micro-episodes packed into Tokyo's sinuous alleyways. As the foremost archivist of video game boss fights, Bossa wasn't concerned by Haru's fractured familial relationships, or Ryuji's track meets, or Akechi's meddlesome inquiries. Instead, he was racing to document each of the game's 11 encounters on his YouTube channel for the day of its release, 4th April, 2017.
Editor's note: We're delighted to welcome back Gareth, the editor of the fascinating new zine Heterotopias, for another piece exploring the intersection between architecture and video games. You can find his last piece on Resident Evil's mansion here, and find a copy of the second issue of Heterotopias over here.
Following a disgustingly successful Kickstarter campaign which closed out a full $3.7m over its $50k target, Dark Souls the Board Game is finally finished and ready to ship. Steamforged games kindly sent me a copy ahead of time, which I used to make the video review embedded below. As I dove into the very heavy box (the core set alone weighs in at a hefty 3.4kg), however, I found my mind repeatedly coming back to a comment during the initial kickstarter announcement from Steamforged Games - "Prepare to die. Because this will be the hardest board game you have ever played."
Dark Souls is over. Sort of. Creator Hidetaka Miyazaki has previously said that while Dark Souls 3 may not officially close out the series that made him a star, it will provide a "turning point" for the franchise and developer From Software alike. Basically, it sounds like it's going to be a long while until we get the inevitable Dark Souls sequel, prequel, reboot, or spin-off. (Dark Souls: Andromeda perhaps?)
Dark Souls 3's first DLC expansion Ashes of Ariandel launches today, and I can't wait to get stuck into it. Ashes of Ariandel transports players to a snowy landscape hidden behind a cursed painting - a set-up which will no doubt sound familiar to players who journeyed through the original Dark Souls' optional area, the Painted World of Ariamis. It's unlikely the connection is purely coincidental; there'll be plenty more lore to try and decipher (or completely ignore) by the time this DLC has done the rounds, I'd wager.
Dark Souls did a lot to become a classic. Between its polished combat system, enticing challenges, and inspired art direction, it's little surprise that it drew such a devoted following. But perhaps Dark Souls' (and Demon's Souls before it) most memorable attribute was its ability to surprise people. Who can forget the first time you encounter a colossal hydra basking in a moonlit lake? The first time you realise that you can curl up into a crow's nest and be whisked away to a remote mountain? The first time you discover that you can step into a painting? But after Dark Souls' DLC, sequel, and its sequel's DLC (not to mention the series' spiritual sister Bloodborne), developer From Software was sometimes criticised for retreading old ground. Dark Souls 3 is a fantastic looking game, but one can only explore so many castles and fight so many knights and dragons before the whole enterprise blends together into a Castlevania-esque milieu of medieval mishmosh.
If the headline reads like a lame joke, that's because it began life as one. "Imagine if they were hunting for Black Knights," I remarked to a friend, watching tourists and students coast merrily up and down the South Bank in search of Squirtles and Goldeens. "Imagine if Dark Souls were an alternate reality game."
From Software's Souls series is notorious for its punishing difficulty. Yet just being hard wasn't enough for some people. They needed to make things extra hard. Do things like completing the entire game without ever levelling up or using a shield. Then other people had to come along and put those already impressive tasks to shame by playing these games with cumbersome guitar or bongo controllers, completing a campaign without getting hit, or figuring out buff concoctions that can fell colossal bosses in one hit.
Dark Souls 3 has plenty of surprises in store for fans - one of which we've been meaning to cover since its launch. For those who haven't progressed to the game's final third, we'd recommend bailing out on this article for now. It's a great moment and we'd rather not spoil it.
The concept behind Souls multiplayer is unique among big-budget releases, and so to this day feels fresh. Online multiplayer design over-values symmetry as some sort of foundational principle - which in certain genres, to be sure, it is. But the Souls series thrives on placing a rock-solid combat system in asymmetrical scenarios, bringing players together in unexpected ways and often giving one side a clear advantage. This is the life of an invader, and it's never about fairness.
From Software has come a long way since its first Dark Souls port to PC. Back then, it was a timid dipping of the toe for the studio, and one that drew ire for its sub-720p, 30fps delivery. Fast track to 2016 and it's quite a different story. Dark Souls 3 is replete with options on PC that gives players far more wiggle room than ever before - plus the ability to run at 1080p and beyond. Barring its peak cap of 60fps that's at odds with higher-refresh monitors, the out-of-the-box experience is strong, and lends itself well to a testing across a range of PC set-ups.
"No matter how tender, how exquisite, a lie will remain a lie." - Lord Aldia
Dark Souls 3 was released in Japan a few weeks before the rest of the world, offering an early glimpse at the game on both PS4 and Xbox One. We took advantage of this, testing the performance level of the earlier, spoiler-free parts of the game. Since then, many players have reached the end of the game and reports have emerged, suggesting that late game regions were suffering from sluggish performance reminiscent of Blighttown - the original Dark Souls' most notorious performance trouble spot. Clearly, remaining spoiler-free wasn't going to cut it. If frame-rates degraded later on in the game, we needed to check it out.
We tackled three key areas - Farron Keep, Irithyll of Boreal and Lothric Castle - each of which has been reported as a trouble spot by multiple users. After playing through each of these areas, we noted some issues, but failed to encounter anything resembling the apparently crippled performance levels being reported. While slowdown is present at points, it is limited to minor pockets triggered by asset streaming or alpha effects in close proximity to the camera. Lothric Castle definitely exhibits extended dips to roughly 28fps at certain points, but aside from this specific section, the game maintains a 30fps average fairly easily.
However, the evidence suggests that this wasn't always the case. These tests were carried out with the latest patch - 1.03. Now, all of Dark Souls 3's updates have mentioned performance improvements, but 1.03 actually delivers some tangible improvements. We only have limited assets showing issues on earlier builds but the snapshot of the game shown below tells its own story: Dark Souls 3 still has some issues, but the optimisation effort has paid off - 1.03 is clearly running much more smoothly.
If the game wasn't tough enough, or if after vanquishing the Big Bad you're still itching for more, don't fret. That was only a warmup, and for the brave (or foolish), Dark Souls 3 is quite happy to up the stakes for you with its New Game Plus mode.
Editor's note: Our full Dark Souls 3 review will go up next week wherein veteran Souls aficionado Rich Stanton will evaluate From Software's latest action-RPG outing, and we should be able to offer you impressions soon. Until then, Jeffrey has been having a go of the Japanese version on PlayStation 4. Here are his thoughts after 28 hours with the import.
Due for a worldwide release on April 12th, Dark Souls 3 snuck in an early Japanese launch today - meaning that we can at last see this game running on Xbox One. Contact with this particular version has been a long time coming, with our only coverage of the game to date coming through the PS4's network beta. Finally, it's possible to gauge the performance of From Software's engine running on Microsoft hardware - essentially the technology at the heart of Bloodborne, a PS4 platform exclusive.
In a church in Hamburg, the pews have been rearranged and dozens of consoles have been lined up wall-to-wall. A makeshift stage has all but engulfed the altar, drinks are being served at the sidelines and when we first arrive, bleary-eyed from an early plane journey, organ music blares down from above as dry ice is pumped in from the sidelines. The very small part of my brain that identifies as a former Irish Catholic is thrilled and ever-so-slightly aghast at the blasphemy of it all, but for today, the congregation that has gathered for worship here are all pious members of the church of Dark Souls.
Running on PS4 for its network stress test, From Software offers a remarkable taster of what's to come in Dark Souls 3, six months ahead of its 2016 launch. The engine at its heart already has many parallels with Bloodborne, a PS4 title that blazed a trail just this year with the studio's more experimental ideas. Both in its nightmare-fuelled art design and its technical frontiers, Bloodborne was a marvel to behold - a current-gen title in the Souls mould, and also indicative of the direction taken with the upcoming multi-platform Dark Souls 3.
A hollow bursting through a barrel, or a knight waiting poised around a stonewall corner; Dark Souls has excelled at surprises just as much as it has its sense of rich, clotted enigma. How dispiriting, then, to be faced with a sequel that, from first impressions, felt so familiar. More Dark Souls will always be a welcome thing, of course, but could this sequel that's been fired off in quick succession after sequel expansion Scholar of the First Sin and spiritual partner Bloodborne be the proof that you can have too much of a good thing?
Hidetaka Miyazaki isn't anything like I pictured him. I'm not really sure what I expected, but the image I had conjured up, of a quiet, brooding auteur responsible for the creation of nightmarish visions like the Gaping Dragon and Quelaag and Ebrietas, was far from the grinning figure who stands at the front of the room for our hands-off demo, bright-eyed, animated, and joking about PC malfunctions and Legolas from The Lord of the Rings.