The problem with the internet – and the internet as a platform for voicing your opinions – is that it’s a breeding ground for karma. You see, the internet never forgets, and it’s so easy to make bold claims that later make you look very silly indeed. Sure, it would be easy enough for someone to cover up their claims – Disposable Media itself is a fairly modest entertainment website and we could probably get away with a few sneaky edits before anyone starts pointing fingers – but any decent content creator takes pride in what they produce, and we try not to go back on our opinions unless, I don’t know, there are big societal changes that influence what people deem to be acceptable. However, this is about something with much less gravitas. In late March of 2016 I wrote an article named “The Bloodborne difference”, explaining that calling Bloodborne a “Souls game” could end up doing more harm than good. My general point was that the design changes in Bloodborne could be enough to entice a Souls naysayer, because people have different reasons for disliking things. That said, I also pointed out that Bloodborne could influence the design of future games. To quote: “If the rumours about Dark Souls 3 taking on ideas from Bloodborne are true, the protests will have some truth to them – Bloodborne may well be a “Souls game” – because the definition will have changed.”
Dark Karma 3: the discovery
The general premise of karma is that what goes around, comes around – be a lousy person and you’ll face the consequences sooner or later. And so the experience I’ve named “Dark Karma 3” begins with me spotting Dark Souls 3 in the January sale on the PlayStation Store, and snapping it up. I said that Bloodborne wasn’t a “Souls game” but when I began downloading Dark Karma 3 I knew that I may soon end up eating my words. To provide some background, I didn’t get on with Dark Souls 1 at all, I completed the base experience of Dark Souls 2, and I obtained all trophies for Bloodborne and its DLC. Because, y’know, it’s not a Souls game. So how does Dark Karma 3 fare? Without wanting to give too much of the game away, it seems to take cues from a lot of the things that had gone before. Ember feels like the equivalent of Humanity or Insight, but in my mind the state of being “embered” seemed a little less ambiguous and easier to grasp. The pacing seems a lot better than the other Souls games – there aren’t joyless marathons to run in order to get somewhere, and bonfires or shortcuts seem to come at just the right moment. The story isn’t too hard to grasp if you look at what’s on the surface, but there’s still a lot to dig into if you’re keen on learning more. The deliberate “clunky” movement of the earlier games seems to have been dialled back a little, but at the same time it doesn’t go as far as Bloodborne’s godlike dashes. Stat-juggling is still more in-depth than Bloodborne, but won’t cause too many headaches once you’ve figured out what kind of character you want. Above all else, it respects the core tenets of the previous Dark Souls game without mindlessly aping them. However, it is still a Souls game, and Bloodborne is still a Bloodborne game. Why?
Dark Karma 3: the catch
Think about it this way – if you gave Bloodborne’s Hunter the same moveset as the Ashen One, it just wouldn’t feel right – it would be completely at odds with the rest of the game design. If you drop the Ashen One in amongst the Eldritch Abominations of Bloodborne, it would look silly. Dark Karma 3 has fun combat, but it’s sorely lacking the generous hitstun of Bloodborne’s enemies, and – forget about future character builds demanding hours of play – the Hunter has astonishingly good evasive options from minute one. The Ashen One has a clunky little roll that’s at the whim of equipped gear and overall weight, and there are many more enemies that simply soak up hits as they wind up attacks. Furthermore, no amount of two-handed styles or weapon skills will be as memorable as the designs of Bloodborne’s trick weapons (in my opinion, etc), and an Ashen One equipped with a few bows and a standard parry animation would seem out-of-place in Yarnham next to a Hunter with a variety of firearms to counter with. As mentioned before, the Hunter faces much less threat of invasion, and the Ashen One won’t ever see Amygdalas crawling up the walls of Lothric Castle. And again, Souls takes its cues from medieval fantasy, not cosmic horror. This might read like a “versus” discussion, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a casual onlooker, I celebrate the unique identities of everything from Tenchu, King’s Field, Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro, and I commend a studio that refuses to settle into complacency. However, if we want more people to enjoy these games, we have to collectively celebrate their individuality and champion the brave design decisions they make, otherwise we’re one step away from suggesting that a studio as bold as From Software only knows how to make one game.
Find out more about Dark Souls 3 at Bandai Namco’s website here