Elden Ring

My relationship with the Dark Souls franchise is a bit complicated. I was first introduced to the series via the original Dark Souls at E3 in 2011. I knew that people who’d played Demon’s Souls were excited for it, so I was obligated to spend at least part of my Namco Bandai appointment that year on Dark Souls. So when the opportunity came, I asked the booth rep about it.

I was led to a console setup in a dark corner of the booth, where Dark Souls awaited. Keep in mind that the game wouldn’t be out yet for three more months at this point and I hadn’t really been following it closely at that point. I was aware of the hype, but I’d kept it mostly in my periphery.

This booth experience was super weird — one of the weirdest, in fact. The booth rep basically just left me alone to figure out Dark Souls on my own. I was given no explanation and no assistance. So I picked up the controller and delved into the brutal combat of Souls for the first time. There was a bridge and a boar and a tower. No matter what I did, I died. Approach the bridge? Die. Try to attack the boar? Die. Try to climb the tower? Die. (Souls veterans probably know the exact part of the game I’m talking about here.) I was confused and a little bit frustrated, but after a few minutes, I was starting to figure it out.

Elden Ring

Just then, a camera crew rolled in and people started shouting at me. “Journalists incoming! Clear the console!” Or something like that. I protested that I was a journalist and that I had an appointment to see this, but I was escorted away from the booth. I don’t think I even got to finish the rest of my booth tour.

I don’t remember who the camera crew belonged to, but I will say from experience that this is not normal for E3. I’ve attended three times, and that’s the only instance in which I was treated that way. What’s even weirder is that I was working for a major gaming outlet at that point, so the fact that I got escorted away in favor of another outlet was more than a little bizarre.

Needless to say, the encounter left a bad taste in my mouth which I ended up associating with Dark Souls for a long time.

Elden Ring

I finally came back to the Soulslike thing with Bloodborne, and despite my initial reservations, I actually really enjoyed it. That was when the formula finally clicked for me. I did attempt Dark Souls II at that point, but I still kind of hated it.

Eventually, in 2018, I finally decided to try Dark Souls again. This time, for whatever reason, it stuck. I was transfixed. I couldn’t stop playing. I got hooked, and ended up earning the Platinum Trophy in the Remastered version (which includes all the DLC). This was no small task.

I even ventured into Dark Souls II a second time, and this time around I actually played a decent chunk of it. There are parts of Dark Souls II that I really like (I especially enjoy the opening areas), but there’s a lot that I don’t like about it. My biggest gripe, and the thing that prevents me from enjoying the game as much as I could, is the mechanic where your max health decreases every time you die. Death is already punishing enough in the Souls games, but being able to try an encounter as many times as is necessary mitigates this. In the first Dark Souls, that feels like an acceptable tradeoff. In Dark Souls II, that’s being taken away from players.

I got pretty close to the end of Dark Souls II and I started dabbling with the DLC, but I never ended up finishing it. Which also means that I never started Dark Souls III.

Now that Elden Ring has an official launch date (January 21, 2022), everyone is talking about it. Elden Ring is the next game from the development studio behind Dark Souls, FromSoftware, and it does share a lot of similarities with the Souls games. There’s a similar look and feel, with murky skies and a sort of haunted, demonic-high-fantasy vibe. The boss design looks similar (and boss design is one area where the Souls games are at their best). There’s even a bonfire!

Elden Ring

In fact, people are going so far as to say that Elden Ring is just Dark Souls with horses.

As someone who writes about video games, my backlog is enormous, and it grows larger by the day. Especially during E3 season. But now Elden Ring is all I see whenever I log into any form of social media, and I’ve started feeling really guilty about never playing Dark Souls III. I really would love to (I own a copy of it), but I certainly don’t see myself having time for it in the near future. Maybe later this summer?

And look, I know playing Dark Souls III — or any of the Souls games — won’t be a prerequisite to enjoying Elden Ring. But for me, as a games enthusiast, one who both writes about games for a living and generally enjoys Soulslike games, not having played Dark Souls III feels like a mark of shame. On top of that, I’ve been feeling a growing desire to return to the Souls franchise ever since playing Mortal Shell last year. It’s very much on my to-do list; I just can’t fit it into my schedule right now.

Elden Ring

I very much do intend to play Dark Souls III before Elden Ring, but the clock is ticking and my backlog is only getting bigger. I will do my best.

Though, when it comes to the Souls games, my best is not always enough.

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