At this point, Dark Souls is as much a ubiquitous point of reference as it is one of the best series of games in recent years. With Dark Souls Remastered being so fresh in everyone’s minds, disc trays and digital libraries, it seems like a great time to look at what each of the three games does best. All three are incredibly enjoyable, but each one has some aspects that pull it out ahead of the others – yes, even Dark Souls 2. And so, here is a run down of the best bits in each game.
It can probably go without saying that there’s spoilers after this point.
Starting at the beginning makes the most sense here, especially when many people consider this to be the best in the series, which is understandable for a plethora of reasons.
The first, and probably most astounding accomplishment, is the world that FromSoftware created for Dark Souls. The areas here create a mosaic of stunning scenery and interlocking vistas, allowing the player to suddenly end up somewhere they have already been without even realising it. More often than not, no matter how far you’ve ventured from the last fire, you are never that far from something familiar, which is something that hasn’t really been replicated in the series since.
There’s also a lot of nuance with the characters you meet, and specifically Sif, Siegmeyer, and Solaire. While they have little linking them directly, the one thing they share is that their stories are incredibly tragic. Of course many of the NPCs in these games have sombre stories, such as Gael from 3 and Lucatiel from 2, but Solaire separates himself from the pack by starting off as a beacon of light, a true shining example of hope in the face of adversity, before losing himself to his own obsession with the light. He becomes consumed with his quest and destroyed by it. Even if you do save him, he is immensely depressed and has lost all hope.
Siegmeyer has a similar tale. He constantly finds himself in trouble, initially somewhat jovial about the situations he finds himself in, but he eventually becomes beaten down by being saved. He will either die in battle, survive because of you and become despondent, or the worst outcome, gets killed by his own daughter after he has hollowed.
The saddest by far is Sif. In the original game all you knew was that Sif was guarding Artorias’ grave, which is sad enough. Fighting her and whittling down her health ends with Sif limping after you, still wanting to protect everyone from the dangers of the abyss which are currently inaccessible without the ring she guards. The DLC made the story far more devastating, you find her trapped in a circle of protection left by her master, and you can even summon her to help in a boss battle. If you do this prior to meeting her in the main game, she will recognise you when you do fight her, she sniffs you and whimpers, solemnly taking up the sword to keep the key to the abyss out of reach. Fighting her after this recognition is heartbreaking.
Finally, and one of my favourite things personally: the Hydras. The Hydras are immense, the scale of which is not seen again in the enemies in the series. Your first encounter is likely to be in Darkroot Basin, as you are wandering around you will hear a strange noise, then get hit by multiple water bullets and promptly die as a result. Only once you work up the courage to get up close can the Hydra be effectively taken care of. It is a standout moment and exemplifies so much of what makes Dark Souls great: the solution is easy if you are brave enough to seek it out.
Dark Souls 2
Dark Souls 2 is generally considered the weakest of the series, and while it may not be the best Souls game, it’s still an enjoyable game for the most part. It did have some genuinely fantastic features that are unique to this entry, which is a shame as it would have been great to see some of these thing carried over to the third game. As it stands Dark Souls 2 is an outlier for the series in many ways, getting the fewest nods in Dark Souls 3 and suffering due to some strange choices.
One of the best things about this entry was the vast array of combat options you had, both in terms of magic and weapons. Thanks to the DLC expansions and just the scale of the game itself, there were so many weapons, whether boss, unique, or otherwise, that you could find something for any style of play you wanted. From the Darth Maul-aping Twinblade which gave the ability to whirlwind around and stun-lock enemies through to the Dual katanas which allowed for double strikes or Dual Scimitars that allowed for quick flurries of bleed inducing onslaughts. Magic gained Hexes as well as changing the scaling of Pyromancy, and you could go into multiple specialisms or just stay in one, there were so many choices.
There were two incredibly interesting bosses here as well. The first is the Darklurker, a boss that was unlocked by following a covenant’s path, and one that was so optional that many probably never even found it. The boss fight was interesting enough, but it was the work you had to put in to get to the fight that was the most fascinating thing.
On the opposite end of the scale, The Pursuer was a boss which in The Scholar of the First Sin would appear throughout the game and give you a chance to win some loot every time it pulled itself out of the dark and you defeated it. The true boss fight was in the Forest of Fallen Giants, but even here you could fight it early and bypass the proper boss fight. The idea of an enemy who hunts you down constantly has been seen in games before, but not in the Souls series. It made some of the quieter areas suddenly more menacing and was a great opportunity to earn bragging rights.
Scholar of the First Sin also changed up enemy and item placement as well as re-balancing issues with the vanilla version of the game. The idea that the games could be remixed isn’t something that FromSoftware have leant on since, but this re-release showed the potential of mixing things up for a New Game Plus run-throughs. Your first NG+ was met with a horde of Falconers that weren’t there the first time, helping to keep you on high alert and making the additional run much more interesting. They didn’t really capitalise on this, although having The Duke’s Dear Freja come up the side of a cliff to greet you on your way to her was an incredibly nice touch as well. Of course, there are mods for this kind of thing on PC, but it would be great to have a randomiser as part of the games themselves.
Dark Souls 3
Now we come to the end of the series, the final, and greatest, entry. Everything that had been learned across both previous games and also the brilliant Bloodborne was put into this game, making what is a true masterpiece of gaming. While many fans would like for the series not to end, and From are now saying that they might return to the series in future, this is an astoundingly good send off, with The Ringed City being a culmination of all the events that have occurred in the series.
While we are on the topic of DLC, I think this game has the best of them all. While Artorias of the Abyss was a standout for the first game, and an exceptionally good addition to the game, introducing characters and furthering the story you found, it isn’t quite at the standard of The Ringed City. Ashes of Ariandel was incredible, stumbling across a young painter, who seems to echo so much about Crossbreed Priscilla, you find the cause of one of the standout moments from the first game. Additionally, you meet Slave Knight Gael, a man on a quest to find the Dark Soul, the soul of man, to be used as pigment for the Painter.
The Ringed City then carries all of this on, and you find yourself closer to the end of time than you have ever been in the series, with worlds converging on each other as everything collapses in on itself. It’s shown in the Kiln of the First Flame, with everything being pulled into one point. Things are a mess, and after slogging through some of the best boss fights of all time, you come to the end. Naught but ash remains, and you stumble across Gael, feasting on the last remnants of mankind, trying to fulfil the Painter’s wish. What an ending it is.
The pace of the Dark Souls 3 is by far and away the most enjoyable of the series as well. Thoroughly influenced by the much faster Bloodborne, the game requires more than just turtling up and reading slow motion attacks. You need to bring your best with you, your dodging has to be nigh on perfect and everything is faster than ever before and being much more satisfying because of it. The sluggish pace of the first game is gone, the stupidly inconsistent dodging of the second is gone as well, and all that remains is a wonderful blend of pace and tactics that keeps the fights head and shoulders above the others.
Another thing that feels heavily inspired by Bloodborne’s adventure through Yharnam are the weapon arts. These help to give the weapons a more varied feel, so just because a weapon is from the same class doesn’t mean that it will behave as the others do. My personal favourite example of this is in the katanas. Normal katanas have two special skills, and both come from Iaidō. The first is a upwards parry, allowing you to make gaps in your opponents attacks in order to strike them down, and the second is a dash forward and a horizontal slash that aims to gut your enemy before they realise what has happened. However, if you get the katana forged from the soul of Darkeater Midir, you get completely different special attacks. This time you can either strike the ground and send out a shock-wave, or you can launch an incredibly fast flurry of attacks before re-sheathing the weapon. It is these tweaks that helped the weapons to feel more interesting than in the first two games.
While we are on Darkeater Midir, shall we talk about the bosses? While the first game had Ornstien and Smough, an undoubtedly fantastic fight, there were still a few really poor bosses. We all fought the Asylum Demon at least twice in each playthrough, and the Bed of Chaos stands out as one of the worst bosses in memory. Meanwhile, Dark Souls 3 has Gael, Midir, The Dancer, The Twin Princes, Yhorm, The Abyss Watchers, and so many more great fights. Thanks to the increase in pace and the general refinement of the Souls formula, the bosses had a greater feeling of being overwhelmingly powerful without having to be cheap. The fights were intense while still requiring you to analyse the attack patterns and learn the bosses. It made for some great moments, and honestly Gael is probably my favourite boss in the entire series.
So there you have it, I understand everyone has their own favourites for lots of different reasons, but I love all three of these masterfully made games. The remaster of the first has allowed me to really sink back into the series and I love it there. While the knowledge that FromSoftware don’t want to go back to it themselves kind of sucks, the games they make nowadays tend to be fantastic. We now know that Sekiro is coming and so is Deracine, with one being in a more classic vein than the other.
Miyazaki has also recently said that they are just taking a break from the series instead of completely being done with it. What would you want to see in a future Dark Souls if we got one? What kind of story would you want told?