Dark Souls 3 reviews dropped this morning, and the consensus is largely positive (not a surprise for video games, of course, but then, even I liked it). A lot of talk so far has centred on the game's familiarity to its predecessors, and how easy it feels in comparison. The question is, just how easy is it? And is it the best entry point for newcomers?
Well, Dark Souls 3 is, early on at least, easier than what came before, but it's still not an easy game. Which isn't to say it's a bad one: historically, part of the appeal of Souls is that you make your own way in almost every regard, piecing together both story and strategy from doing, not being told what to do. Its supposed difficulty isn't just found in terms of enemy strength and player weakness, but in terms of the player's ability to parse the information given to them.
Which is, of course, a twatty way of saying that a lot of people can't or won't engage with the series' rules. But Dark Souls 3 does have a slew of changes to core functionality which, intended or not, make it a lot easier to both begin your journey and keep to it.
The most obvious of these is the movement and roll speed. If Bloodborne's gameplay was 'light' – quick movements, multiple enemies, defense based on slipping and moving – and Dark Souls is 'heavy' – shields, armour, tanking – then Dark Souls 3 is in the middle. It's perfectly possible to roll your way out of almost all danger later on, and in the early periods an increase in foot speed gives players more than a fighting chance. Yes, you'll still take heavy damage when at a low level, but it never feels ponderous or insurmountable.
As a result of your increased mobility, it now feels a lot easier to sprint through areas rather than methodically clearing enemies on your way to the next bonfire. Souls games have always had times when you go for broke and start sprinting for safety in the vain hope you'll find a place to rest, but here it seems much more of a viable option even when you're not frustrated/angry/thinking about buying a gun and a plane ticket to Japan.
If the increased movement and evasion speed is part of this sense of forward progression, then the other factor is that the stages are more linear than what went before, and as such enemy placement functions not just as a barrier but also as a guide, a line showing you where the next checkpoint is. Unlike the original Dark Souls there seems like there are few real chokepoints (bar bosses, of course) for the player to really negotiate. There's nothing on the level of that game's massive dragon, or its huge clusters of enemies which need taking out before you continue. In the Undead Settlement I just kept running, encountering two or three bonfires on the way because enemies just couldn't catch me.
Even if they do catch you, there's a strong chance that you'll have enough health to deal with them anyway. Dark Souls 3 is generous in its approach to HP: before you even start you you can choose a gift which boosts health (not unusual), and later on you'll get a ring which gradually restores HP. The biggest boost to player mortality however is the embers that you find. Consuming these adds 25% extra to your health bar for the duration of that life: great for boss fights, better for simply dashing your way to victory in both combat and exploration.
There are other elements which make Dark Souls 3 far more forgiving than before – less weapon breakage, warp bonfires from the off – but the end result is that the game is far more palatable than the others. That said, it does get very difficult later on, and – this is the important bit – as ever with Souls it's not just about how hard or easy the experience is, but also how well you adjust to everything in it, from enemies to diligence to tactics and strategy.