Ashes to ashes.
It has been a week since The Game Awards wrapped up and honored some of this year’s best and biggest games. These games spanned a gambit of genres, themes, and studio size, resulting in one of the most diverse pools of nominees we have seen in some time. Yet, Dark Souls III seemed to only get passing glances by the judges, and was only up for one award (Best RPG) which it lost to The Witcher III’s expansion “Blood and Wine.”
Dark Souls has been a series defined by its high difficulty and dedicated fan base that has elevated the series from a cult classic into a mainstay in the role-playing genre. This culminated in the third and quite possibly final entry in the series: Dark Souls III, a game that is sitting at a lofty 89% on Metacritic. Its gorgeous visuals, refined mechanics, interesting story, and fantastic boss encounters made it one of the best RPGs of the year.
The question then becomes, why wasn’t Dark Souls III nominated for virtually any awards this year? First, let’s take a look at the main category it was nominated for: Best RPG, which included Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, World of Warcraft: Legion, The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine, and Xenoblade Chronicles X. All of these are great titles, however Dark Souls III is a game that not only broke the conventions of a typical RPG but sharpened them to near perfection.
Combat has always been at the heart of this series and what From Software offered was perhaps the best RPG gameplay mechanics of the year. Taking the best aspects of both Dark Souls and Bloodborne, it merged them together to create a diverse combat system that can take advantage of a variety of styles and builds. Combat was exceptionally responsive and offered some of the most varied styles of play released this year. From Software also spent more time with the multiplayer side of things, culminating in one of the genre’s best transitions between co-op and PvP which almost never truly broke the immersion of this game’s setting.
While it still followed the cryptic narrative the series is known for, it added more depth and lore to a world that is usually shrouded in mystery. Dark Souls has never been a straightforward series but it’s placement of dialogue, notes, and visual clues helped this title’s world feel lived in. No one ever truly wins in Dark Souls III and the twisted, warped stories of its few inhabitants convey this better with a few words than other RPGs could with extended dialogue trees. There’s a dark story to be told here, however, it’s up to the player to discover it for themselves.
What’s interesting is that Dark Souls III wasn’t even nominated for smaller categories like Art Direction and Sound Design this year. Yes, the Souls series has followed the same gothic art style since its inception; however, it has never looked better than in this third iteration. Monsters span the gambit from intriguing to horrific, to the downright tragic. This is portrayed through gorgeous character designs that are both unique and look fantastic in motion. Couple this with the twisting, fascinating level design and you get one of the best-looking titles of 2016.
Sound has always been a strong point of the Souls series due to the wonderful mix of music and ambient sounds. One of the more interesting aspects of this title is how it uses what limited music it has, with most of the actual score reserved for boss battles. This not only helps enhance the fights from a design point of view but also serve as a great way to emphasize different bosses. The tragic melody of the Abyss Watchers is wholly different than the intense music surrounding the Dragonslayer Armour boss fight.
However, From Software’s use of sound transcends just their use of music but how it factored in the enemies and NPCs. The powerful footsteps of undead knights echo down hallways and help player identify what looming threat is just around the corner. All of this comes together and brings the tragic world of Dark Souls III to life in a way almost no game of 2016 did.
Finally, there is the debate if Dark Souls III deserves to be nominated for Game of the Year in an already stacked year with fantastic games. With titles like Uncharted 4 and Overwatch being the absolute best of their genre for the year, a game like Dark Souls III more than deserves a chance for Game of the Year. Even if the nomination pool is expanded, the lack of representation for the RPG genre was noticeable. From Software offered players a gorgeous, macabre world to discover that blended seamlessly with their gameplay mechanics. It took elements from its genre and perfected it like the other Game of the Year contenders, which more than justifies it getting a seat at the nominee table.
We aren’t saying that games like Overwatch or Doom didn’t deserve to win their respective categories, however Dark Souls III deserved more than a passing mention. The Game Awards are meant to showcase some of the best games that the industry has to offer and ones that will be remembered going forward. While it didn’t win any awards, we have little doubt that Dark Souls III will remain as a genre defining title. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have some more bonfires to ignite.