Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Ranking the Dark Souls 3 Areas From Worst To Best

Dark Souls 3 is certainly the most refined of the trilogy (quadrilogy, if you count Demon's Souls). I found that it was lacking a little bit of the grittiness and mystique of the earlier games in the series, but so goes the price of progress.

#23 - Irithyll Dungeon: Terrible zone here. It's more or less a Tower of Latria tribute zone, without any of the moodiness and eerieness that made Latria so memorable. In contrast, this zone manages to just be really annoying and drawn-out, with some of the most irritating enemies in the game. Dark Souls 3 is an outstanding game with few weaknesses, but it does have a few bad zones.

#22 - Road of Sacrifices/Farron Keep: My reaction to this was: A swamp level already? Not too keen on this one, and it's the least-gorgeous level out of a bunch of gorgeous levels. Was pretty much lost the whole time and it was the first zone I had any real dying in. It's also very early in the game, which is too early for a swamp. The zone itself is compelling and has a lot of secret areas that spring off of it. However, in execution, it's too early in the game for this kind of place, which spells doom for you.

#21 - Catacombs of Carthus: An undead crypt zone that looks just like most of the crypts in Elden Ring. I really didn't like this zone at all. It brings back the reviving skeleton enemies that were such a PITA in the first Dark Souls. A lot of the rooms and hallways pretty much look the same. Also the boss fight is kinda terrible, with his frostbite AOEs. Just a tedious zone to deal with. The main thing saving this from the bottom spot is that one part where you can chop down a rope bridge and cause all your pursuers to fall into a ravine. They put a ton of mobs right before that bridge, too, so people who know it can be chopped down will get to watch a whole horde of foes fall into the abyss. I think DS3's low points are a lot less low than the earlier games in the series, and it only really has a few zones that I dislike. It's all uphill from here.

#20 - Untended Graves: It's a mirror image of the first zone in the game, only with basically no light, which isn't great. The enemies here are either combo-happy high-HP speedy sword guys, or...dogs. And if you know Fromsoft you know how bad any kind of dogs are in these games. However, it gains some points for its story significance, and the boss (a rematch with the first boss) is a cool fight. It's also a short area, so a bit inoffensive.

#19 - Profaned Capital - A short zone that functions more as just a path to a boss fight than anything else. Probably should have lumped it in with another zone like I did with Farron Keep. Still, it looks cool, and it's distinct enough to give it its own spot. There isn't much here though.

#18 - Smoldering Lake: Sort of Demon Ruins 2.0. This was an opportunity to do a better version of one of Dark Souls' unfinished zones. Unfortunately it kinda sucks. Zone is too small, they don't do much with it, and it's got a confusing layout with obnoxious foes. And what's with the giant arrows bombing you from the sky the whole time you're running across the lake section? There's a little bit of that in other zones as well and it's got to be the most annoying game mechanic in this entire series.

#17 - Kiln of the First Flame: Not much of an area, basically the final boss and the walk up to him. It's pretty damn cool with the eclipse going on (hello Berserk). And the final boss is a nostalgic fight, especially with the music being a callback to Gwyn. An A+ zone, but not a very deep one.

#16 - Cathedral of the Deep: A sprawling cathedral. I mean this place is gigantic. I got lost in here a lot. It's one of the most three-dimensional zones I've even seen in a game. However it was also the first time that an area went on "too long" to the point that I kinda lost interest and was ready to move on. Usually these zones know just when to not outstay their welcome. The Deacons of the Deep are a solid boss fight, and those "crowd of foes" type boss fights are one of the more fun mainstays of the series.

#15 - (DLC) Painted World of Ariandel, Village/Snowy Mountain: Took me a while to figure this maze-ish area out (had to knock down some trees) but it's a hard place to forget. Dark, snowy wilderness, full of things that want to kill you. It's what Souls is all about. Not as good as the first half of the DLC but it's still an interesting zone full of Resident Evil monsters that want to get you.

#14 - Consumed King's Garden: Short and annoying zone full of toxic floors that poison you. It does look cool though and has a distinct vibe not like anywhere else in the series. Like a place made completely out of toxin and shadow, if that makes any sense. From an environmental storytelling perspective, it's pretty good. From a gameplay perspective I couldn't get out of there fast enough. It sure is a cool zone on the surface though.

#13 - Cemetary of Ash: Good intro zone with relaxed battles and a variety of things to help you get acclimated to the controls. Also appreciated how everything here had a vague ashen tint to it, the "Terminator Salvation Effect" if you will.

#12 - Anor Londo: Was super-excited when I found out this place was in DS3. I rated it DS1's best zone, after all. Well, in this game it's got much steeper competition, plus the version of Anor Londo we get here is like one quarter of the original zone at best. It's a post-apocalyptic, distant future version of the place, and while it was pretty damn awesome to revisit it (and fight one of the game's coolest boss fights), the short length of this zone takes a lot of steam out of it.

#11 - (DLC) The Ringed City, Swamp/Caverns/City Interior: The final areas of the game are home to the two toughest fights, Darkeater Midir and Slave Knight Gael. Other than that, there isn't a whole lot to say about this part. I liked the skirmishes with Midir before the actual boss fight, and the Gael battle is superb. It's a good zone that has some great moments, and it ends the game on a solid note.

#10 - High Wall of Lothric: Incredibly gorgeous vistas in this level and it's where you spend the most time in the early-game. However the layout is a bit confusing with the way it loops around onto itself so much and it took a while to get through. It's still a pretty brilliant introduction to the game, and gives you a close-up look at the castle that you'll spend the rest of the game getting back to. Would be ranked higher if it didn't have one of those annoying "Souls Dragons" that sits on a bridge and breathes fire just to annoy you while you try to get around.

#9 - Firelink Shrine: I ranked the other hub zones, so here's the latest one. It's a perfectly servicable hub zone that looks and works a lot like The Nexus. It also has some aspects of DS1 Firelink Shrine, like being able to find some hidden areas around it and some vertical puzzles to solve. While I prefer Majula as a hub zone, I do appreciate this one.

#8 - Undead Settlement: This feels very much like a Bloodborne level. It could be a cut level from that game, it's so Bloodborne-like. This was a great zone with lots of twists and turns and things to find, and the boss fight was full of surprises. It does lose some points for the section where a nearby tower giant hurls missiles at you. Similar to the Old Yharnam section I didn't like in Bloodborne.

#7 - (DLC) The Dreg Heap: This is an all-out warzone and a sprint to get to the end while under heavy fire from foes hovering above that you've got no retaliation against. There are some really cool set pieces here, and several long-distance falls where you plummet through various glass ceilings only to land safely on a glyph. All in all it's a super-memorable zone that gets largely unsung.

#6 - Grand Archives: The final major area of the "main story". Place is deadly and labyrinthian. You also have a rematch with Crystal Sage, one of the better bosses in the game, and here they have it use the level itself against you by teleporting to higher and higher points in the building to ambush you from. It's a well-designed zone, memorable, and a lot of fun. It's also the toughest the base game ever really gets, and feels like a real legit "last level" of yesteryear.

#5 - Lothric Castle: A tremendously detailed and sprawling palace that stands in stark contrast to the ruins in the rest of the world. One cool thing about it is that you can see this palace looming in the distance for most of the game, stoking your curiosity. When you finally get to it, it's a multi-level monstrosity that leads directly into the game's finale. DS3 really brought "vast three-dimensional dungeons" into the forefront for this series, then Elden Ring elevated them.

#4 - (DLC) The Ringed City, City Exterior: Incredible locale filled with incredible vistas. I wanted to rank this near the top of the list so badly. However, the ghost archers that welcome you in might be the most obnoxious thing in the Souls series. Took me a while just to get past that first run-up to the city itself with the Mogadishu-esque fusillade of gunfire raining down. Felt like the designers made it this way just to mess with people. It can be a cool section of gameplay... until you have to make that run a bunch of times. Once past that, at least, the zone itself is really nice, and one of the more breathtaking parts of the game.

#3 - Irithyll of the Boreal Valley: A stunningly gorgeous zone, maybe the most gorgeous in the entire series up to this point. Basically a Victorian city at night with a full moon and snowfall. However it's home to some of the deadliest foes in the game and serves as a huge danger spike. I ended up running away from most of the fights here, which made the place a bit of a chore. However it's carried by how good it looks, and the deadliness of the enemies isn't necessarily a detriment either.

#2 - (DLC) Painted World of Ariandel, Snowfield/Ice Caverns: Incredibly gorgeous locale that might be my favorite area in the game overall. The vista looking at Sister Friede's chapel is an incredible moment, and the fight with Sister Friede might well be the best fight in this entire game. A three (!!) form boss that the final boss of the game will actually join you for, resulting in a pretty damn cool segment.

Then you've got the ice caverns down in the valley and, My God, this whole place is just monumentally gorgeous. This DLC is the very definition of something that was worth adding to an already-good game, and this first half of it is easily the most wowed I was by any zone in this game. Factor in the couple of really good boss fights and you've got a winner of a zone here. Fromsoft sure knows what they're doing with "ice levels", I'll say that much.

#1 - Archdragon Peak: The big optional postgame type area that isn't DLC. This feels wildly different from everything else in the game. The first third or so of the level is one big boss fight against a dragon, where you fight your way to the top of a tower in order to get a perfectly-aimed OHKO on it from the sky. Or you can fight it normally on the ground. Then there's the weather. This is the one place in the game with a gorgeous blue sky, then when you reach the last part of the zone, a thunderstorm rolls in that overtakes the entire area.

The game's optional uberboss (pre-DLC) is Nameless King, and what an epic fight in the rain. This zone is awesome, and the only downside to it is how easy it is to miss it given how optional and out-of-the-way it is. Then you've got the aforementioned Ancient Wyvern boss, which utilizes a good portion of the level's layout during the fight. Pretty much a masterclass of level design all around.

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