Learning from past experiences
From Software's Souls games and Bloodborne have an amazingly intuitive, challenging gameplay formula, fascinating worlds to explore, and brutal enemy encounters to overcome. From Demon's Souls to the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne, each of From's action RPGs is built around the same, challenging philosophies while managing to feel fresh by adding new features and tweaks here and there (for better or for worse). Now Dark Souls 3 is on the way, and there are a few things the next game should learn from the previous entries.
There's a lot to live up to in the Dark Souls series. After all, the first game made it to the top of our Best Games Ever list. Dark Souls 3 has the potential to be the series' top title, if it takes the best parts of Bloodborne, Demon's Souls, and the Dark Souls games into consideration.
Bring in some of Bloodborne's combat mechanics
Bloodborne has taught me something important about the Souls game formula: fighting without a shield is exceptionally entertaining. By adding health regeneration mechanics and faster movement speed to compensate for the lack of defenses, it makes less defensive play far more manageable. In the Souls games, I've always equipped a shield because, from the start, blocking is almost essential - at least until you get the items, experience, and abilities to go without (and, yes, speed builds can be quite effective in Dark Souls). It's just that shields always remain the safety blankets of the series, and that needs to change in the next sequel.
Take a bit of Bloodborne's speedy, shieldless combat style and let it influence Dark Souls 3. We may have already seen a shift in this direction with the announcement of DS3's new weapon stances. The stances are said to give attack bonuses and other combat benefits that could make way for a greater variety of combat options. We'll just have to wait and see how it plays out.
Cut down on loading times, and let us fast travel to specific bonfires
At certain points in the Dark Souls games and Bloodborne, you have the ability to fast travel between the bonfires spread across the world. Whether that ability comes right from the get-go like in Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne, or is earned halfway through the game like in the first Dark Souls, warping across the world is wonderfully convenient.
Bloodborne almost got its travel system right, but forces you to wait through a second loading screen, the game making you to go to the Hunter's Dream hub before you can travel to your desired location. If Dark Souls 3 gets a warp mechanic to augment its doubtless multitude of hidden shortcuts, pulling the bonfire to bonfire transportation feature from Dark Souls 2 would be fantastic. It isn't like it makes the game easier or anything. You just don't need to look at a loading screen as often.
Do more things to mess with players when they die
You know what's a bigger pain in the ass than retrieving your souls after you die (but rather brilliant with it)? Having to defeat the thing that just killed you to get your souls back. Bloodborne introduced a system that screws with failed adventurers just a bit more than the Souls games. Occasionally, one of the enemies near your bloody death site will gobble up all your blood echos (Bloodborne's equivalent to souls). You can't just run by and pick them up anymore. You have to kill that enemy (and possibly die again) to get the game's precious currency back.
Dark Souls 3 needs more of that kind of stuff. Yes, losing all of your souls feels like a harsh punishment when it happens to you the first few times, but after a while, you learn to adapt. You learn to run by and grab your dropped souls, then get the heck out of there. Death becomes just a slight inconvenience. Call me a masochist, but I want death to hurt a little bit more in Dark Souls 3.
Don't make (almost) every boss an armor-clad, evil knight
Don't get me wrong. The Dark Souls games have some fascinating boss designs. The Chaos Witch Quelaag, the Gaping Dragon, and Ceaseless Discharge (ew) in the first game are all memorable encounters. Dark Souls 2, though, is not as creative. Many of the bosses are just huge weapon-wielding dudes in plate armor. Dark Souls 3 needs to get back to putting us in front of eccentric boss designs that we haven't seen before, and with original game - and Bloodborne - Director Hidetaka Miyazaki back for the second sequel, we should expect nothing less.
Bloodborne has bosses that are out of this world, but also fit into the eldritch Victorian horror setting of Yharnam. There are giant spiders covered in hundreds of eyes. There are vomit spewing monstrosities. And speedy, corrupted, fellow hunters pose some of the greatest challenges of all. The variety ensures that players never know what to expect when a boss's introductory cutscene starts to play. Dark Souls 3's bosses are going to need to be on point to top some of From's designs so far. But if they're a mix of massive, inventive, disturbing, and just plain gross, they'll be well on their way to standing up the intimidating beasts we've already faced.
Let us dig into the lore as much, or as little as we want
The Dark Souls stories let you dig into the narrative as much as you want. If you don't care much to sort out the lore, you can get by with simply knowing you're an undead warrior who needs to go out and kill a bunch of monsters to lift the curse. On a base level, that simple scenario is all you need, really. You can ignore the lore almost completely, and the things you do and see in the game will still make sense, more or less. If you want more, you can read into all of the weapon descriptions, boss souls, and environmental clues to decipher the rest of the lore, which ends up being as much fun as playing the game itself.
Now, this may just be me, but when I finished Bloodborne, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I couldn't tell you the first thing about that old guy I found at Byrgenwerth, why there are giant abominations everywhere, or why Gherman does the things he does. Because it puts more of its plot up-front - but still, without explaining it - you have to read into Bloodborne's story much more than the Souls games in order to avoid confusion. While I know that's Just What From Games Do, Bloodborne's more explicit - but still oblique - story elements make things very confusing for those not wanting to go lore-hunting. All I'm asking is that Dark Souls 3's story be easy enough to understand on the surface level that I don'r feel obliged to watch a narrative explanation on YouTube immediately after the credits roll.
Bring back all of the goofy and practical Dark Souls 2 multiplayer stuff
One thing that Dark Souls 2 expanded on much more than any other From game was the PvP system. There were dedicated PvP covenants that allowed players to receive significant rewards for their efforts in ruining other players' lives. You could hop into PvP arenas for one-on-one battles that wouldn't be interrupted by annoying NPCs or Blue Sentinels. In almost all of the previous games, there are also fun bonuses, like items that let you disguise yourself as a piece of furniture, or turn invisible, to surprise anyone who invades your world.
Dark Souls 3 can expand on the PvP of the series even more. Let more players enter the dedicated PvP arenas for team or free-for-all battles, or take part in different multiplayer game modes like capture the flag or king of the hill. Give us plenty of PvP covenants to dedicate ourselves to with rewards that make it all worth it. The amazing multiplayer is a huge part of the reason players stick around for New Game+, and let's make it even better.
Go back to the interconnected world of Dark Souls and Bloodborne
Demon's Souls and Dark Souls 2's have a hub-style layout. Demon's Souls has players teleporting to its different environments, while Dark Souls 2 sends players down semi-linear branches that typically end in big boss battles. Those world layouts work well enough, but I've always found it much more interesting to explore the interwoven environments of the first Dark Souls and Bloodborne.
In those games, you never know where the door in front of you will lead. It could take you to a completely new area, with enemies you've never seen, a humongous boss waiting to eviscerate you, or create an unexpected but ingenious shortcut to a location you've already explored. Trudging through these environments, discovering incremental ways to make your journey easier, is so much more interesting and rewarding that leaping from one self-contained region to another. If Dark Souls 3 sticks to the interconnected open-world, it'll be a step (many, in fact) in the right direction.
Leave out the tortuous, Blight Town-inspired, rickety scaffolding area
There's one in every Souls game. Just... don't.