I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said but I think this is a very tricky thing to do right, and something I’ve seen games stumble on a number of times, and I don’t think the latter scenario is a common one. I think most people, when a game isn’t fun because they don’t “get” it, they stop playing. The percentage who “power through”, despite not enjoying the game, is probably in the single-digits (especially in games longer than, say, six hours). So I feel like they can be largely disregarded in game design (few enough people finish games anyway, as Steam stats, PSN and so on shows).
The other issue with skill gates is that to justify them, you have to explain the mechanics to the player in detail (not merely with one-off tutorial prompts or the like) and train the player to deal with them in a staged, organised way. Otherwise it just comes across as bad design or artificial difficulty (as opposed to honest difficulty). You need any skill gates to test specific skills you’ve trained the player on, and to do so in clear, obvious way, and ideally to explain to the player what they’re doing wrong if it doesn’t work out. You also need animations and boss attacks to be extremely clear and logical so they can be learned well, telegraphs understood, and so on (and if an attack has an unclear telegraph, that’s got to be part of the actual design, not a mere visual flourish or simply unconsidered).
This is rather antithetical to the design of most Souls-type games, which are intentionally vague and enigmatic (and indeed, the main Souls series is full of poorly-explained or even actively counter-intuitive mechanics), and often have bosses with unclear animations and which are visually messy. I can only think of one Souls-related game which actually manages to merge these two approaches with any significant success, and it’s very much not DS3, but Nioh. Nioh steadily trains you on stuff, stops you and explains stuff, and the first boss fight tests very specific skills it actually taught you. Even Nioh falls down almost immediately though - the second “major” boss is extremely poorly explained and it’s unclear what is wanted from you, even though the fight is somewhat demanding, technically. Maybe Sekiro does a good job here? I don’t know.
Sonson talked about “dancing the dance”, and that’s part of the issue I see here. Part of what worked so well about Demon’s Souls and DS1 was that they were quite immersive. Both normal enemies and bosses did have patterns, but they were largely naturalistic in the sense that they worked in ways that made sense, and could often be exploited by particular approaches (as befits the AD&D-ish inspiration). They also tended to be fairly straightforward, keeping you in the moment. Whereas by DS3, we’re seeing more complex, less read-able, less obvious patterns, combined with the game being more demanding in terms of how much you’re required to avoid, yet your character isn’t really any more responsive, nor the mechanics any clearer, than in DS1. It’s doable, but it’s a different kind of game. Genre-drift, if you will.
For me, Dark Souls was, as you say, a game of survival. That’s your reward. Yeah sometimes you’ll defeat an enemy in some flashy way, but is that as satisfying as surviving and making the next bonfire? Nowhere near it, I’d suggest. Indeed from my own experience, defeating a boss or area a “cheap” way can feel more satisfying than doing it the “right” way, which in a complicated and perverse way, can actually feel cheaper! I think someone articulated this earlier in the thread talking about how parry-riposte made the game feel too easy - and it’s not just that - a number of ways of doing it “right” in DS1 can actually feel “cheaper” than the more methodical and in some sense “cheesy” approach. It’s weird, but it’s there. The tone and aesthetics, and indeed the content of the Demon’s and DS1 are entirely supportive of this “just survive” approach.
Anyway, I feel like DS3 is an example of genre-drift, and not in a cool way. I suspect that if that genre-drift continues with, say, Elden Ring, and in the same example, then the entire Souls genre will likely be “on the way out”. I mean, there’ll be a fair few yet, but I think the audience for Soulslikes that are both punishing and downbeat in general terms and require Platinum-style “skillz” is limited and temporally delimited (in the sense that it’s a specific cohort age-wise, and likely not really being added to at this point). Whereas for a more accessible game like DS1, the audience is much larger (hilarious to call DS1 accessible, but compared to DS3, it absolutely is - I suspect that’s true for it compared to many though definitely not all modern Soulslikes).