Hello and welcome to the unofficial Dark Souls documentary. I’m Joeydotrawr and today it’s my hope to assist you in understanding the global phenomenon that became “The Souls Series” a product in modern gaming that has shaken the very core of what it means to be challenged. And not just by the enemies or the terrain, but by the very foundation of what storytelling can be.
A clue driven plot left in the hands of the patient and meticulous player. Where a simple nudge and a few key lines of dialogue can spawn a year long search for a holy grail of gaming.
It’s also my intention to provide you with the knowledge needed to understand what makes these games such a triumph in every facet of their design. Everything from elaborately constructed worlds, to a revolutionary multiplayer function, that gives you just enough aid but follows it up with an even dose of peril.
Throughout this documentary you will hear me often referring to “Souls” as a general description for the 5 games made up of : Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls II, Bloodborne, and Dark Souls III. Only distinguishing between them when a point is to be made about one in particular.
So with that, let’s begin with the father of the series, Demon’s Souls.
Demon’s Souls was released in 2009 by From Software and Bandai Namco. A Playstation 3 exclusive title, and I don’t think anyone was prepared for the waves the game would make.
My first memories of the future RPG giant were actually far from pleasurable. Ironically for all the same reasons that myself and the majority of the gaming community would go on to sing it’s praises.
There was an overly complex attribute system. There were no clear directions. The plot was hidden under layers of hidden items with seemingly no value other than their text box. And the difficulty, my god, the difficulty. Within minutes you’re at the mercy of a foreign combat system. And struggle so entirely that it’s hard not to think “I must be missing something.” But you aren’t. Welcome to the Souls Series.
From here is only gets more difficult, more complicated, and with each painful step you’re pulled deeper into the need to understand what exactly the purpose of all this is. It’s not until your journey to “The Nexus”, your home base for this bout of torture, that it begins to sink in. “There is no purpose. This is Souls. And you either fight, or you die.” There is no 50% on this one. You give all or nothing. You win or lose. And while you want to cry out in rage, blaming luck, chance, or unbalanced design. You know that Souls will hand you nothing you haven’t worked for. So you press on, and earn a gaming badge of valor.
Where most games allow their player a slight reprieve upon noticing their struggle: Souls continues to pile it on, basically saying, “If you were foolish enough to die in the first place, you don’t deserve a reward.” Leading to a player base that is so hardened by situations of despair and anger that nothing can break their will. I honestly believe completing Souls is a right of passage for a generation made too soft by player catering.
Souls doesn’t ask you to enjoy it. It simply states that the story only ends if you’re worthy of progressing through it.
Your death actually served to reward players, while simultaneously making the game even more difficult by two systems; one of Bloodstains, the other “World Tendency”, which would later be removed from the series to provide players with a more uniformed game experience.
The first system however, would become much more of a Souls staple. So let’s talk about what they did right. Bloodstains. The simple version is this: the game provides a marker displayed on the terrain that represents a place where another player has died. By approaching and activating that marker you’re able to view the last moments leading up to that players death. Allowing you to make certain judgement calls on that hazards might lie ahead.
This is extremely important when you come to see the ruthless ways by which the souls series sets it’s players up for death, through traps, and clever monster placement. Oftentimes using items as bait to lure eager and less weary players to their death. This is an easy way to spot a Souls veteran. They can be faced with a seemingly honest terrain and immediately know the dangers it likely hides in the shadows.
The other system was one that functioned a lot more directly with the game world. Each location in the game could be viewed through a world map. And each location had three states indicated by their color. Either Black – White – Or Neutral. The color of the world changes the difficulty of the demon’s that lie within. As well as the NPC’s and quest lines available. It was a truly interesting but clunky system that was cut with good reason. Much for the same reason that there are no adjustable difficulty levels. Souls simply is what it is. A uniform experience that presents it’self in the same way to each player. So that by the time you finally reach the ending credits no one can dismiss your victory.
I’m going to jump forward a bit and talk about what happened after the explosion of praise for Demon’s Souls. And that’s Dark Souls. The place where it all truly begins. The mistakes made in the past are learned from and give rise to a true masterpiece.
In 2011, two years after the success of Demon’s Souls we get our first game in a trilogy to follow. This time things are built around a single interconnected world. All places linked together through locked doors, and hidden shortcuts. It was a monumental triumph in world building.
For the first time in the series you feel like you’re part of the world, experiencing it as a whole, rather than being thrust into specific sections like you were in Demon’s Souls. The nearly flawless balancing of enemies made it possible to clear through each section, even the later ones, on skill alone. But still be penalized for reckless play on end game characters returning to their humble starting areas.
So let’s talk about those starting areas. Who are we and where did we come from? Well the game begins by locking us in a cell. We are an undead, and we’re trapped in the undead asylum. Locked away from the rest of the world for fear of us becoming “Hollow”. A process that basically turns us into the pop culture equivalent of a zombie. Except with a better grasp on how to kill our prey.
A body is dropped from the open window above us and an armor clad man stares down at us for a moment before vanishing off into the depths of the asylum. The body at our feet contains the key to our cell and from there we begin our quest. But what quest is that? Right now we’re unsure so we wander the undead asylum admittedly without purpose. Without a history, without memory, and without a past.
This is just how Dark Souls likes it. So often do RPG games try to bring a characters past into the world, and very rarely does it actually stand to enhance our understanding of the character. Most often it just creates a convoluted narrative. Adding needless time to the game play. Dark Souls doesn’t ask you to sympathize with who you were. It simply says “This is who you are now, so what happens next?”
Next is to set you up on a quest. When it comes to the traditional RPG your mission is very simple. It’s lorded over you in every moment of the game and almost impossible to ignore. Or in some instances like The Elder Scrolls, the game is what you make of it, but when you finally choose to embark on what they dictate the “main quest” to be. It’s once again glaringly evident.
Not Dark Souls. Instead you are given a prophecy. Spoken in a very poetic way and set loose into the world. Could you be the one the Prophecy spoke of? The Chosen Undead? Well that’s going to be difficult to figure out. Because the lore of the game isn’t about you, it’s about the world around you. And by piecing together those clues you might then be able to figure out your place in the world.
It’s quite the change from the typical RPG design. One that I can honestly say I was thrilled to have. Well not at first, at first it’s such a dramatic hands off approach to story telling that it almost didn’t feel fair. But time goes on and so does Dark Souls. With or without the player being entirely aware. This is such an important theme of the series that Dark Souls II even addresses it in it’s prologue.
It’s a wildly innovative method to draw the player in (Or not). You find yourself completing tasks ranging from assisting NPC’s who are only moral based on which side of the compass you stand at.
And defeating Hollows, of heroes who you want to believe are paragon’s of good as told by the artifacts that share their story.
And you aren’t the only one. A fan favorite NPC is one that is seemingly on the same path that you are. His name is Solaire and he’s a man on a quest to find the Sun. In Dark Souls the sun is a symbol and a physical entity. By way of a sort of holy magic dubbed “Miracles” you learn that lightning is a tool of the sun.
And a tool used to peel apart the stone skin of Dragons. This caused the beginning of the Age of Fire, the age which you are now living.
However the fires fade, and call for an undead to kindle the embers with their soul in order to sustain that age just a bit longer. Well after the age of fire, is the age of dark. An age that’s most notably ruled by the Dark Soul of man.
But back to Solaire, he is on a quest to acquire the sun which he believes will sustain the age of fire. There are many who follow these teachings and learn the miracles of the sun. They form an organization called the Warriors of Sunlight.
The Warriors of Sunlight are one of many covenants to first appear in Dark Souls, but they live on in the subsequent games for years to come. The covenants primary functions range from being a quick matchmaking system for the Player versus Player aspect of the game, to simply adding another layer of story and depth to your character through the retrieval of Sorcery, miracles, and a number of other items.
These magic abilities double as highly informative world building elements. Each with a respective relevance to the plot. Their descriptions are often more interesting than their in game effects to be quite honest. Some of the worlds most notable events can be understood by reading the text written on the spells as they’re discovered.
The tales of some NPC’s even live on in future games through their spells. The most famous of these stories comes from the Sorcerer named “Big Hat Logan”.
An NPC who’s questline takes you from the point you release him from a cage suspended in a gauntlet stronghold “Sen’s Fortress”
until the time he goes mad in the grand archives of Seathe The Scaleless, studying the effects of Crystal magic, which is said to allow everlasting life. It’s a traumatic moment when you finally see what the effects of Hollowing have done to a friend.
But this is a cycle that will repeat itself time and time again throughout your days in Souls, so it’s best to have a kind heart and put your once allies out of their misery.
None illustrate this transformation better than Lucatiel of Mirrah. A character whom you meet in Dark Souls II, but we’ll get there a bit later.
First let’s take a step back and look at the more technical side of Dark Souls. From a glance the number of stats can be overwhelmingly complex. And to be fair, it is. But it’s still a dramatic improvement from the tangled mess used in Demon’s Souls. At least now we are using words instead of symbols to label our character sheet.
Although future games will go on to combine the two display methods.
In general souls functions like a traditional RPG. You gain experience (souls) from killing monsters. And you use those souls to gain levels. However there is a massive difference between this method and the others. In this case our souls not only serve to allow our character level increase, but it also acts as our currency. Which is needed to purchase any items, and additionally upgrade your equipment.
Yes, you are forced to constantly make a choice between investing in yourself, and investing in your gear.
The catch is that neither method can be effective without the other. Equipment require specific stat investments in order to wield, and get considerably stronger based not only on their enhancements, but of individual stats that reflect the prowess required to use them. It’s a very in depth system that allows players to really piece it apart in many different ways to find what works most effectively for them.
However one side of stats and character design that Souls has never really gotten right is the balancing of defense. Your armor rating, is so underwhelming as to approach meaninglessness. Accompanied by the addition of slower movements and resource regeneration for being above a specified weight allowance, leads to an extremely unbalanced system where being naked is more effective than being covered in the thickest steel armor.
This led to the term “Fashion Souls” which calls attention to the idea that the most important part of your armor is not the protection it provides, but the appearance. It’s amazing how the immersion of a game world can be disturbed or enhanced by something as simple as looking the part.
One thing I haven’t yet mentioned in the mechanics of Souls is probably the most important. It’s a green bar that indicates your available stamina. Stamina is consumed when taking almost any action, and likewise, actions cannot be taken when your stamina is drained. This includes, running, blocking, attacking, casting, just about every action required to survive the hazards of the world.
The ability to manage stamina is a top priority in Souls. And that alone will determine who will or won’t succeed in finally bringing the game to a close. Years of other RPG’s condition players to find an opening and lash out, trading shot for shot until your enemy is dead. One of the first things Souls teaches you is to be patient and tactical. Greed is the number one killer of novice Souls players. The urge to get one more attack in when you know you should reserve stamina for re-positioning the battle is a common mistake. It’s amazing how such a simple mechanic could add such a level of tactical strategy to the series. But it has. Stamina management is the Hallmark of a Souls master.
Mastering all of these key mechanics is what makes the Dark Souls experience what it is. And without understanding those systems you’re more likely to find yourself in the same struggle for days or weeks. Dark Souls is unlike other RPG’s where eventually devoting enough time to gaining character levels will trivialize a good majority of enemies and bosses. Instead you are challenged to play well first and foremost. With elements like equipment and character level only slightly moving the needle in your favor. This forced excellence is where souls has made a name for itself.
So let’s talk about some other things that make Souls games special. Like the level design. As I stated before Dark Souls was the first attempt at weaving together the world into one cohesive landscape. Everything, from the hidden depths of a lava soaked ruined kingdom, to the upper echelons of a holy Cathedral are woven together through pathways that are barred from one side.
This creates a system of exploration that allows the careful thorough players to be rewarded for seeking out every inch of new areas as they find them. In addition to these unlock-able revolving doors, you are also on the lookout for keys, that can open places you were previously unable to reach. Sometimes allowing you to skip entire sections of the game that other players could spend fumbling around in for weeks. This is extremely helpful when you’re clearing through the game for your 2nd and 3rd times, wanting to get to specific places for specific things very quickly.
One of the best examples of this mechanic comes from the area called “Blighttown” It’s one of the most mentally depleting experiences of each game you first time through. It began in Demon’s Souls as “The Pit Of Defilement” and it was categorized by an excess of grotesque demon’s and insects that inflict the status ailment “Poison”. As well as Toxin which is more or less a super version of poison. Each was inflicted independently which led to players continually losing health from both effects at the same time. By themselves these two effects could drop players in the blink of an eye. But that wasn’t all these areas gave us.
We were also given movement impairing swamps, that reduced our ability to outrun our enemies. And barred you from rolling, which is your primary evasion ability.
Then there are ledges, and catwalks. Each setup to cause a tremendous amount of damage, or more likely death, when you fall from them. Which will be often considering the positioning of Demon’s, and the staggering effects of their attacks.
Later the series introduces a massive light reduction in these areas as well, making it nearly impossible to navigate without investing some time into lighting torches, or carrying one on you at all times.
So all this being said, Dark Souls allows the player to acquire a key in the early points of the game that will completely skip a vast majority of this irritating area of the game. It’s one of the most prominent and worthwhile shortcuts they have created across the entire Souls series. I can honestly say I have ventured through whats called “Upper Blighttown” only twice in my entire career of playing the game. Once out of nievety. And once again out of some masochistic sense of nostalgia years later. It was, both times, some of the worst Dark Souls I’ve ever been exposed to.
However like everything else the game throws at you, it’s a right of passage. You have to clear through these areas in order to earn your right to finish the game. And that is an amazing thing to see new players come to realize. And this is still towards the beginning of the game by the way. So if you’re lucky you might have found your bearings and understand what makes the game easiest to navigate by then, but more likely not. Instead you’ll be tested over and over and some will quit, leaving their character in the Pit Of Defilement, or Blighttown, to wither away and become one of the Demon’s you were there to destroy.
That is just one way which shortcuts, and map design ascend the series to a treasure in gaming. There are countless more subtle examples. But for now let’s move on and discuss some of the other features that make these games great.
If you’re anything like me than you are committed to fully mastering an RPG before leaving it for a fresh title. Since the early days of Final Fantasy a lot of players have been that way. Devoting a limitless amount of hours to squeezing out every bit of possible content from their game. Creating what was commonly called the “master file”.
Well with the advent of gaming achievements, and trophies that has become a more tangible thing to achieve than ever before. And Dark Souls is a perfect example of how those external rewards can stimulate in game goals, adding to the experience overall.
The average Dark Souls player might complete one of the games possible endings, maybe research what the other option would be like then switch to another game. But there is another school of thought. One that demands you complete every achievement possible, and gaining every trophy before moving on. This requires experiencing nearly all the game has to offer. Completing it no less than three times, sequentially with a character, if done properly.
This was a tremendous undertaking and really cemented the exquisite level of content provided in the game. As a requirement you were to claim each of the weapon enhancements, each Miracle, Sorcery, and Pyromancy. And claim every last piece of rare equipment. Some of which needing you to defeat specific bosses upwards of three times before fulfilling that request.
Also adding to this task is the necessity to complete nearly every NPC quest line, learning more about the world in the process. This to me is what completing Dark Souls really means. Simply finishing the final boss isn’t good enough. To really understand the game you have to delve into it. Continuing to peruse, and dig until there is nothing left to be found. Only then can you come to the surface and commit your experience to the annuls of gaming history.
However these achievement goals have been dramatically changed in subsequent games in order to accommodate the changes in pacing and game play. By the third installment it becomes a very tedious chore, rather than the perilous and rewarding adventure it once was. This doesn’t mean I advise against it, but rather advise patience and a stoic attitude when creating your master file of the 2nd and 3rd games.
Now I’d like to talk about something that has had the gaming industry balanced on the sharp edge of a blade since it’s implementation several years ago. I’m talking about downloadable content. A source of fiery debate for gaming fans everywhere. The argument being that oftentimes games are severely hacked apart in order to facilitate later DLC packages that force players to ante up additional cash in order to receive the full experience of the game. Even worse is that these DLC’s can go two ways. They are either a catastrophic failure that only stand to siphon players wallets through the already produced advertising of the original game. Or they can be beautiful works of art that enhance and enrich the original product, adding that extra 10% to make the game world feel more alive than ever before.
Souls series is the latter. The first DLC produced was named “Artorias Of The Abyss” and it took you away from the current game setting and placed you into the past. Where you were able to interact with people and places you only read about up until then. Artorias, was a knight, labeled the Abyss walker by his companions. The Abyss is a very important element of Dark Souls, and can be thought of as the one real villain. It’s basically a corrupting dark that taints the land and people it touches. We wittness the destruction left behind by the abyss in the base game.
A city named “New Londo” left completely to ruins and littered with the ghosts of it’s inhabitants is accessible early on, but you aren’t able to unravel it’s mysteries entirely before receiving the ring of Artorias, which allows you to traverse the Abyss below the ruins. Another brilliant design choice, adding such an intriguing, but impassable area to your first take at the land. capturing your attention immediately without the stagnant slow paced beginnings that most RPG titles suffer from.
But I digress, The DLC Artorias of the Abyss follows another of the cities as it tries to fight off the same evil that plagued New Londo. We walk through the city, seeing the corrupting influence in the mutated towns folk and the great Abyss dragon that spews black flame across the zone. We’re forced to confront our ancient hero Artorias as his mind has fallen to the abyss and he turns his sword against us. A truly devastating moment for series fans. Made even more traumatic when you read of Artorias’s story in the base game and realize the “unnamed hero” by whom he met his end, was you. Remembered in history as nothing but the murderer of a a great man.
But even still our story gets much deeper. Artorias had a companion. The great Grey Wolf, Sif. In the base game you find this larger than life wolf, in the Grave of Artorias, Wielding the greatsword of the legendary warrior in his mouth. The battle ground is littered with the weapons of fallen heroes, either to pay tribute to Artorias, or simply left to rust when the Wolf brought the champions down.
At first glance this moment might seem spiteful. But it isn’t. Sif is there in the grave is his old friend for a reason. But you won’t know that until you put the final painful strike into body. While he limped and struggles with all he has to protect you.
Yes Sif, is trying to protect you from yourself. You see when you finally do bring down the Great Wolf you are left with the Ring Of Artorias. The ring that will allow you to venture into the Abyss. The same destructive force that Sif watched consume his master. He now protects the ring, preventing anyone who taking that same fatal steps to unleashing the forces of the abyss on themselves or anyone else. And well, here we are, about to go against the noble deed of the Great Grey Wolf, and for what?
You might think this is where the implications and tie ins end with this DLC but you’d be wrong. First we have to venture into the deepest parts of the Abyss filled past to confront a being called “Manus”. titled, The Father Of The Abyss. And along our way there is one more surprise. Hidden behind an illusionary wall. Surrounded by the life draining creatures called “humanities”, is a young Wolf Cub. Wounded, but shielded by a powerful magic barrier. The same barrier produced by the Greatshield Of Artorias, rumored to have been used to protect a friend. Sif is there, and he needs our help. So we defeat the threats all around him and release the Wolf pup from the magic barrier. He gives us a howl before disappearing into the dark. And that moment stays with him. If you visit the grave of Artorias in present time to retrieve the Ring, he remembers the moment. And regretfully turns his masters blade on you.
It’s at this point after rescuing Sif, that you descend into the Darkest parts of the city and encounter The Father Of The Abyss. You watch as his gigantic, monstrous form he slinks out from the shadows and this begins one of the most interesting boss fights in Souls history. Periodically throughout the fight, Manus will begin casting a massively destructive area of effect spell that takes either pin point timing to avoid, or the protection of a specific item discovered tucked away in the ruins of the city. This item, the pedant, fights back to effects of the Abyss’s black flame for just enough time to ward off the AoE attacks, and allows you to continue your careful assault on the Abyss Father.
However long it might take to eventually destroy Manus upon his death you are met with a curious sight. A girl, the same girl who enacted the process to arrive in the DLC to begin with. The Princess Dusk. She talks about simply coming into being. From thin air, being born of the from the converging of fear that dispensed when Manus was destroyed. It’s a strange description but pay attention closely because it’s the basis for many things to come. Ultimately the idea is that all of negative feelings of Manus as let out into the world and merge to becomes a person who function on the concept of that emotion.
It’s with that revelation that we finally complete the first DLC in the Dark Souls series. Remember when I started this section by speaking of two ways to handle downloadable content, and Dark Souls demonstrating he correct way. Well this story of Manus, Artorias, and the Abyss, is to what I was referring. This could have easily but a free standing game of it’s own, with every nuance of lore, and excitement poured into a finely cast molding. And this begins a trend of wildly successful DLC for the Souls series. Although it never quite reaches that same level of finesse that Artorias of the Abyss brought, that still doesn’t stop them from being beacons of light, and a glaring positive example for the gaming industry on how to use DLC as game enhancers, rather than consumer exploitation.
And so it is that we bring Dark Souls to a close. With the end of the game leaving the path open for sequels but in a difficult way. You are given a choice to either kindle the first flame and keep the age of fire going for even longer, or walk away from the flame and see what might happen next.
Other games have taken a similar approach to ending choices, and had to deal with the consequences of those actions in future sequels. The balance between having a your choice feel meaningful, but not forcing a complete division in the plot is very complex.
Take the Mass Effect series for example. You are given these gigantic decisions at the end of each game, but ultimately those choices meet little to nothing in the future games. The developers force themselves to make a choice between what will then be the “canon” ending. Or making your choice eventually flow back to the same river either way. It can get messy very quick.
So Dark Souls sets itself up in this same hole, and it has to dig itself out in order to produce it’s sequels. A task which Dark Souls II tackles very competently, despite the dispute of it’s value to the series by the fan base.
DARK SOULS 2
Another two years go by and Dark Souls II gets it’s initial release. But this time our game director isn’t working on the project. Instead he’s heading up another game in the series, “Bloodborne” which we will discuss later. But for now Dark Souls II is released and it’s evident from the start that the focus has changed. It feels like the designers wrote out a formula of what a Souls game is, and added a few new features to drum up a new audience, then let it out into the world. It was a Souls game in form and name, but it was lacking the Soul no pun intended.
But this isn’t to say everything about Dark Souls II was bad. On the contrary there were quite a few design choices that made the game stand out for the better. Things like; duel wielding, and a more concise upgrade path, were experiments that when fine tuned, made the third game in the series the magnum opus of Souls games. I would even go so far as to say that the duel wielding in Dark Souls II actually eclipsed the third game in terms of versatility and uniqueness.
In Dark Souls II, when wielding nearly any two weapons of similar categories, you could enter a duel wield stance allowing you to utilize both weapons together. Where as Dark Souls III there were specific weapons that had a built in pairing. You could not switch either hand out for another weapon of your choosing and still benefit from the duel wield mechanics. Which is arguably one of the most entertaining systems in the game.
However when most people think of Dark Souls II they really think of that disconnect from the world we loved in the original game. We’re in a distant land, far in the future with only remnants of the old world spoken about in item descriptions. It’s almost like our devotion to the original means nothing to the world of Dark Souls II which tends to leave a bitter impression on series fans.
Despite that, it’s in this sequel that the story of Manus, Father Of The Abyss really takes shape. See as time goes on, regardless of your choice in the previous game, the fires begin to fade. And another more powerful soul must be used in order to keep the age of fire going. And the king of a new land, King Vendrick, is the one up for the task. Unfortunately as the time draws near the King goes against the plan and decides to let the fires fade.
This is when the influence of Manus steps in. We hear of Queen Nashandra, queen to Drangleic, the new land, and bride of Vendrick. Her corrupting nature is made of from the feelings of “want” felt be Manus. Just as Princess dusk was made up of Fear in the original game.
So Vendrick locks himself away to Hollow, and his bride begins searching for another to keep the age going. She find this in you and after encouraging us to pass through a series of deadly challenges finally reveals her true form as a daughter to the abyss.
The tale grows even more tragic when a year later with the release of the DLC’s. First we see “The Crown Of The Sunken King” which introduces an underground kingdom and the origins of Black Gulch which now stands atop the ruins. It was here that we learn of Sihn, The Slumbering Dragon, who was lulled to sleep by Elena, Squalid Queen. yet another legacy left behind by The Abyss.
As we venture deeper into the sunken ruins we hear the solemn but elegant song of the Squalid queen as she sings to keep the Toxic dragon subdued. However in our eager attempt to uncover the truth we confront Elena, eventually leading to her death, and the opening of the chamber doors she stood guarding.
It’s here that we meet Sihn, now awake, and enraged from his centuries of slumber and an ancient spear still stuck in his side, which prompted his murderous display in the first place. We use what strength we have left to conquer Sihn and explore his sleeping chamber, It’s here that we find the Crown Of The Sunken King. One of three artifacts that stand to round out the world and story of Drangleic.
We enter the memories of King Vendrick and present him with the crown. He speaks to us briefly, but it’s clear there is more to his story than he led on. But for now that was all of the tale he could tell. It wasn’t until months later when fans were presented with the second DLC that we would hear more of Vendricks story.
Crown Of The Old Iron King was once again a beautifully crafted piece of playable content. With major lore implications and a very powerful callback to one of the greatest unspoken moments of the base game.
It follows the story of the Iron Keep, a place in the base game filled to it’s core with molten iron. To the point where even it’s deft samurai inhabitants can fall victim to it’s hazards. There were many curious moments walking through the iron keep, even the final moments leading up to it’s ruler The Old Iron King who eventually bursts from the molten depths in order to prevent your passing.
So when we got our chance to go back a few decades and see just all this came about it was an exciting opportunity. And it did not disappoint. From the start you are met with a kingdom covered in ash and ruins. With a strange idol presenting itself in the middle of it all like a terrifying obelisk.
After approaching the idol is becomes clear that the inhabitants here are protected, and protectors of the grim statues and if you want to get through them, you’ll have to break the statue first. It was an interesting mechanic of needing to drive an enchanted chisel into the stone in order to reduce it to rubble. Only then would your assault on the warriors all around you begin to show it’s value.
For me this initial engagement was very unlike what we have seen in the Sunken King DLC. The environment was vast open space with mechanical devices and ancient buildings spanning across enormous gaps in the terrain. You balance on an old chain that connects where you are, to the bulk of where the DLC takes place and it’s a jaw dropping experience.
One that very closely reminds me of crossing the Dragon Aerie in the base game. But even in the grand scope of what’s in front of you, there is a somber tone so the moment. The place doesn’t feel majestic or regal. It feels like something has gone terribly wrong. But it’s not until you progress deeper into the heart of the DLC that you begin to realize what happened here.
I mentioned the living statues before but I never got around to discussing what exactly they are: and that’s the would be queen of Iron Keep. Nadalia, Bride Of Ash. Now I say would be queen because the lore shares to us that by the time she made it to the iron keep, the place was already in ruins. Buried under the heap of ash and soot. And the King had long since left.
So either in an attempt to save the dying place, or control it, she splits herself into many soul fragments each inhabiting a singular statue and protecting and empowering those within her reach. Most notably the Fume Knight, whom you will come to know by another name “The Raven Knight Raime, and who you find at the very depths of the Iron Keep protecting the final resting place of the Iron King’s Crown
Only by destroying the soul fragments of the Iron Queen can you stop her power from regenerating the Raven Knight. The story of Raime and his venture into the iron keep is another fascinating part of the lore that reveals itself in this DLC. And we’re gonna get into that, but first let’s discuss a fan favorite moment;
Up in the highest parts of Brume Tower, we find a museum, or a shrine of sorts. Guarded by some of the toughest enemies in the DLC and tucked away from invaders is an ornate suit of armor placed carefully on a pedestal. When you approach the armor you are pulled into a memory. Much like you have been before in the base game. But this time it’s the memory of the Iron King, and you are inside a stronghold guarded by the Allone Knights of the Iron Keep.
The Knights are placed like sentries, all facing outwards and very clearly skilled in combat. Nevertheless you fight your way through them and deeper into the stronghold until you come to a fog gate. It all feels a bit familiar, and almost sad as you enter the gate to find the armor clad Allone himself sitting in a meditative pose in the center of a beautiful room.
Knowing this day was sure to come Allone engages you and employs everything he has to win the fight. Including his bewitched sword whos corrupting powerful requires a blood sacrifice in order to sustain it’s strength. But in the end you overwhelm the great warrior and in is final moments he takes his own life. Leaving you alone in the room.
But beyond this grand chamber tucked away like a memorial to the past is the humble thrown of the Iron King. Perhaps as a monument to their friendship, or as a reminder to always remember where you started. It’s here that the memory of the Iron King comes to an end.
It’s a amazing experience the way this section plays out, and really highlights the effective ways to use series callbacks as a storytelling method. Had we not been so curious about the Iron King and his Allone Knights due to our seeing them in the base game this entire episode would have held little weight. But instead we are flooded with understanding, and nostalgia as we experience what happened to the Kingdom first hand. Maybe not what finally drove the final nail in the coffin but the events leading up to it at the very least.
So back to Fume Knight Raime. Also known at the arm of King Vendrick, he served the kingdom of Drangleic on during a time when the Kings mind was being poisoned by Queen Nashandra. Likely after speaking out against the King’s actions, and casting blame at his bride, Raime rebelled against the crown. His comrade in arms was the warrior Velstadt. Together they held the highest fighting ranks of the King’s guard. But in Raimes rebellion Velstadt was tasked to take the Raven Knight down. Which he did, not without suffering a few wounds of his own.
However, Raime wasn’t executed for his actions, instead he was forced away from the Kingdom we was so devoted to. And in his travels he came to Brume Tower. It’s possible that in his anger he turned to the dark power of Nadalia and swore himself to a new kingdom. But either way Raime’s life had been changed enough that he discarded his Greatshield and instead picked up an enormous Greatsword imbued with the power of the Dark.
It’s worth mentioning here that Velstadt also wield these types of dark powers when you confront him in Vendricks Tomb. Perhaps Raime sought, the same powers that had defeated him through Nadalia, but instead fell victim to the controlling Dark that the Children of the Abyss possess.
Either way the encounter with Raime, the Fume Knight of Brume tower. Former Raven Knight of Drangleic and Right Hand of King Vendrick will forever go down as one of the most well crafted boss fights in the history of Souls. If not gaming in general.
But this is just one of many scenarios in the Souls series that transcend even the game itself. And stand out as complete triumphs of storytelling and design all on their own.
And now for the Final piece of the puzzle we turn our attention to The Crown of The Ivory King DLC. A piece of Dark Souls 2 that brings in one of the villains that’s almost forgotten about until this time. And it starts years ago, even before the original Dark Souls takes place. Back when the Witches of Izalith come together weaving firestorms to help bring down the Everlasting Dragons.
It’s in this time that The Witch of Izalith attempted to recreate the first flame, an object from which the lord souls were born. Her attempt was a failure and the results were a cataclysm of demons and a living entity they named the Bed of Chaos. Her siblings were transformed into demons of the chaos and she herself served as the Bed from which all demons were born.
As yours go by the Chaos grows, eventually some learn to manipulate the chaos even forging destructive pyromancy spells from its power. However it’s also during this time that the Chosen undead defeats the Bed Of Chaos, her siblings and plunges into the ruins of Izalith. But it was too late. The chaos couldn’t be stopped and the most we could do is complete the tasks we were set out to do and leave the Chaos for another day.
It’s then that our actions in being unable to stop the resurge of the chaos reveal it’s impact during the Ivory King DLC. We fast forward generations and throughout that time the Chaos has been gaining strength. And here in the Kingdom to be known as Eleum Loyce it’s influence is at it’s peak. And so here The Ivory King builds his throne as a line of defense against the spreading Chaos. A battle he was doomed to lose. Taking with him his Knights, and his legacy.
But first we see ourselves cast into the frozen city. An ethereal voice calls to us and pleads that we turn back. Her haunting tone is a somber one. With a sincere sadness. She’s protecting us from something? Or maybe she’s ashamed of what’s happened here. Nevertheless we press on and into the city walls of Eleum Loyce
And within we find it’s inhabitants lost within the storm that covers the great city. Their minds, and bodies twisted, but still in defense of their once home. We travel through the snow covered terrain eventually leading us to the King’s castle. Battling and murdering the king’s giant tiger pet Aava on our way.
But to our surprise we don’t find the king, in the throne, but instead his Queen. The same voice that once warned us to return to where we came, now pleads with us to deliver the King from his terrible fate.
So it seems that the Ivory King, one of the strongest warriors in the known era has dropped below the castle to defend the city from the Chaos that grows and seeks to overwhelm it’s prison. The city of Eleum Loyce.
Feeling a keen sorrow we also plunge into the depths of Chaos to complete the task handed to us by the mourning Queen and here we confront the King’s Guard. In a brief moment the scorched, and battered Guards slam through our defenses. approaching at every angle from portals of chaos all around us. It’s an unwinnable fight in it’s current state. But there is a way.
Deeper in the city walls there are those who are still loyal to Eleum Loyce and it’s Ivory King. Their heads hang in a sadness awaiting their chance to restore their city and keep their honor in tact. You give them that chance.
As you wander once again through the dangerous and depraved citizens of the city, you are able to enlist the help of the remaining King’s Guard who were not yet turned by the Chaos. And through them you are fit to fulfill the request of the Ivory Queen and qwell the chaos beneath Eleum Loyce.
And so you return to the castle and peer into the entrance to chaos. This time with the Knights by your side. You leap once again into the flames and wage war against the burnt Ivory Knights. Your own personal squad giving everything they have in order to complete their mission. Even eventually giving their lives to seal the Chaos portals that allow the Burnt Knights to enter the arena.
But their sacrifice isn’t in vain. As the portals begin to close the Ivory King finally steps from his corrupted home beyond the Chaos gate. His enormous, imposing greatsword, tinged with flame comes screeching towards us. This is the moment we’ve been working towards.
The Ivory King shows us why he was one of the greatest warriors of his time, and what made him so capable of fending off the Chaos for so long. But we are meant for greater things and in the end, we best the Ivory King. Fulfilling our task presenting by the Queen.
It’s hard not to feel remorse for the task completed. In many ways the Ivory King was everything we wish we could be. Beloved by his people, stronger than his enemies. Driven by a will of steel, and a moral code that allowed him to give everything in defense of what he loved.
Even the Queen admits that she was indeed a fractured part of Manus, Father of The Abyss, like many before her. She was manifested through Fear, and perhaps the Ivory King sensed that and kept her close in order to shield her as was his nature.
Yet as always with the Children of Manus, the dark within her took it’s toll on those around her and the Ivory King was no more. He cast himself finally into the heart of Chaos in one final attempt to quell the flames but he did not return. Instead leaving all he had built in the hands of his Queen Alsanna.
Even knowing the Dark was within her he still chose to believe that her strength of will was enough to overcome the nature of her being. Even gifting her the sword with his lands namesake Eleum Loyce. Forged from the intertwining blades, one light, one dark to represent their union.
Now we leave, with the Crown of the Ivory King in hand, the third crown and final piece of the puzzle that has this game alive for a long time after its release. And with them we approach King Vendrick for a final time. Awaiting the last moments of his tale, after uniting the threes crowns of Kings.
The fourth and most important of these being the crown of King Vendrick himself. For after receiving all of the four crowns Vendricks crown gifts the player with the uncanny ability to deter Hollowing. The lore implications of this feature are tremendous.
Throughout this time we have been searching for a cure to the hollowing and the undead curse, and now on our head sits that cure. But still this isn’t the final act of our story. There is still one more act to come and that was brought about through the “Scholar Of The First Sin” edition of the game.
Scholar of The First Sin was not a DLC, and not an expansion, but a completely separate version of the game. requiring another purchase, and different install files in order to play. From a marketing standpoint this provoked a large outcry from fans who felt it was exploiting the player base for more money.
In their defense the cost of the game was decreased considerably based on the amount of DLC you had purchased previously. But despite that it was still an additional cost for players who felt it was manipulative and unnecessary. However there were additional features placed in the Scholar Of The First Sin that From Software felt made it valuable as a stand alone entity.
This included the redesigning and placement of some of the worlds enemies. Also the inclusive nature of DLC access making them feel more in tune with the pace of the game. Rather than completely separate entities. Most of these changes could have been implemented simply as a content patch but there was one thing that stood out as requiring more than a game patch. And that was the Scholar of First Sin himself, Aldia.
Throughout the game Aldia is referenced in many places due to his gruesome and questionable experiments. The brother of King Vendrick, Aldias legacy is most remembered by his creation of the Ancient Dragon, whom you face atop the Dragon Aerie, and grants the player the Ashen Mist heart, allowing them to peer into the memory of giants. Something by which is required to battle the Giant Lord and claim the Giant’s Kinship and reach the throne of want where the Kiln of the First Flame awaits.
Additionally Aldia is credited as having constructed or created the Emerald Herald, who for all intents and purposes acts as the firekeeper for the entirety of Dark Souls II. And Grand Sorcerer Navlaan, another NPC even speak to this truth. Revealing to us that many believe She may be the last firekeeper.
So all of these realizations make the interactions between yourself and The Scholar of The First sin most notable. He appears to us many times, each time at pivotal points in the story. It’s unclear what his motives are during the interactions but he seems to be provoking the Cursed into rethinking his actions against the flame.
During one interaction he even states; “The Throne will certainly receive you. But the question remains. What do you want truly?” And that stands as a very important question to the series over all. We’ve seen from our choices in the first game that our actions do very little to change the outcome of world. But instead prolong what is already written to play out repeatedly. So what is it that we are really trying to achieve?
This piece of dialogue comes after the battle with Aldia, who now serves as your final-FINAL boss once you defeat King Vendrick, and then Nashadra in the throne of Want. Quite honestly this is a very unimpressive boss fight, and I think the game would have been better served to include this fight elsewhere and simply require the player to seek it out, rather than cram in another fight towards the end of the game.
But regardless this was what I believe allowed From Software to partially justify the decision to break this game off into it’s over version. No matter how manipulative that may have been.
Now the main portions of discussion around Dark Souls II are over but there is still much more to talk about in terms of hidden gems, and optional quests. And to be quite honest I believe that the real experience of a souls game comes from completing each side quest and discovering all there is to be discovered.
And when it comes to souls side quests there is one name that springs to mind over all others. And that name is “Lucatiel of Mirrah.” It’s said that the swordsman of Mirrah are some of the greatest the world has ever known so when you meet up with one of their finest and hear of her trouble it’s a memorable experience.
Firstly you meet up with Lucatiel and she reveals to you that she was in fact searching for her brother. A swordsmen even more skilled than she, and someone she feared had fallen to the curse. She let’s you know that she was assist you wherever she can, and this allows her summon sign to be seen outside many of the upcoming boss fights.
As you progress, Lucatiel aids you in the battle against the Flexible Sentry, an executioner of the undead. As well as the Rotten, a reincarnation of Nito, First of the Dead from the original game. Then again against the Smelter Demon of Iron Keep, finally ending with a battle against the Lost Sinner.
Previous to these encounters you will meet up with Lucatiel and she will present to your hear current progress. Revealing quickly that she herself her been inflicted with the undead curse and is slowly losing her humanity. But it’s in her nature to fight, and she holds that the rumors of Drangleic holding the key to curing the curse may be true.
Yet things do not always work out for the best, and we don’t always get the happy ending we seek, especially in souls. So after fighting her way through the worst of Drangleic. Helping and eventually helping us to reach Aldia keep, we meet up with Lucatiel for the last time.
She is mentally defeated, losing herself to the curse, and never having known what happened to her brother who she only came here to find. And so she gifts to us her sword. The sword of Mirrah which is as important to her as the Katana to the ancient Samurai. Their sword is their soul, and Lucatiel just presented you with hers.
It’s after this point that Lucatiel vanishes from the game world. Left to hollow, alone, and presumably far from where her actions could bring shame to herself and her family. If only her Brother had been so lucky.
Just a few steps away as we ascend the pathway leading into Aldia Keep was encounter an invading Phantom. It’s Aslatiel Of Mirrah, the very person Lucatiel was so driven to find. But in the state he’s in perhaps she is better off not knowing. Or is it possible she had already known. Maybe she encountered her brother in the same way we did and seeing his descent to madness drive away the last remaining pieces of her humanity.
Either way it’s a story fit for a Shakespearean play and none can question the weight of story building this quest adds to the game world. It was such an impacting moment for players that Lucatiel’s weapon was brought back in the final game as a nod to her heroic tale and her fall from grace.
There is still so much to discuss when it comes to Dark Souls II. The Undead Hunting grounds; where undead and run down for sport. The Dark Spirit Navlaan and his possession of a seemingly good man for the purpose of murder and destruction. And Straid Of Olaphis, one remaining survivor of a past cycle.
All stories worth discussing but their appearance in the heart of the game is by far more enjoyable. So instead I want to end this section by giving a brief round of applause to Dark Souls II. A game that was set so far under the shadow of it’s father that it was possible it could never see the sun again. Yet it does.
Dark Souls II takes on it’s own identity while still keeping with what made the original game great. The effectiveness of the few deviations from the original approach are up for personal debate as you move from one fan to another. However there can be no debate that no matter how the game measures up to it’s family, it’s still far beyond the quality of outsiders.
During the time of Dark Souls II’s reign the game director from our original Dark Souls was off working on another project. One that very little was known about until the final moments leading up to it’s release. It wasn’t Dark Souls III, not yet at least, but it held the traditions of the genre very close.
A Gothic, victorian setting with a deep connection to Lovecraftian themes is what we were given in Bloodborne. And it was a phenomenal success. The quality of world building was at it’s apex, and the storytelling was again directly on point.
However Bloodborne suffered from one fatal technical flaw, like Demon’s Souls before it, Bloodborne was a Sony exclusive title. And after fans of the Souls genre were so devoted to what the series was to reveal that only Playstation 4 owners would have access to this title was a tragic betrayal.
Boycotts and petitions ensued, even before the games official release, as fans tried desperately to sway the responsible parties to promise a cross platform release in the future. A promise which never came. And it’s to that end that Bloodborne became both a fantastically built, wonderment of gaming. And a shunned outsider of the community condemned for the very things that allowed it to be so great.
In the gaming world an exclusive title is often more about being able to work on a single design platform rather than being about a financial play. And it’s in this way that Bloodborne was created. It was due to From Software being keenly aware of the exact limitations and capabilities of their given platform that they were able to produce such a top shelf masterpiece. Pleasing to the eye, exciting to the mind, and challenging to the body. All forming the perfect storm of a AAA gaming title.
So what exactly made Bloodborne different from Dark Souls? What made it so great? Well first we have to discuss the idea that it is in fact a close relative of Dark Souls. Instead think of it like a cousin, who has everything you wanted, before you have it, and uses those things better than you could have hoped to.
Beginning at the basics, you are cast as a Hunter of beasts, in a town being ravaged by a sort of plague that transforms them into monsters. Similarly as the Hollowing of Dark Souls, but in a much more profound way. The beasts in Bloodborne aren’t simply husks of themselves, they are oftentimes completely different creatures all together. Giving us that Dark Souls feel, but on a much grander scale.
Now the hunter functions differently within the world of Bloodborne than does the Chosen Undead of Dark Souls. Where the Chosen undead has a variety of armor and a whole arsenal of weapons, nearly endless possibilities of gear and character construction. The Hunter has very few. He relies almost exclusively on his skill and prowess of battle to succeed.
In a practical sense, the hunter of Bloodborne was exactly what the meta of Dark Souls created. A fast moving, skill driven killer. Wielding the most effective weapons for completing one task: Slaying their enemies.
Bloodborne removed the burden of choice from the player in almost every case, and replaced it with a sense of personal struggle or defeat. Each movement from each player was now even more comparable than before. Now with no modified difficulty and very little character deviation, the battlefield was about as level as it was going to get.
Bloodborne even added a much more significant role to the “parry” actions of the previous games. An action typically thought to be reserved only for the most skilled players. In Bloodborne however, it becomes a way of life. A skill that must be learned in order to survive. And the feeling of satisfaction that comes from executing the skill properly is something that Dark Souls has rarely achieved.
Once you start to understand the mechanics and differences of Dark Souls to Bloodborne it’s time to examine the world. Both games allow for an interconnected feeling. Both with a central hub that serves as your safe zone, and base of operations. Allowing your to transport yourself out into the world in various places. But it’s the details of these places where most differences lie.
Side by side the most basic of images in Bloodborne can overwhelm the eyes with exquisite attention to the smallest details. When compared to Dark Souls there is no contest. Each fragment of the Gothic setting appears to have been painstakingly placed by hand in order to create the massive cities where your journey takes place. Each stone, each railing, and each building is deliberately placed to convey a broken down but lived in sort of feeling.
It’s remarkable the amount of detailing that went into this world. Even to this day, when looked at with Dark Souls III as the newest creation by From Software. Bloodborne still holds true as being a marvel to look at. And I believe this was due primarily to the choice to make this a Playstation 4 exclusive title. So that the boundaries were not based on the lowest performing platforms, but one single machine with tremendous graphic power.
Even when it comes to the world of PC gaming, developers are forced to accommodate for the lower end spectrum of gaming computers or face the reality that their product will not be accessible to a large majority of people. And an even larger majority will struggle with sub par specifications and ultimately cripple their own game experience in doing so.
Yet in Bloodborne we see a mastery over the hardware in a way that I have yet to experience in the current console generation. So with this perfect masterpiece of mechanical prowess, and technical superiority we can move on to our final piece of the puzzle. And that’s the captivating and wonderfully dreary storytelling that the Souls series is known for. And once again Bloodborne does not fall short.
The story of Bloodborne could not have come at a better time. The obvious Lovecraft inspirations play on the popularity of it’s source material in a way no other game to this point was quite able to achieve. But that’s not all we get from Bloodborne. We also get the story of the Beast Blood, a very real and tangible source of fear. Unlike the more sci-fi and mysterious nature of the Old Ones Lovecraftian vibe.
On the surface we are waging war against the Beasts, using beast blood our self to even the odds but knowing very clearly the danger that could pose. All the while we drift back and forth from the Hunter’s Dream, a place where it appears our consciousness is being held captive with the purpose of sending our body to slay Beasts.
However there is much more than that. Within the city we are given hints and fragments of history that reveals to us a plot much deeper than one might initially think. We hear of the Old Ones, for all intents and purposes, aliens, creatures from another plane of existence. Who managed to transcend the physical realm which we live and instead inhabit a more spiritual and planar realm.
We find that long ago there were those who discovered the existence of these beings and in a vain attempt to elevate their own species tried to make contact with the beings. As any piece of history will teach you, when two species meet, it’s very rare that it doesn’t end in bloodshed. And so it was with the Old Ones.
We exist in a time far after this initial meeting and things have taken a turn for the worst. An Old One was discovered abandoned in our physical realm. And it’s blood was being experimented on in the hopes to give mankind the edge it needs in order to ascend. The experiments were a success when it was found that the blood had the ability to cure any ailments. Effectively leading to an immortal race.
This was enough power for some, who began to use the blood in order to control the life and death of the population they sought to control. But this was not the end for others. There were other schools of thought who believed mankind could go beyond this simple blood trick and reach the same extra-planar existence of the Old Ones. And others still who tapped into those planes in order to abuse the power of individual Old Ones. At the cost of losing their minds forever.
During this time we find our self venturing to and from the dream. We also find and defeat what the game indicates to be nightmares. Creatures or being that exist in the dream realms. Pulling those who come to close into their own version of reality they’ve fashioned for themselves.
It’s only in our final moments does the real plan become clear. We have been manipulated this entire time. Our oldest comrade, the first Hunter has been playing host to the dream from which we travel. Guiding us to slaughter the Beasts, and more importantly slaughter the Old Ones wherever we can find them.
Yet this still concludes in a puzzling moment when after confronting the First Hunter he offers us a choice, to either die, or face him in combat. It’s clear what our choice is here. We didn’t come this far to give up now, we have to see what happens next. And so we defend ourselves against The First Hunter, a man who could be described as our father. And eventually provide the final wound that would bring his death.
We won the day, or so we thought. But instead we find our self being pulled into a role we never would have imagined. The same role as the man we just betrayed. We sit now in the field, playing host to the Hunter’s Dream. But something doesn’t feel finished. Nothing is complete. Everything just begins again when the next hunter comes along.
So it’s time for us to dig deeper. To find more answers. And that’s exactly what’s needed to solve this riddle. Sure enough out in the world are artifacts. Pieces of the Old Ones left in the world. Things that grant wondrous insight. And it’s only after we obtain these objects, and by them, tremendous insight that we see the truth.
We proceed again into the way of The First Hunter. We refuse to die, and we succeed in overcoming his power. But now we are greeted by the final act of this story. We meet, face to face, The Moon Presence. An Old One that has been forcing the Hunter’s Out from the dream in order to slay the Old Ones.
But this time things are different. You have the insight to understand what is happening. How you are being made into a slave and you refuse to suffer that fate again. So you resist the control of the Moon Presence and engage it in combat.
It’s a terrific moment and one that leads to a shocking revelation in it’s conclusion. You best the Moon Presence and begin to celebrate your freedom from the influence of the Old Ones. Or so you thought. Instead you are met by the startling image of an infant Old One being cradled in the arms of what you could call your closest friend.
She narrates to us that it’s time for mankind to ascend and it’s all because of you. You have become an Old One. You elevated mankind, a task which none other before you have been able to achieve. And this is where the story ends.
It’s such a nuanced story of horror and intrigue that it’s hard not to consider it one of the best of all time. Also keeping with typical Souls fashion, there are even more layers of story hidden in the side quests and item text that most players won’t have the pleasure to discover. But those who do are met with a profound understanding of the world they’ve by now spend 40+ hours struggling through.
Other features brought about by Bloodborne were transforming weapons. Something that later evolved into the weapon skills of Dark Souls III. But in the beginning it was simply a way to add more versatility to your character without having to include an excess of disposable weapons to the roster.
The idea was that with the press of a button, often times in the middle of a flurry of attacks, you could physically change the appearance and abilities of your currently equipped weapon. This led to a much higher skill cap in terms of the typical PVE situations, but upgraded the PVP game play tenfold.
PVP SIDE OF SOULS
I’d like to make a brief interjection here to talk a little bit about that PVP side of the Souls games. For many players this is where the game really shines, as with most multiplayer games. There becomes a competitive and highly addictive quality to testing your skills and innovations against real life opponents. Souls games are no exception.
Even branching as far back as Demon’s Souls, there was a mechanic called “Invasions” and “Summons”. The basis of these mechanics were that players who were also in your area, however in their own world, could reach out and cross the lines into your world for a short period of time.
Depending on their intentions they would either be identified as with a white glow, to signify their willingness to assist you in defeating Demon’s. Or with a red glow, which allowed them to Murder you and take what souls you had.
There were even moments when another player could actually use the invasion mechanic and be cast into the role of an Archdemon. The final Boss of one section of the game. It was a very innovative way to implement other players, without making the individual player feel cut off from the world.
Over time this grew into a booming community, with highly skilled and clever players using wit and combat tactics to broadcast styles of game play not typically found in the standard single player experience. For instance, certain weapons which had little effect on that PVE world of Souls, found their home as a very strong means to dispatch other players due to their unique traits.
This style of PVP game play really found it’s calling in Dark Souls. Where covenants were added to the game in order to help players more easily match themselves against others willing to engage in the PVP. They even expanded the rules to include entire areas dedicated to Player combat. And gave players a way to be summoned to PVP battles from anywhere in the world.
This became a Dark Souls pillar of the community. Various character builds were formed but none struck such a powerful chord as what would be called the “Giant Dad” build. Harnessing the power of extremely powerful properties of equipment load reducing items and very sturdy poise based armor. Along side the painfully effective Zweihander stacked with a lightning enchantment to make it even more staggering.
This build was so highly utilized that over time it became a parody of itself. And reverted from being the hallmark of a powerful player, to the calling card for a low skill, high praise sort of player. Some measures were taken by From Software to limit the builds viability in PVP but the issue would never be fully corrected.
It wouldn’t be until Dark Souls II when a more balanced PVP system allowed for an enormous amount of build diversity. And along with that rebalance came the ability to host massive battles with multiple invaders, as well as summoned aid. Resulting in team battles that contained up to 6 players. It was a great time for Souls PVP and really went a long way to show that From Software values both sides to the coin. Their single player, and multiplayer experience.
Dark Souls II even stepped up the value of it’s covenants, adding more than one way for players to engage in single 1 versus 1 arena style duel. Rather than the typical Hunter and Prey feel that the traditional invasions tended to convey.
The multiplayer community even became so creative that they would do things such as stage their own boss fights, abiding by a set of personal rules and guidelines to deliver to the player a fair and inviting combat, that was as fun to lose as it was to win.
There were also those who would use trickery and deceit to complicate the journey for players. Often hiding in plain sight, or provoking players into stepping through environmental traps. The level of creativity had all the makings of a good Cat and Mouse story, with the anger or satisfaction you can only get by actually living through the circumstance.
So not that you understand the important of PVP to the Dark Souls series it’s safe to say that when I cast Bloodborne as being a highly effective version of 1 on 1 dueling, you know the weight behind those words.
DARK SOULS 3
And so it is that we move on to our final game in the series. The last installment of the Dark Souls Trilogy. And the culmination of all we’ve been discussing up to this point. Everything we’ve spoken about has been refined to it’s sharped edge and the stories we’ve learned about the cycles and where the world is headed finally makes it’s inevitable conclusion. But perhaps not in the way series fans may have expected.
Firstly it’s important to discuss what’s been going on in gaming over these past few years since the the initial release of Dark Souls. It was obvious due to the explosion of talk and financial success surrounding Souls that From Software had stumbled onto something that game players across the world had been searching for.
It was a hidden gold mine waiting to be drained dry. Or so many other developers assumed. So in the timed between Souls releases there were many other games who attempted to take the fundamentals of what it means to be “Souls” and turn them into creations of their own styling. A task which proved to be easier said than done.
There is more to Souls than difficulty and unforgiving game play. We’ve talked before about the perfect storm required for a good Souls game, and those conditions are not something you can replicate from the outside. It’s a way of thinking that flows through the entire From Software team.
It’s the state of mind in the player base they’re created. The devoted fans who can and will find every single piece of detail without the necessity to place a carrot on a string. It’s rare to find that level of devotion from another fan base for another game series. And even more rare to find a developer willing to take that risk.
Souls fans are themselves part of the experience. They band together like a well educated team of anthropologists to uncover facts about the Souls world that the developers themselves may not have ever intended to be brought to light.
It’s in those details, and in the devotion of the fans that the true nature of Souls really shines. It’s by no means a formula to be replicated and exploited based on what’s available on the surface to those on the outside. Without being deeply invested in what Souls is, there is no way to truly describe it.
Even this, as I sit here documenting things as I understand them, it does no justice to the wonderful experience of the series. And because of this, all who’ve attempted to capitalize on the success and stimulation of Souls style games have been unsuccessful.
That being said, when speaking of Souls-like games I use the term very sparingly. The weight of what it means to be Souls is very heavy, and as of yet, besides those bearing the Souls name, the only game to yet hit that mark has been Bloodborne. And this can be credited to the involvement of game director Mayazaki.
So as we move forward into this last installment let’s remember what it means to be Souls. And carry with us the pride and memory of all we’ve seen and experienced this far. Each battle, each cycle, every moment of anger, and every feeling of victory. Carry them all with you as we stand looking at the final horizon, Dark Souls III.
DARK SOULS 3
Now let’s begin again like we have before discussing what mechanical differences were made to the game in order to add new innovations to what we already love. The biggest and most flashy example of this came early in the game reveal. However we were uncertain at that time how the mechanic would work.
It was the inclusion of “Weapon Arts”. They’re the adapted version of Bloodborne’s transform function given to their weapons. Yet instead, each weapon type, and sometimes individual weapons were given a secondary function on top of their typical Light attack, and heavy attack combinations.
Now we had everything from a quick sidestep, as seen in daggers and shortswords, to a large unstoppable slam from the largest greatswords. Even shields could now make use of this mechanic. Giving each shield the ability to either, parry, strike, or power up a weapon art.
These little tricks did more than add another button to be pressed in combat. In some instances they added a whole new layer to the game, and sometimes even complimented the lore of the weapon. In terms of innovations this was a glaring success. Each weapon now had it’s own individual identity, even more so than it’s previous iterations.
It’s worth going into these combat and UI changes slowly just due to the fact we can consider this as completed work in terms of the series goal. This is the final game in the trilogy we can take these changes as being the last evolution of the game play. In some way this is how the series was intended to be. So each small change should be the best of all it’s previous evolutions.
That being said let’s evaluate the changes to healing items. previously the game had a system of the “Estus Flask” being your only real means of healing. Which later became; “Estus Flask” plus a variety of multi-level consumables with ascending degrees of usefulness. And now we are back to a system ruled almost exclusively by the Estus Flask alone.
Yet there was another change that made this newest variation an interesting and beneficial one. And that came from the way the game handled one of your other resources. And that’s the Focus bar. Essentially you were now required to split your Estus Flask charges between two different restore properties. One for health, the other for Focus. Meaning if you had 5 charges you could divide them up however you you’d like. But only at a bonfire. And only to a maximum of 5. The total increasing as you progressed throughout the game.
This forced players to have to commit to a specific layout for there current situation, but could change that layout based on what was required during each new encounter. It’s important to note here that the weapon arts we spoke of earlier also required a portion of your focus points. Focus wasn’t just reserved for the casting of spells anymore.
This meant that even pure sword and shield builds had to manage their resources accordingly. Admittedly you can make it through the game without utilizing your focus bar as much as I believe the developers may have intended. But it’s no doubt that honoring their design choices and playing the game as it was intended will dramatically increase your likelihood of conquering some of the tougher battles.
Another change to the game came to weapons with exclusive duel-wielding properties. I talked on this earlier when I mentioned it first cropping up in Dark Souls II but here in Dark Souls III, as I stated this is the finished work. So duel-wielding here is as it was always intended to be.
The way it now works is you have a weapon that when given a command will switch to what would have normally been a two-handed grip, will instead switch to wielding a paired weapon in your off hand. Each weapon pair has a devastating array of attack combinations and some of them are arguably the most powerful weapons the game has to offer. On top of being some of the most fun to use.
This is again another concept that I believe was highly tested back in Bloodborne and having done well was brought around into the world of Dark Souls as a much welcomed addition.
So we come again to the time when it’s about understanding where we are going with our Souls Lore. And this time it couldn’t be more important. As stated, the entire story revolves around cycles. People, monsters, places, they all live and die, making what they believe are their own choices but all seem to end the same way.
Their actions are remembered by the artifacts they leave behind but still another will rise up and take their place. Always without fail falling prey to the same tragedies that befell their ancestors. And it’s here that we begin our story. When one among the rest decides not to follow in the footsteps of the past. And instead commit to fighting the cycle.
It’s in this time that we are awakened to take their place. Once again as a seeker of Fire, someone to keep the flame lit and keep the cycles going. Yet we aren’t who we expect. We are unkindled ash, a failure. One who has set out on the task of kindling the flame but for one reason or another has failed.
And so we sat in our grave until we are awakened by the sound of the bell that calls to bear all those who may be fit to once again light the flame. In this dying call of the flame it brings to bear more than just the unkindled ash. It brings about all those who have kindled the flame previously in this cycle.
Among them the Giant King, The Saint Of The Deep, The Abyss Watchers, and the one who has refused, Prince Lothric. All have been called on to take on the flame once again. However if one thing is for certain it’s that no cycle will stop itself. If we want to see the cycles of light and dark end, then we have to find another way. And this is just what we are bound to do.
And so we wake up and make our way out of the graveyard. We pass by the corrupted Iudex and remove from his body the Coiled sword of the bonfires. Crossing then into the Firelink Shrine. A place who’s name has great significance to the series. And a place seemingly disconnected from the rest of the world. But acting as a portal to those locations by way of the bonfire.
Within the shrine we meet our firekeeper. The woman who will serve as our pillar and guide throughout our journey of Lotheric. And tucked away within the shrine we meet another face. A familiar face. A blacksmith by the name of Andre. A blacksmith who once sat at the edge of Darkroot forest while we explored Lordran. Our first experience in the world of Dark Souls.
This is something that I’m at a loss of explanation for. Despite it being understood that the souls of those who inhabit the world are reconfigured in order to act in the same way they once had. It’s still outside my ability to understand how this man made it through the generations of cycles that eventually led to the kingdom of Lothric.
Still, time in Dark Souls doesn’t flow as you’d expect and it’s entirely possible that infinite time lines play out not in sequence, but in parallel. Allowing for some events that may have been ages ago in some timelines to be recent memory in others. So perhaps this Andre is a man who never went to Lordran. Perhaps he has lived his life watching the rise and fall of Lords of Cinder in the Kingdom of Lothric.
Nevertheless here we are, and here he is. A familiar but comforting face among a sea of new faces. In some way the place has been reborn to face these same choices in this new cycle, and this small token was meant to remind us that all we have been through has been forgotten. And it might be closer to home than we may have thought.
Here begins our step out of Firelink shrine and into the realms beyond. Starting first with the walls of Lothric where war between the Knights and the Angels have turned the place into ruins. And at the end of this place we find Emma. An old woman who asks us, to convince The Prince to do what he must do. A task that we may never achieve. Given that our meeting with the Prince is far from peaceful.
Still we carry on through the Outrider Knight. A malformed and partly possessed Sentry sent out by the Pontiff Sullivan, who rules over Irithyl Valley. A place we will get into much later on. And onward to the Undead Settlement, carried off by the familiar sight of gargoyle demons who had acted as our ferry in previous games.
It’s here that we see the future of those who hollow. The future of the undead. We are introduced to an entire village, stacked with hollows, but not in the traditional sense. Instead these hollows seem to be trying to perform daily tasks. Trying to live the life they once had or perhaps forming a new life in their current state.
It’s a broken down and often dangerous place, where the wild dogs are just as eager to tear off the remaining flesh of the Settlement inhabitants as they are to get at us. More dangerous still are the Evangelists who are thought of as mentors to the hollows but whose true purpose lies in the ritual sacrifice of the undead to Aldrich, Saint Of The Deep.
There are others who pass through the settlement. Not enemies, yet not quite friends. But it’s possible in time for them to become one or the other. First among them is the Pilgrim, Yoel Of Londor. Who sits at the edge of the settlement overlooking a cliff, surrounded by dozens of his dead companions.
Yoel calls to us and reveals he was unable to die with his companions as he thought was his destiny. However he wages that it’s possible his new path lies in your service. And so you direct him back to the Firelink shrine where he awaits your return.
It would be some time before you come back to Yoel. And during this time you encounter many others who also have their own path to follow. Cornyx, The Pyromancer, locked away in a cage above the settlement. Once released will speak to you about the Witch of Izalith and the power of the flame.
Eygon, a warrior of carim who’s disposition is a front for his protective nature regarding his friend, Irina. Who you find trapped in a cell, but rescue winning over the friendship of Eygon. However his position is fickle and disrespecting, or endangering Irina will lead to a very hostile encounter with Eygon later on in your journey.
And lastly another familiar face, or rather, suit of armor. We meet with Seigward of Catarina. More commonly known as the Onion knight, and a throw back to another Knight of Catarina we met on our journey of Lordran in the original dark souls.
This time around Seigward’s true purpose is unknown until very late in his quest line. And it’s a very heartfelt moment we will save for later.
It’s my opinion that the undead settlement will live on as one of the most interesting and well crafted areas in the Dark Souls franchise. It’s the closest I believe the Dark Souls series gets to comparing with the exquisite detail of Bloodborne.
There is something very interesting about the way the undead appear to be adapting the new state of the world. Even idolizing the Evangalists who are going to deliver them to be consumed by Aldrich. But I suppose it stands to reason that as an undead, your only request may be for things to finally end. So in this way it seems that the chosen sacrifice of the undead settlement is akin to winning the lottery.
I want to mention quickly that it’s here we encounter the Cursed Greatwood. A spirit tree that holds the curses of the settlement. Who’s soul can be transposed into the “Hollowslayer Greatsword” a Call-back to Lucatiel Of Mirrah.
From here we follow the path out of the undead settlement and into onto the Road of Sacrifices. The pathway that led undead to the Cathedral of The Deep to be slaughtered. On the Road we find a braille tome of Carim, and Morne’s Ring. Two things that indicate another pair like Eygon and Irina may have found their end by the hands of the Isabella The Mad. A powerful, but insane woman who stalks the Road in drab attire, wielding a Butcher’s Knife. She can be seen as a throwback or perhaps a reincarnation of Maneater Mildred. A woman you may encounter in the swamps of Blighttown in the original Dark Souls.
As we make our way out of the Road of Sacrifices and into the Crucifixion Woods we come across a pair of characters who will eventually mean more to us, and the world of Dark Souls than we are ever led to believe. We meet Anri, of Astora. And her companion Horace. Anri is like us, unkindled ash on a quest to Slay Aldrich, Saint Of The Deep. Horace is a mute who stands almost exclusively to serve as the bodyguard of Anri, whom by the way may be Male or Female depending on your character choice.
This is particularly interesting to notice and becomes very relevant as the story goes on. It’s a detail that most players missed, given that it’s significance is only known during a specific moment in the quest, and more often than not players tend to play a single gender more than once. Not typically trying the opposite, especially in Souls where your gender has little to no bearing on the game.
We pass through the crucifixion woods, stopping at the Cathedral of the deep to put to rest the Deacons. A ground of bloated Priests who take after Aldrich in consuming the Souls of all they can in order to gain power.
Then on to Farron Keep. This is where things begin to get increasingly interesting. By this time you’ve come to know the cycles. The way, reincarnation and reuse of land plays a large role in souls. Well that being said we can notice the similarties between Dark Root Basin, Formerly known as Oolacile, from Dark Souls and Farron Keep from Dark Souls III.
This is more than coincidence. Especially when you stop to consider the nature of the Farron’s Undead Legion, another of the lords of cinder. A group of warriors who have sworn to fight off the Abyss wherever it may be. All bearing the aesthetics and fighting style of Sir Artorias, the Abysswalker that we spoke about at length in the initial portion of this documentary.
Oolacile became, Dark Root Basin. And Dark Root Basin became Farron Keep. The evidence it pouring from the landscape all around you. Even finding the location with Elizabeth, of the ancient race of mushroom people finally met her end. And by her side, the Crown of Dusk. The princess of Oolacile that was saved from the clutches of the golem. Along with some of the sorceries that existed with the city.
It’s a profound realization and one that’s made even greater with the discovery of the Watchdogs of Farron covenant. A covenant that imbibes the blood of an old great wolf as a means of power. Ultimately worshipping the wolf who has clearly reached his final days. While I don’t believe this to be Sif, the companion of Artorias. I do think it’s related to the Great Grey Wolf, possibly a reincarnation which is a theme we’ve seen before.
Nevertheless here in Farron Keep is where we meet our first Lord of Cinder. Farron’s Undead Legion, Unable to die, but unable to cease their commitment to stamping out the Abyss. So they sit lock in eternal combat against their own. But first lest check back with our friend Yoel.
It’s by this time that we’ve had quite a few run ins with death. But the life and death don’t work the same with the Unkindled as it does for most others. So instead each time we die we become more hollow. Returning to life, but a little less human than before. It’s during each of these rebirths that we speak to Yoel, and he shares with us that it’s through these deaths, and through the Dark Sign branded on us that we gain strength. Our true strength.
He assists us in increasing our power after each successive death but eventually serves out his fate and joins his companions in death. It’s now that a strange woman appears standing just next to Yoel’s corpse. It’s easy to place the blame of his death on her at first but after speaking with her you begin to understand the truth of things.
Her name is Yuria, a founder of the Sable Chruch, and a skilled swordsman. However she speaks to you with a great deal of respect. Admitting her friendship with Yoel and even thanking you for allowing his Soul to find peace after serving his purpose. She talks of her home land of Londor, and calls you her Lord Of Hollows. And this begins the end of Dark Souls.
But for now, back to the Undead Legion. This is one of the more unique fights of the game. While Dark Souls does have a habit of throwing multiple bosses at you during the same fight, this one is done differently. Instead of the typical health based trigger where you then have to deal with twice the enemies. They add a timer, and at each stage of the timer another of the undead legion wakes up. Some of which fight against their own, and others engage you directly.
You can quickly become overwhelmed by two warriors of the legion, but when the next rises and begins to aid you in the fight it’s a whole other experience. The second phase of the fight is much more simple. A single undead fighter has his power imbued with the flame and rushes you down with a furious assault. His flashy sword techniques almost mirroring that of Artorias, the Abyss Walker.
But after having defeated the Legion you bring their ashes back to Firelink Shrine to sit on the thrones they once held as a Lord Of Cinder.
Deep below Farron Keep is the Catacombs of Carthus. Carthus was a once great Kingdom ruled over by Wolnir. A king so mighty he conquered all lands within his sight. But as often happens, he grew greedy and over confident. Eventually seeking the power of the Abyss contained within an artifact. The Abyss consumed Wolnir, and with him his entire Kingdom of Carthus. Leaving behind undead swordsman who are still so formidable in death it’s almost impossible to imagine their strength in life.
With that we venture through the Catacombs, coming face to face with Wolnir. Destroying his Holy armlets and letting the Abyss consume him once and for all. Coming out the other side and into the Boreal Valley. It’s here that Pontiff Sulyvhan claims dominion. And here that our story really begins to unfold.
Irithyl is a place covered in cold and ice. It’s people have been taken over by the will of the Pontiff, who uses them as pawns and outrider Knights. Some of which we’ve faced in the past. And some of which we’ll see in the future. But the purpose of Sulyvhan is to occupy a high ranking status of the church, helping to feed sacrifices to Aldrich. The extent of those sacrifices are yet unknown up to this point.
As we venture Irithyl, we travel to and from the Firelink Shrine, conversing with Yuria along the way. she seems to think you are the Lord of Londor, and the Lord of Hollows. And capable of ushering in a new era of the undead. But first a joining ceremony must be performed. And she has just the candidate.
There are questions, and very little answers at this point in Dark Souls III. We have always sought to chase away the dark by way to kindling the flame. And even when we chose to let the flame perish, someone else came along to finish what he had started. But this all started with the Dark Soul of Man. Back when the lord Souls were first discovered, and the fertive pygmy, your descendant obtained that Dark Soul. It was during this time that the fires began to fade and the Dark Sign appeared in the kingdoms.
Fearing the undead we have always sought to cure the Dark Sign. Stop the curse, and chase away the Dark. But perhaps that was never our destiny. Is it possible that the extinguishing of the fire has always been the final plan fate of the world? We haven’t seen what happens when we let the age of fire end. What if we embrace our hollowed self, embrace the Dark Sign, and the Dark Soul of man. Could we then begin a new age, where we, let the inhabitants of the undead settlement simply live with our undeath in whatever way we choose?
There are the things you have to be asking yourself at this point in the story. It’s been, for some of us, hundreds of hours throughout the course of three games, and four DLC’s and we’re tired. We won’t to believe it hasn’t all been for nothing but each time we do what we think will sustain the world, we are brought back to the flickering state of the flame. So what else can we do?
Bearing this in mind we traverse the labyrinth style construction of Irithyl on our way to find The Saint of the Deep. Some of us will choose to venture beneath the city. Meeting up once again with our friend Siegward, but winding up in a place much different than we may have hoped. We find the dungeons, and beyond that, the Profaned Capital.
This is a place where we see what looks to be a living flame, within a great basin, being worshipped by hollows who surround in. The flame stirs hurling giant fireballs our way. Nearly knocking us from our path into whatever depths lie below, but we manage to evade. We fight our way through the Gargoyles, and the hollows to approach the flame, but to our surprise, we see nothing.
No interactions between yourself and the flame. Just the whipping fires and the dark chasm it rests before. This is what the game describes as the profane flame. And it’s one of the last great mysteries of Dark Souls. I can imagine it will be the subject of a future DLC but perhaps not. It’s not unlike Dark Souls to have such a seemingly important element left to the interpretation of the player.
Regardless we focus our attention not on the flame, but what rests behind it. A long hallway and in it, a summon sign. It’s our friend Siegward. who by this time we’ve fought along side, and spoken to several times. And finally it’s here that we find his true purpose. At the end of the hallway is a fog gate and passing through the gate we see another Lord Of Cinder.
The Giant King stands among hundreds of remains. His towering appearance is intimidating at first, but nothing we haven’t faced previously in our hundreds of Dark Souls hours. So we run to strike at him, just to find our attacks to be without effect. The Giant King smashes down at us with his great machete and we narrowly escape with our head.
We hear Seigward, speaking to The King. Calling him friend, and claiming he is there to fulfill his promise. Then Brandishing a large two-handed sword calls a gale of powerful force that strikes the King toppling his body over leaving him vulnerable for a short time.
We repeat this process a few more times, dodging the King’s wild swings, and taking our chance to inflict damage after Seigward had opened up his defenses. And eventually the Giant King falls for the last time. Leaving us and his Old Friend Seigward alone in the chamber.
Close inspection of the connection between Seigward and the Giant King reveals that they were once friends, and during this time the King asked Seigward to come forward and end his life should he ever go hollow and forsake his duty as a Lord Of Cinder. The weapon Seigward wields is called Stormruler, a weapons who’s roots are embedded as far back as Demon’s Souls, where we used it to destroy an Archdemon who took to the skies leaving us unable to attack it any other way. It’s also said that the Stormruler sword was gifted to Siegward for such a time when he might need to uphold his promise to King Yhorm, and today was that day.
Siegward praises and thanks us for our help, having one last toast to us, and his old friend Yhorm, then settles down for a nap. It’s an endearing moment of victory and friendship, but in the end we obtain the ashes of another Lord of Cinder and continue our quest.
But first we explore what else the Profaned capital has to offer and we come across an interesting and useful callback. Perched atop some of the Captitals rooftops are Sorcerers. Very skilled ones at that. And as we make our way around, defending ourselves against these enemies, one of them drops a peculiar item. “Logan’s Scroll” An item which tells us that these Sorcerers follow the teaching and the Magics of Big Hat Logan, the powerful Sorcerer we first assisted in Dark Souls while he was trapped in Sen’s Fortress. Who later became obsessed with discovering the secrets of Crystal magic and became hollow in the Grand Archives.
It appears that after all this time his teachings live on through now this group of mages claiming they are the Heir to his legacy, however the Scroll also says this claim doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Meaning these mages have no relation to Logan. It’s more likely they found his scrolls and used i as a means to gain power. Falsely claiming to be descendants of the great man we helped all those years ago.
It’s a wonderful thing to see how times have changed in the series. And how no matter how you’ve lived, sometimes you have no control over how the future will perceive you. Unlike the case of Artorias, where the Farron Legion worked hard to uphold the strength and regal nature of The Abyss Walker, The Court Mages of the profaned capital appear to be using Logan’s legacy as nothing but a stepping stone to their own power and fame.
Now we are ready to make our way out of the Profane capital and back up to Irithyl where Pontiff Sulyvhan has no intention of letting us pass without a fight. So we steady ourselves for what was notably one of the most difficult boss fights in Dark Souls III. If not the entire series. On release Pontiff was expressly spoken and written about for his combat design. Wielding two weapons, one sword of Profaned Flame, and the other of the Darkmoon Magic. Both capable of ending the fight with a single combination of quick striking blows.
In true Dark Souls fashion this wasn’t enough to make the fight interesting, there had to be a twist. And in the Case of Pontiff Sulyvhan, it came during the second phase, where he split himself apart, forcing us to fight against himself, and a shadow version of himself at the same time. Each with leaping attacks that allowed them to cross the battle arena in a moment. It really was a rest of Dark Souls combat prowess. I’d be curious to know the number of players who defeated this boss fight without the summoned help of friends or the NPC’s on the outside.
And somehow we manage to defeat the Pontiff, sending him finally to a much deserved grave and unlocking passage to the Territory of the Deep. Above the Pontiffs cathedral is the courtyard where the Priests of the Deep gather, emulating their leader Archdeacon Mcdonell, and Saint Aldrich. We run and fight our way through the Faith of The Deep and into the tower on the far side of the Courtyard where we find an elevator.
It’s here that Dark Souls fans are thrown for their biggest spin yet; as we take the elevator we begin to see a familiar place come into sight. We see the architecture of a place any devoted players would not not dare to mistake. It’s very similar to Anor Londo. Home of the Gods and one of the most memorable experience of Dark Souls over all.
Then we see the iconic Silver Knight, standing, looking at a painting of the Princess Gwenevere. A direct call back to the original game. It’s a breathtaking moment but still nothing compares to what happens next.
We fight the Silver Knight, who’s lightning enchanted weapons, and quick forward movements make them quite a challenge. But this isn’t enough. So we proceed deeper into the building, eventually coming to a great elevator. We step out into the elevator and are up and away from the Knights and come to rest in a place we have come to know and love in the earlier days.
It’s the location of Gwyndolyn. Son of Gwyn from the original Dark Souls. And standing beside the doorway we see our friend Yuria. She tells us the time has come, and there is a suitable match for a ceremony to be conducted, waiting for you just beyond the hallway on the alter.
So we walk the familiar path where we expect to see Gwyndolyn, leader of the Darkmoons, but instead we see Anri, face covered by cloth and laying perfectly still on the alter. We are given a ceremonial sword and upon pressing the action button before the alter we raise the sword and plunge it into the cloth covered head of Anri. This grisly ceremony is the undead equivalent of marriage and it’s now certain that we are the Lord Of Londor, and Leader of the Hollows.
It’s a shocking moment and as of yet a still relatively confusing one. With all the struggle you go through to make sure Anri makes it to this point you are then forced to stab him or her in a ritualistic way to secure your place in the coming age. It’s a moment unlike any I could have imagined going through, but one that prepares you for everything about to come.
It’s easy to forget that during this entire sequence the most shocking part is also the most obvious. It was only after the ceremony that I found myself thinking, “Wait, am I in Anor Londo? The Anor Londo?” So I rushed back down the hallway, and up the stairs, knowing the path like it was a childhood home, and up into the air where the giant spiral staircases drove me into the city.
It had changed since our last visit, but it’s still Anor Londo. The gods have all gone, and the dark seems to have found it’s way into the city at last. Souls fans will remember that the light of Anor Londo was actually just an illusion cast by Gwendolyn to make it appears that the city was still bright and full of the gods. However at this point the illusion has faded and you find yourself walking up the giant stairway leading to a boss arena we’ve have all come to know very well.
Along your way you fight the remaining Silver knights, and push past the black sludge and tar that covers the once venerable castle walls. You come to the infamous fog gate where in cycles past you faced Ornstein and Smough. Two Knights of Gwen who’s difficulty locked countless players out of reaching the end game of Dark Souls. But what are we to face here this time?
We walk into the gate and before us sits the Saint of The Deep himself. Aldrich. Adorned on his head rests the crown of Dark Sun Gwendolyn, and in his hands is the Gravelord’s Sword attached to the end of an enormous spear. The fight begins and we struggle against the odds to defeat this powerful Lord of Cinder and devourer of gods. Feeling the weight of his strength in every showering of arrows, and sweep of his scythe.
Yet like many before him, we bring him down and claim his Soul and his Ashes to add to our own strength, and bring us closer to replacing the Lords of Cinder back on their thrones. However the story of Aldrich doesn’t end here. He is a much more complicated character than a single boss fight would convey. The being we face in the boss arena appears to be Gwendolyn rising up from the dregs of sludge and grime that drags itself across the floor.
And that realization is a very important one. Aldrich himself is no longer a shaped form. He has fallen away into a pile of Human Dregs composed of those he’s consumed. And for us, he calls from those Dregs the body of Gwendolyn to engage us in combat. A dear friend to most of us and a child who’s story was defined by his cross gender ability to use Moon Magic. A feat reserved nearly exclusively for women. And so he was locked away and raised as a daughter. It’s so to see his life end in such a horrific way, but such is the story of Dark Souls.
Still there is more to the story of Aldrich. It’s said that in his dreams he see’s, and learns, of the world around him. It’s here that he had a vision of the time after the Gods and the Age of Fire. It was the age of the deep sea. And it’s on that principle the the church of the deep was founded. Little is known about the age of the deep. It appears that it is born on the basis that there is something darker than the Dark Soul of man. And it forms when the dark souls settles just like a drink you forget to shake before opening. And those human dregs coalesce into something powerful and dangerous.
Aldrich and the clergy consume those dregs, leading to most clergy having their minds and body destroyed by the Deep. However Aldrich was immune to the effects. Instead he continued consuming the Human Dregs until he becomes the being we face in the Anor Londo arena. It seems that by consuming the remaining gods and refusing to take his throne Aldrich planned to kick start the age of the deep. A task which was almost fulfilled before we came to put it to an end.
But what will come of The Deep? It all has to mean something more than what we currently have access to. We have the Church of the deep. The Spells, and enchantments, the Covenant. Is it all just based on a vision of Aldrich and nothing more? Personally I doubt it. I believe The Deep will be one of the DLC’s for Dark Souls III. Perhaps instead of sending us to the past like they had in the Artorias of the Abyss DLC. The’ll send us to a future where the Deep has taken over. But for now we don’t know, and have no hard evidence leading us to think it’s anything more than what we have already gathered.
So now with Aldrich gone we get a brief moment of respite, and a cut scene before we are carried off into another boss arena. This one taking place in another area we’ve been to before. Back on the High wall of Lotheric. Where Emma asked us to convince the prince of his duty. Except this time we are face to face with the Dancer of Boreal Valley. Once a resident of Irithyl, forced to dance and go mad under the eyes of the Pontiff, she now guards the entryway to castle Lotheric.
This was the moment I think a lot of souls fans were waiting for after having seen it in the trailers prior to the game release. Visually it’s a very interesting fight, the dancers large spindly limbs and unnatural movements make predicting her attacks very difficult. Then taking into account her uniquely long combo strings and duel wielding weapon stance making her dangerous on either side you choose to engage from.
Everything about the Dancer illustrates what Dark Souls III is all about. Taking what the players have learned over the past hundreds of hours and tossing it aside. Using players Dark Souls instinct and training to provoke them into making mistakes.
We learned that moving to the right and staying close to large enemies is typically a fool proof plan. But not here. We learned that most attack combinations follow an easy to predict 3-4 hit pattern. But not with the Dancer. Instead she is capable of turning on a dime, and following up her attacks in such a strange timing that you often find yourself dodging directly into the line of fire, just when you thought it was safe to roll in and get your attacks started. It’s no wonder that Dancer was chosen to be the Front-runner for the Dark Souls III boss experience.
This fight even has a hidden trigger that allows you and engage the danger at the very early stages of the game. Something which only the most skilled Dark Souls players dare to do. Much in the same way that returning to the Undead Asylum immediately after leaving in the Original game allows you to fight the Asylum Demon, earning a titanite slab before really even starting the game.
After defeating the Dancer it’s time to climb the ladder leading to Lotheric Castle. But first we need to cross the castle ramparts, guarded by two wyverns and another fog gate. There is also another area here with enormous lore implications. It’s an optional area and without careful inspection you might miss it altogether. It’s the Consumed King’s Gardens. A place where we meet the former King of Lotheric. Oceiros.
The story of Oceciros can be said to have started back with Seath The Scaleless of Dark Souls. A dragon who wasn’t born with the gift of immortality like other of his kind so instead spent his life devoted to gaining everlasting life through other means. Eventually he found the Primordial Crystal which, gave him just that. Seathe was also responsible for the act of revealing the secret of the dragons to Gwyn and the gods which ultimately led to their downfall.
Well years go by and like many other souls in this story the Soul of Seath is reforged into a new being. This time a man, a king, and imparts that same desire for immortality into him. This soul, paired with the scholars of the Grand archives led King Lotheric down the path of the Dragon. Which eventually twisted his mind and body into a scaleless serpent similar to that of Seath.
It was at some point that Oceiros has a son, whom he named Ocelotte, Child of Dragons. The queen, his mother, who was revered as a Goddess of fertility suddenly vanished after his birth which may have been caused by the kings degraded state of mind.
However one of the most interesting things in this encounter is the actions taken by King Oceiros. When you find his he appears to be coddling an invisible child in his arms. He addresses you in saying, we must have finally caught on to the power of his son. Then as the fight progresses Oceiros calls for Ocelotte. Saying his son must be hiding. We can hear an infant crying in the background throughout the fight, up until the point where Oceiros, angered by his Son’s reluctance to “reveal himself”, discards the being he appeared to be holding and chooses to charge at us savagely.
The most disturbing part of this encounter isn’t what happens, it’s what doesn’t happen. An unused sound file was found when players were looking through the file directory and it revealed the sound clip of what sounds like a child crying as if it’s dying. This was most clearly supposed to be played when Oceiros chooses to discard the baby and rush at us.
Now there are other explanations for this encounter, one states that fearing, Oceiros’s descent, the Queen took Ocelotte and disappeared. And Oceiros overcome with with despair loses his mind in this state of longing for his child of dragons to return.
Another explanation revolves around the ability for the Dragon Child to turn invisible similarly to that of Pricilla the Dragon Halfbreed from Dark Souls. And the invisible child is what Oceiros is holding in his arms. Meaning that during the fight Oceiros actually does discard the child and tramples over it in a means to get to us.
The sound clip you heard earlier was more than likely cut from the game due to it being too “graphic” even though there is actually no physical indicating of what was happening to Ocelotte. Just the sound alone would be too much for the audience. So instead we’re left with a very intriguing scene that, like so much of Dark Souls, is left up to the viewers interpretation.
And also like much of Dark Souls it’s a wonderful piece of the lore that can actually be missed out on. And even more important is that after this boss encounter is the location of an emote called “Path of the Dragon” The relevance of this emote is made clear a few areas later when you’re exploring the Lotheric Castle. But next we are going to cross the castle ramparts and find ourselves looking at another fog gate.
This battle is strange, and appears to be a sort of golem, animated by a flying creature called the Pilgrim Butterfly. The sky is filled with the creatures who seem to be migrating across Lotheric as their name would imply. Yet one stops to control the armour. For what reason we don’t know.
The immediate reaction to this boss is to compare it to the Dragon Slayer Ornstein of Dark Souls One, But doing so would be incorrect. Aside from the Lightning enhancements, and the name there is nothing about this boss that would relate him to the Ornstien we once knew. They were both Dragon Slayers yes, but during the Age of Gods there were many Dragon Slayers. And Ornstein was one of many. However he was favored by Lord Gwyn and has since been recognized by a wide number of players. This Dragon Slayer Armour is not the Ornstein we know, but more likely a compatriot of Gwyn’s Knight Captain.
After the death of the Dragon Slayer Armour we begin again to make our way towards Lotheric Castle, and the Final Lord Of Cinder. But first we need to pass through the Grand Archives, where scholars have taken to using sorcery as a way to ascend there person and find meaning. They watch over the tomes that have sat passed down through generations. Some of which likely the original Dukes Archives of Dark Souls.
Throughout the Archives there are a few moments that stir our imagination. First being the Sorcery “Soul Stream” who’s description indicates to us that the wielder of this spell was the First Scholar. He argued against the linking of the fire, and also happened to be the Mentor of the Prince, who has since neglected his duty in linking the fire himself.
This being said it stands to reason that the first scholar may be perhaps the reason for the games existence in the first place. Having convinced the Prince that linking the fire was not in the best interest of the Kingdom, or the world.
Another moment of Souls Fanfare comes when we receive a somewhat hidden weapon. It’s a whip type, and it’s called the Witch’s Locks. It’s description relays that it’s formed from the hair belonging to a Daughter of The Witch Of Izalith. The weapon allows us to use the fire whip pyromancy. Retrieving this weapon doesn’t add a lot of depth for players new to Souls, but for veteran players it’s almost part of a revered mythology, an artifact that illustrates and commemorates the hardships of our past.
Now moving beyond the upper courtyard where we fight off a trio of unique enemies one wielding the popular Katana duel-wield weapons “Onikiri and Ubadachi”. Another, a lion knight wearing the Faraam armour, and a third wearing the firekeepers garb. They attempt to stop your passage into the heart of the castle, but instead meet their end.
And from here it’s finally time to make our way into the Prince’s Throne room. We fight our way through a large force of Lothric Knights, all poised in defense of the Prince, but none so much as his own brother Prince Lorian.
When we enter the arena and we’re greeted by young Prince Lothric calling us the purlioner or Thief of Cinders. He then confesses that he intends to let the entire cycle fade into obscurity. Then from the Dark comes a disfigured Prince Lorian, who engages us for the firs phase of combat.
Lorian, order brother to Lothric was known as a great warrior. Even having killed the Demon Prince, who’s name we don’t know. But then sacrificed his body in order to share in the curse placed on his younger brother whom he deemed more important.
After defeating Lorian we then witness this moment:
One of my favorite pieces of dialogue in the game. The way it’s spoken and the images that accompany it make for a wonderful moment in the Souls series. However, you’re likely to be killed by this duo a good number of times, and find yourself skipping the text a few dozens or so times. Nonetheless, it’s a great scene and one that stood out for me as a hallmark moment in Dark Souls III.
When you finally succeed in finishing the battle and acquiring the Final Ashes, it’s text reads this:
“The Lotheric Boodline was obsessed with creating a worthy heir. And when this proved impossible resorted to unspeakable means.”
Now it’s unclear what unspeakable means this references, but we already know King Lothric went mad, and the Queen had vanished. So whatever means they resorted to has left the young Prince Lothic in the state we find him, and still he chooses to ignore the linking of the fire, perhaps out of spite for all that’s been done to him and his brother. Or it could be possible that the Scholar did encourage Lothric to neglect his duty, telling him that it was his choice, not a task that could be forced onto him.
Regardless these final bits of Ash are brought back to the Kirekeeper who invokes a ritual bestowing the ashes onto you. Which then relocates you to the Kiln Of The First Flame. A place we haven’t been since our final moments of the original game. Much has changed since then. Cycles have come and gone. The fire has been reborn countless times, and the souls of those who were there have been reborn into new bodies time and time again.
Before we enter the final moments of the game there is one optional area that adds a great deal to the lore so I wanted to talk about that first. I mentioned earlier that after defeating Oceiros, we found a corpse that allowed us to learn the “Way Of The Dragon” emote. Well this is where that emote actually shines.
While we make our way through the ramparts of castle Lothric we come across a place where it appears that people half formed into dragons are posed in this Way Of The Dragon position. Maybe out of curiosity or guided by messages left by other players we choose to replicate their pose in this location. It’s then that we are whisked off to Archdragon Peaks. A place adorned with Serpent statues, and the Drakeblood Knights.
We also find ourselves surrounded by the same types of Half-serpent men we encountered back in Sen’s Fortress of Dark Souls. We fight our way through the peaks, killing a full grown dragon along the way, and we encounter what looks to be an old friend. Well maybe not a friend, but a very well know man, or his armor at least. It’s the stone armor of Havel, The Rock.
The story of Havel began back in your first moments of Dark Souls. He was a Bishop who served under Lord Gwyn. We find his hollowed body locked beneath a tower in the undead burg. It’s uncertain how he was trapped, but there are a number of references to him being locked away by a “dear friend”. Which many take to mean he was locked away by Gwyn who may have been, overcome by grief due to seeing his friend Hollow, and either couldn’t bring himself to kill the man. Or wasn’t physically strong enough to do so. After having encountered both Havel and Gwyn it’s tough to know who would come out victorious in a battle between them.
Nevertheless we find what appears to be a descendant of Havel on top of a tower in Archdragon Peaks. Standing over the corpse of a Dragon. We’ve always known Havel’s weapon of choice to be the tooth of a slain dragon, and in his other hand he wields a Stone Greatshield with the power to cover it’s wielder in a coat of solid rock. Which is likely where Havel’s nickname originated.
Whether this is a true descendant is unknown, Havel’s armor can also be found in Dark Souls II being worn by a graverobber in the Sunken Crown DLC. Leading us to believe that his armor was cast aside and discovered by unsavory people before finally making it to the hands of whatever man finally upholds the Legacy of Havel in Archdragon Peaks.
Now one important thing to note here is that there are Serpent Priests that can summon in aid when they’re attacked. They call the Drakeblood Knights, which makes sense due to the Drakeblood being known to worship Dragons. However, they can also summon the spirit of the man dressed in Havel’s armor. Which doesn’t really fit with how Havel lived his life. But this is the second time we’ve seen Havel and the Drakebloods together, the first being in the Sunken Crown DLC where we know Havel’s armor ended up by one means or another. So it’s interesting to speculate on what exactly this possible descendant of Havel is doing supporting the Serpent Priests. An answer which might be explain deeper in Archdragon peaks as we come across the boss of the area.
Finally we ring a bell after a brief text that indicates to us the sound will summon a great storm to us, and so it does. But in the form of a Storm Dragon, and a Rider, dubbed “The Nameless King”. One of the most important call backs to the lore of Dark Souls, and a very interesting boss battle besides.
The story of The Nameless King begins back in the original game and refers to a character who was said to have been erased from the annuls of history by Gywn. It was his first born son, the god of war, who during the wars began siding with the dragons his father and his people struggled against. It was then that Gwyn cast him out, destroying his statues, his legacy, and even erasing his name from history.
It appears now that in those final moments the god of war, came across the Path of the Dragon, and made his way to Archdragon Peaks. Eventually taming the Storm Dragon he rides and being proclaimed King by those in the peaks. Ironically, even after being cast out by Gwyn, it seems that he has outlived the other gods, and his siblings, who have either been consumed by the fire, or by the Saint Of The Deep.
Even still this fantastic boss fight that takes place both in the air and on the ground doesn’t make up the whole of the story in Archdragon Peaks. There’s still one shocking moment left to be revealed after the defeat of the Nameless King. The Storm Dragon is dead, and the nameless king is finally brought down but as we scour the arena we find something interesting.
A suit of armor, discarded, not on the corpse of a man, and not in a chest to be stored for later use. But discarded, as if there was no longer a want or a use for it. It’s the dragonslayer armor. The set that belonged to DragonSlayer Ornstein, first knight of Gwyn. A man who was charged with protecting the once prince, and remained faithful in his vows, no matter the cost.
And so it appears that for reasons unknown Ornstein followed the Nameless King, and cast aside his armor. It’s known that following the Path of The Dragon will allow you to eventually transform your own body into that of a dragon and by all speculation and evidence it’s believed this is exactly what happened to Ornstein. He took up the Path of The Dragon, in order to better serve the Nameless King, which gave him no need for his old armor that denotes his standing as Captain of Gwyn’s Knights.
It’s uncertain whether or not Ornstein appears in his Dragon form within the game but it is stated that Ornstein is loyal is the Nameless King and it might be possible that the Storm Dragon we see the King riding is actually the Dragon form of the Knight Captain. It’s after this these moments that we see the end of Archdragon Peaks, and the fantastic pieces of Souls history that were hiding within.
You go back to the firekeeper who sends you into the Kiln of the First Flame. A place that holds all you’ve been working for at it’s center.
And now you stand one last time, at a pinnacle moment in history. You’re no longer just a carrier of the Dark Sign. You’re more than the chosen undead, and you have the potential to become more than unkindled ash who failed to link the fire. So you move forward, deeper into the kiln to see what awaits.
It’s here that you meet your last fog gate, and cautiously step through. Unveiling what now guards the flame. It’s a deity called the Soul Of Cinder. A being comprised of the Souls belonging to each person who has previously linked the flame and extended the age of fire. This means you. Or others like you. If you started your Dark Souls journey from the beginning at least.
So now you are fighting against the Soul of yourself from previous games, mechanically it’s a battle where the Soul can switch through a number of distinct fighting styles implemented by players over the years. Anything from Staff and Sorcery, to Curved Sword and Pyromancy. It’s a truly unique fight, but this is only the first phase of your battle against the Soul of Cinder.
Souls veteran’s will know that the Gwyn, Lord of Sunlight was the first to link the flame, so it’s only fitting that we are then cast into a final battle with his Soul as we struggle to prove ourselves one last time. And that’s exactly what happens. During the second phase of this fight the music takes a twist and we hear what could be considered one of the best boss themes of all time come in with a dark twist.
The Soul Of Cinder calls the Soul of Gwyn to be our final opponent. Throwing bolts of lightning, and leaping at us with a two-handed sword swathed in flame. But we’re more than we ever have been at this point. Our skills in combat and our determination to see this through are more than enough to defeat the Lord Of Sunlight one last time, however narrowly the victory. We lay the Soul of Cinder to rest and glimpse the First Flame for the last time.
We now have a choice, like times before this, and like so many before us. Do we kindle the Flame? Using our Soul as the fuel to keep the age of fire going a bit longer. Keeping the world from descending into darkness.
Or do we walk away like the Lords of Cinder had done. Allowing the fires to fade and waiting for another unkindled ash with the potential to link the fire to come?
But things are not the same in this cycle as they have been. We are not just any unkindled Ash. We’ve heard Yoel speak to us of our power. We’ve been guided down another path by Yuria. And took part in a joining ceremony with Anri. We’re the Lord Of Londor. The Lord Of The Undead. Someone who can bring about the new age, different from the light, and not quite the dark.
We can take the fire into ourselves, using it to kindle our own Soul, ushering in the age that was until this point beyond reach. And so that’s what we do. We become the Usurper Of Fire. The Lord Of Londor and All Hollows. Embracing the curse, not fighting it like all others before us. And now we see the end of Dark Souls.
But where do we go from here? It’s been, for some of us, hundreds of hours of gameplay. A story that will last in our memories for a lifetime, and a struggle that gave us the opportunity to prove ourselves to our peers. And now it’s over. Yet, I can’t help but feel that the future of Dark Souls is still yet to be seen. Like the premise of the games themselves, this story might be over but we haven’t seen the end of the cycles.
The Souls series has opening up a world of possibilities and has countless abilities to give players more of what made Dark Souls so great. Maybe not in the way we’ve come to know in Lordran, Drangleic, or Lothric. But perhaps in a new way.
We met a man who may have seen that new direction. And the path we’ll be led on next. The Saint Aldrich and the Way of The Deep. The Ocean Fathoms that represent the darkest settled parts of man. It’s possible that The Deep, is going to be a completely new age of Souls. Connected only by the dream of Saint Aldrich to a world we’ve yet to experience. Unlike Bloodborne, or Dark Souls.
It’s been a long time since the initial release of Demons Souls, and we’ve been through so much, and created such a diverse community for PVP, Speedrunning, Casual Play, and Lore buffs. It’s a way I’ve never seen in the gaming world. I believe that Dark Souls will live on as one of the greatest and most influential series of all time.
And with that we’ve reached the end of our story, for now. So I thank you again for watching, and I hope I was able to give you enough understanding of what makes Souls so great. And I hope to see you again when the next chapter of Souls is written. Even if it’s no longer the game we know. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet as the famous quote goes.
I’d like to leave you with this final message, one that I feel conveys what it means to be a part of the Souls community.
“Every man’s heart one day beat’s it’s final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life, makes the blood pulse through the body of others, and makes them bleed deeper in something that’s they determine to be their life’s work. Well then his essence, his spirit, will be remembered and immortalized by the wisdom of the storytellers.”