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Dark Souls has been one of the most essential gaming franchises over the past 10 years. It came to us during a time when hard games were few and far between. Games were holding our hands and directing us where to go, and patting us on the back when we failed. While this method worked and produced such gaming gems as Red Dead Redemption, the feeling of the challenging games of yesteryear that produced such brutal content as Battletoads and Ninja Gaiden was just a distant memory. In 2009, Demon’s Souls was released, and that gave us an injection of brutality back into the world of gaming difficulty, but for whatever reason, it didn’t go on to become a massive hit. But something was there. Something powerful and different and From Software sensed that in the game and went to work on their next game, Dark Souls.
To say the odds weren’t in favor of Dark Souls was an understatement. From Software was a company that was on the ropes and hoping for a breakout hit, and they put every effort they had into Dark Souls and to put a cherry on top of all of the odds against them; the release came around the same time as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which is one of the best selling games of all time. Despite the odds, Dark Souls was released in the fall of 2011 and, with it, created not only an incredible action RPG but also a niche that would break through to a mainstream audience, and on top of all of that, it created its own genre. The Souls-like game was born from that moment, and developers are still copying the formula created over a decade ago in order to try and hook people in.
For me, Dark Souls was a revelation. I had been a big-time RPG fan my whole life, but when I picked up Dark Souls during my senior year of college, nothing could prepare me for the experience within. On the back of the box, it simply said: “Prepare to Die.” While that’s not the most inviting phrase to throw on the back of a game, it certainly was intriguing. I wondered just how hard this game could be. I read the reviews; I’d played and conquered challenging games before, and I’ve always been one to turn the difficulty to its highest in any game I play, so I figured I was pretty well prepared for whatever Dark Souls could throw at me. I was wrong.
Dark Souls rethought what it meant to be a difficult game and made it an art form. It wasn’t enemies with absurdly long health bars and cheap attacks that caused the difficulty, but rather the amazing enemy AI, the various traps, and tons of overwhelming odds that create it. But Dark Souls is only as hard as you let it be. It asked you to think as if you were really in that situation. Would you take on all the enemies at once? Or would you corner them off in small groups? Is that Dragon on the bridge really worth fighting? Or is there another way around it? These questions created a different kind of player in me, and finally, beating Dark Souls’ final boss is one of my most memorable gaming moments to this day.
To go along with the challenge is a fascinating world. Although you could call it an open-world game, it had no map, and the entire game was interconnected without loading screens outside of dying and loading up. Pretty much every area is accessible from the starting area without loading screens, and that causes the world to feel more connected than most open-world games do. The world itself told a story, and that was the first time I’d seen a game do that. Alongside it was an ominous and drip-fed tale that required attention to detail as well as reading item descriptions to get the full weight of the story. There is so much to learn about this amazing world, from the enemies to the heroes and the people and creatures in between. Let’s explore everything Dark Souls has to offer.
In order for you to understand the story of Dark Souls, I have to take you back to the origins of the world you’re experiencing. The opening cinematic does a decent job of depicting this, but it can be hard to take it all in the first time viewing, so breaking it down this way should make everything more digestible for you.
The Age of Ancients
Your story takes place in the Age of Fire, but long before that, there was the Age of Ancients. This was a time before the world was fully created, and it was a world devoid of color and shrouded by a constant fog. Throughout the land of the ancients, there were gray trees, gray forests, and most importantly, the Everlasting Dragons. These were the rulers of the world, and they held control over everything as this was a time before humans and other creatures began to make their mark on the world.
Soon though, the Lords began to form, and this was the first opposition that the Everlasting Dragons have ever faced. This ushered in an age known as the First Flame.
The First Flame
This age began with the advent of Fire. Since the world before had never known death or different climates, the advent of Fire brought with it heat and cold, light and dark, and life and death. The First Flame was born during this time, becoming the source of all the Fire in the world. With this source came the creation of things both light and dark. From the Dark came the human-like creatures known as Hollows. These are technically the first humans born into the world.
Near the First Flame came the Lord Souls. These are powerful souls that appeared ominously out of nowhere. After the appearance of these souls, the Four Hollows of the world came to fuse with them, creating the Four Lords of the world. When each Hollow absorbed a Lord Soul, they took on different purposes in the world, some for the world of light and some for the Dark.
Nito, First of the Dead
Nito used his Lord Soul to unleash the concept of death to the world. He became the first creature to destroy life, and with it, the concept helped to ultimately win the Dragon War. He is, in fact, the dealer of the killing blow to the Dragons, as his power of death introduced them to a force they had never seen before, and this Miasma unleashed by Nito finished them for good. His Lord Soul turned him into the living embodiment of death and illness. His appearance is that of many skeletons fused together.
After the war with Dragons ended, he descended into the Catacombs and slept for ages. During this time, he still administered death across the land and also developed a following called the Gravelord Servants.
The Witch of Izalith
The Witch of Izalith harnessed her Lord Soul and First Flame in order to create massive firestorms, burning the Archtrees to the ground that scattered the land through the Age of The Ancients. The First Flame eventually started to fade, and that caused the Witch to panic, for that was where her power was derived from. In an attempt to save it, she used her Lord Soul to recreate the First Flame. The first attempt failed, and the inhabitants of Izalith became corrupted by this and were turned into demons, while the Witch of Izaleth was turned into the Bed of Chaos. This was a twisted creature that was made of Fire and trees, and the Witches fate has been bound to the Bed of Chaos for her attempt to reignite the First Flame.
She did succeed in creating a flame, now known as the Chaos Flame, but she was consumed by it and turned into the bed of Chaos which acts as the mother of all demons. She wasn’t the only one to suffer as her daughters all were transformed into horrific creatures as well, except for her daughter Quelana, who escaped with the power and used the Flame of Chaos to create Pyromancy.
Gwyn, Lord of Sunlight and Cinder
Gwyn was the first of the Hollows to take the form of a great knight, and with the Lord Soul, it is possible he was a King of sorts before absorbing it. When he absorbed the Lord’s Soul, he gained the ability to manipulate light and created lightning from that power. He led the Four Lords in the Dragon war, allied with another dragon named Seath the Scaleless, and ended the reign of the Everlasting Dragons.
In the Age of Fire that followed, Gwyn ruled as the King of Lordran, which is where the main story of Dark Souls takes place. It was there that the Gods were created in the city of Anor Londo. While the Dragon’s reign was over, Seath The Scaleless remained as watcher over the Archives and was named a Duke as well.
It was during this time that Gwyn formed the Four Knights. These were made up of Dragonslayer Ornstein, Hawkeye Gough, Lord’s Blade Ciaran, and the Legendary Knight, Artorias the Abysswallker. Gwyn also was friends with Havel the Rock, who was a general in the army. Throughout your time in Dark Souls, you will encounter all of the above in your later years.
The Furtive Pygmy
The final being to take the Lord Soul was the Furtive Pygmy. Unlike the rest of the lords, you will not encounter the Furtive Pygmy throughout your adventure in Dark Souls. The reason is that the Furtive Pygmy is the original holder of the Dark Soul, which later gave birth to the creation of humanity. This makes the Furtive Pygmy the first human ancestor and the creator of all the humanity to come.
In the opening cutscene, you can barely make out the Furtive Pygmy, and it only appears as the silhouette of a bald human. During the Dragon War, the Furtive Pygmy created the humans who then fought alongside Gwyn. After the victory against the Dragons, Gwyn granted the Pygmy Warriors a land of their own at the edge of the world called the Ringed City.
The goal of the Furtive Pygmy is to create the Age of Dark after the Age of Fire, and this is because they saw in visions what was to come. This decision plays into what the player chooses to do in the final moments of the game.
The Age of Fire
After the war ended, a period of great prosperity followed, and it was during this time that Gwyn established the land of Lordran. Gwyn resided in the great city of Anor Londo and, in the meantime, split up his Lord Soul and gave it to the Four Kings, who watched over New Londo.
Gwyn had three children during his reign. The firstborn is known as the God of War, and he inherited Sunlight from his father. He wore an Ancient Ring that was capable of creating powerful miracles. He was only power-hungry and respected warriors of great strength and nothing else. He created the Great Lightning Spear Miracle that you can acquire during your playthrough and wielded the Sunlight Blade.
Seen as the biggest failure of Gwyn’s offspring due to his allying with the Dragons, his punishment led to his deific status being stripped and left behind in the annals of history. His true name has been forgotten, and when his father died, the Sunlight Blade was left on his coffin.
After the departure of his father, the God of War went to ally himself with the Dragons. The Dragon Slayer, Ornstein, went in search of Gwyn’s son but never returned from his journey.
The next of his kin, the Princess of Sunlight, was seen as the purity of the land and was seen as a symbol of bounty and fertility. The Princess eventually left Anor Londo and married the God of Flame, Flann.
You will encounter Gwynever during your visit to Anor Londo, though it is actually just an illusion created by her manipulative younger brother, Gywndolin, in order to make you link the First Flame at the end of the game.
Dark Sun Gwyndolin
Dark Sun Gwyndolin is the opposite of his siblings, choosing to embrace the moon instead of the sun as his father did before him. Gwyndolin is the leader of the Blades of the Darkmoon covenant. He guards the tomb of Lord Gwyn in the depths of Anor Londo.
When growing up, Gwyn raised him as a daughter due to his affiliation with the moon. He goes on to be the last remaining deity in Anor Londo, and when you arrive, you will be under the illusion that Gwynevere is controlling the land, but upon striking her, her illusion disappears as does the sun in Anor Londo, revealing the manipulation by Gwyndolin the entire time.
Fall of the Lords
The Age of Fire started as one of great prosperity and riches, but once the fires started to die, so did the power of the Four Lords. The Witch of Izalith’s failed experiment to keep the flame lit resulted in the creation of Demons and the Chaos Flame, so Gwyn took it upon himself to give one final effort to save the Age of Fire.
He took his army to the Kiln of The First Flame, and it was there he sacrificed himself to link with the First Flame, turning the entirety of the Kiln into ash and destroying his army in the process, transforming them into Black Knights, who you will face off against during the game.
The attempt by Gwyn was successful, but only temporarily, so the Age of Fire only continued for 1000 years. Gwyn then became a Hollow once more and took on the moniker of Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, which is the title he holds when facing the Chosen Undead in the finale of the game.
After Gwyn’s sacrifice, The Four Kings became corrupted and were seduced by evil by Darkstalker Kaathe, a primordial serpent who has one goal, bringing about the Age of Dark, and their army was turned into the Darkwraiths that stalk New Londo.
The Four Kings and the Darkwraiths wreaked havoc on New Londo, and in the last effort to stop them, New Londo was flooded, and the result was trapping The Four Kings and the Darkwraiths in the Abyss.’
Soon after the sealing of the Four Kings, the deities that had inhabited the land of Anor Londo for ages began to leave for greener pastures. The only one to remain was the Dark Sun Gwyndolin, who slowly became corrupted himself and created the Blades of the Darkmoon Covenant.
Search the Scaleless remained as well, obsessively researching in his Archives as all his masters and friends had abandoned him. He slowly went insane by the research he had done, and the result was the creation of magic in the world.
As the deities left and the cities fell, darkness took over the corrupted beings of yesteryear remained.
More than a thousand years pass, and then you, the Chosen Undead, arise, with a mission to either link the First Flame as Gwyn once did or let it expire and welcome the Age of Dark.
Your journey throughout Lordran is a lengthy one, and along the way, you’re going to encounter many characters. Some of them wear their motivations on their sleeve, but others are much more mysterious in their nature, and only through careful observation and attention to detail will you figure out what they’re really after.
One of the most tragic characters in all of Dark Souls, Artorias, is only encountered through the Dark Souls DLC, and when you face him, he is a corrupted version of the man who once was. Sir Artorias was once one of the original Four Knights of Lord Gwyn. When you encounter him, it is far in the past, and during the main storyline of Dark Souls, he is long deceased and only his trusted companion, Great Wolf Sif, still exists as a guard to his grave.
Artorias was known to be the bravest of the Four Knights and possibly the greatest warrior as well. Artorias was selfless in his hunting of the Darkwraiths, and when no one else would, he traversed the Abyss with the power of his Covenant ring, which prevented the Dark of the Abyss from swallowing him. While Artorias was protected from the Dark, his sword was not, and it was cursed in the process, starting him on his path.
He was granted a pendant that could stave off the darkness and hailed as a great knight upon his return from the Abyss, which granted him the name Artorias Abysswalker.
When Oolacile started to become consumed by the Abyss, Artorias and Sif attempted to save Oolacile and Princess Dusk, but the two were unable to, and in the process, Artorias sacrificed himself to protect Sif using his Greatshield.
When you encounter him, he’s oozing a dark aura, and one of his arms appears useless, apparently from absorbing the blow that finally corrupted him to the Dark. He’s an incredibly tough fight that is also beyond tragic when you know of all the backstory.
That tragedy also plays out during the main game, when in order to get the Covenant of Artorias and traverse the Abyss in New Londo Ruins, you have to kill the noble Great Wold Sif, who only sees you as a threat and uses Artorias’s Greatsword in its mouth during the fight.
Solaire is one of Dark Souls’ most iconic characters, and you encounter him several times throughout the game. He’s always very friendly and claims to be a follower of the Lord of Sunlight. He is constantly spouting his catchphrase “Praise the Sun” any time you see him and has a questline attached to him that sees him searching for “his sun.”
He will search for this throughout the entirety of the game until he gets to Lost Izalith. When this happens, Solaire becomes possessed by a Sunlight Maggot and goes completely insane, claiming the maggot is what he was searching for, and from that point on, he becomes hostile towards you, and you’ll have little choice but to kill him. If you prevent him from finding the Sunlight Maggot, though, Solaire becomes the only NPC in the game that you can summon for the final fight against Gwyn, Lord of Cinder.
Because of this, many have speculated that Solaire is actually the missing son of Gwyn, who Dragonslayer Ornstein went searching for. This theory is interesting, but it’s not entirely supported as something as simple as a Sunlight Maggot would not have affected the sun of Gwyn.
What is more likely is that the boss fight you have in Dark Souls III against the Nameless King is far more likely who the God of War actually was. The evidence here is that he uses a weapon awfully similar to Ornstein, suggesting he killed him when Ornstein tried to bring him home, as well as countless item descriptions telling that the Nameless King was stripped of his deific status for betraying Gwyn.
Every good RPG has to have someone to guide you on your path, and here, that someone is Kingseeker Frampt. Frampt is a primordial serpent that appears after you ring both Bells of Awakening. He sets you on your path to Anor Londo to get the Lordvessel, which allows the souls to be absorbed into it and opens the way to the Kiln of the First Flame. Frampt’s goal in the game is to find the human replacement for Gwyn, and that just so happens to be you if you choose it to be. If you do not give Frampt the Lordvessel, though, Frampt will become angry and abandon you in your playthrough from that point forth.
If you choose to not do your dealings with the primordial serpent, Kingseeker Frampt, then don’t worry; you will have another creepy snake thing to influence your path in Darkstalker Kaathe. When Darkstalker Kaathe appears, he will immediately start influencing you to his side of the conflict. While Frampt wants you to link the First Flame and keep it alight, Darkstalker Kaathe wants to welcome in the Age of Dark. He brings up a good point because as a human, you are a descendant of The Furtive Pygmy, who possessed the Dark Soul and the being whose goal it was to welcome in the Age of Dark.
Kaathe is an interesting character because he seems evil, and even his name speaks to that as well, but the thing to know with Dark Souls is that Dark doesn’t equal bad necessarily, and if you follow the lore through the ages of the world of Dark Souls, you might see things from Darkstalker Kaathe’s eyes even more than Frampt’s. Depending on who you give the Lordvessel to, the other will disappear from the game for the duration of that playthrough. Regardless of who you give the Lordvessel to, though, you still have the ultimate say of what you do after defeating Gwyn.
The fight against Ornstein and Smough is still one of the most iconic in videogame history, and the lore behind the more popular of the two is just plain fascinating. Like Artorias, Dragonslayer Ornstein was one of Gwyn’s knights who was a renowned Dragon Slayer and a huge asset to Gwyn during the War of the Flame. As the gods started to flee, Anor Londo, Ornstein, and Executioner Smough were made to guard the Cathedral and the Princess of Sunlight inside it, Gwynevere.
After a time, though, Ornstein left the Cathedral in order to search for the God of War, aka Gwyn’s first son and disgraced god. His whereabouts are unknown, but his situation is most curious.
When you defeat him in Dark Souls, he dies, the body disappears, and that’s it for him. This would seem normal, but that’s until you attack Gwynevere after and realize that the entirety of the Anor Londo you’ve been in is just an illusion by the Dark Sun Gwyndolin. This means that Ornstein had already left.
What’s more curious is that after defeating the Nameless King in Dark Souls III, you discover Ornstein’s Armor and weapon set right nearby. This hasn’t been confirmed, but the theory here is that Ornstein managed to transform himself into a Dragon after meeting up with the Nameless King, and that is the Dragon that the Nameless King rides into battle against you on. Ornstein has always been an aid user of lightning, and the Storm King Dragon uses plenty of that as well. When you combine that with the proximity of his armor to the fight, it makes you wonder.
Dark Souls is a pretty straightforward game; you work your way through various levels, fighting enemies of different kinds, collecting weapons and armor, and defeating the bosses of the areas to move on to the next location.
The magic here lies in the combat system, which has since gone on to define a genre.
The combat shines mostly in its melee form, and instead of hack and slash action like most action RPGs, Dark Souls requires a slow and calculated approach. You need to read your enemies before you attack them. Each enemy has a tell for when they are going to attack, and knowing when to parry vs. when guard vs. when to strike is key to surviving most of the encounters in the game.
The slow dance you do with your enemies here is different than any combat system you’ve experienced, and in the process, you’ll lose your old ways of playing games like this and instead learn the value of dodging, rolling, and especially parrying. Parrying in Dark Souls lets you counter an opponent’s attack and open them up for an instant kill move, and it even works on some bosses.
You can also use magic and bows and arrows and crossbows as well, but these are generally less developed, and the unique feeling you get from the melee system is lost on this method of play. Luckily, you can often combine them and get the best of both worlds.
Multiplayer is available in Dark Souls in a variety of different ways. You can face off against online players in PVP combat pretty much anywhere in the game, but the more intriguing method comes via co-op. You can join up with a friend near your level at any point during the game, and this will allow you to face off against enemies and bosses together, making the experience way easier for anyone struggling.
In addition to the normal bosses of the game, there are also a few optional bosses you can encounter as well. These aren’t required to beat the game, but they often add some great bonuses like new armor, weapons, and even spells to the game. This is Dark Souls, though, so you can expect these bosses to be of the very punishing variety. Because of that, only try and take them on if you’re well equipped or desperately need the item they’re defending.
There are also mini-bosses as well, and these are usually required to fight and will give a challenge somewhere between a boss enemy and a normal one. These enemies are usually defending some item, and the details in the item description can sometimes shed some light on who the enemy guarding it was.
Question: Is Dark Souls the hardest game ever made?
Answer: It certainly can be at times; Dark Souls requires incredible reflexes and careful preparation and has been known to cause a player to break a controller or two.
Question: Who is the hardest boss in Dark Souls?
Answer: Gwyn is an incredibly tough challenge as a final boss should be, but surprisingly, Capra Demon is probably the toughest fight in the game due to how early you face him and also because the arena where you fight him is so small.
Question: How long is Dark Souls?
Answer: Dark Souls is around 60 hours long, with a few more added on for the DLC. Part of this playtime is through repeated journeys through an area after dying, so if you were the best Dark Souls player ever, you could theoretically cut that time in half.
I always found it funny when people say that Dark Souls has no story. I mean, do you think I just made all of that stuff up? It not only has a great story, but it’s one of the most engaging and tragic tales ever told in a game. Could it be presented better? Absolutely, but the discovery of certain story events on your own without cutscenes or markers to guide you along. Hopefully, this breakdown helped you understand more about the amazing world of Dark Souls, and your next time through Lordran will feel a lot different because of it.
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