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Dark Souls

Few titles polarize gamers as much as From Software's action-role-playing-game Dark Souls. Its unforgiving nature and brutal difficulty turned many players away…and won it a legion of fans. Count me among the latter. I played it, finished it, and moved on as gamers do.

But now I've found new reasons to jump back into the realm of Lordran: the story. To quote a message left by another player in the game world itself, "The real Dark Souls begins now," one year later.


The story and lore usually doesn't come up first when someone mentions Dark Souls — that would be the mind-boggling, spasm-inducing difficulty (if you're careless). However, the lore, setting, characters, and arching story lines of Dark Souls have evolved and drawn intrigue from the gaming community every month since its release.

This might be hard to believe, considering how "go and find it yourself" the story-telling approach can be. In fact, the only real exposition the player gets occurs in the first and last minutes of the game, and that's it. How rich and vibrant can a game world really be with so little narrative focus?

Pretty rich and vibrant, as it turns out. The little things matter in Dark Souls, with each small piece a stepping stone across a very deep river. 

Thanks to character discussions in game and observations of various ruins around Lordran, you can gain a wealth of information about this particular Knight's identity. Even the item descriptions — like this one for an ring called the Covenant of Artorias — do some decent world-building:

"This crest opens a door in the Darkrook Garden sealed by ancient magic. The door leads to the grave of Sir Artorias the Abysswalker. Many adventurers have left for the grave, but none have returned, for they make easy prey for local bandits. With such dangers, the crest can do more harm than good in the hands of the uninitiated."

You'll find even more information in a new item description in the PC port, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition:

"One of the ancient treasures of Anor Londo. Presented to Artorias for facing the Abyss. Effectively deflects the Dark of the Abyss, especially in its magic forms."

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And after wearing his ring in Dark Souls, you finally get to meet Artorias, one of the fabled four knights of Lord Gwyn, in the Prepare to Die Edition. He's a boss who tries very hard to kill you. How did he go from legendary hero to horrific threat? The answers are in there somewhere.

I find this type of storytelling refreshing, if not enlightening. Dark Souls has created a world where you can digest or ignore as much of the backstory as you wish. In many ways, this approach feels similar to what World of Warcraft did for years. The lore, characters, and settings exist for the player to find. If you have no urge to do so, just move on.

It's really a shame that most players never realize how much information the smallest items hold. Artorias' role in the spreading of the Abyss and the destruction of a long-lost empire. The twisted wishes and choices behind the lighting of the bonfires, the Age of Darkness, and the Age of Flame. The role of Sif, guardian of the Darkroot Graveyards. The true origin of the Chosen Undead.

On the other hand, follow the bread crumbs, and you'll be rewarded. The Prepare to Die Edition extends those rewards even further. You'll travel into Lordran's past and find the origins of the Darkroot Garden, what became of The Pygmy, and how Artorias' honorable intentions led to the demise of an entire nation. It's great, epic stuff.

As with any good story, Dark Souls leaves much for the player to decide and decipher for themselves. Nothing is dictated. Dark Souls' very active community — the game itself is designed around the idea of players helping each other with warning messages — dig up the pieces and excitedly share and debate them non-stop. From Software practically crowdsourced a universe. And with a wealth of new content appearing in the Prepare to Die Edition, it's safe to say we all have a lot more to learn about Lordran.

I just hope I live long enough to see it.