Dark Souls 3 is supposed to be the last of the series, so sit back and read up on how this awesome trilogy could finish its time-bending story arc.
From Software, for all the screens of death and dismay the company is responsible for, has spun themselves quite a tale of cyclical curses. Fans that desire to do so can find tomes of material on Lordran, Drangleic, their respective provinces, and even the internal workings of the primordial human being. Despite how some players malign the idea of this lore seeming way too hidden and hardly ever out in the open, it remains a pretty shiny coin after an equally-compelling dig for some.
Dark Souls 3 is, if From Software is to be believed, the final of the Souls games, and should therefore have some sort of conclusive act to that main story. What is the main story, you ask? Well, scoot on up next to the bonfire and grab your Sunny D.
Oh, and spoilers +10, maybe even some for Dark Souls 3!
The original Souls was, while stripping away a lot of the bluster, a game about being cursed. Humanity is the main bearer of that curse after the four Lords – Nito the Gravelord, the Witch of Izalith, Lord Gwyn, and the Furtive Pygmy – attained souls of massive power that helped three of them take down the nearly immortal dragons. Their souls gave birth to the Age of Fire wherein Gwyn was the leader with the others, plus the likes of the traitorous Seath the Scaleless, ruling over their respective lands. As the age waned, so did the fires until the point where life itself was leaving humans tortured and undying Hollows that the Lords attempted to wrangle together and contain, as one would a transmissible plague. Gwyn rallied his tremendous power against this curse and against the dark that took the Witch of Izalith and her children into demonhood, drove Seath insane, and cost the Sun Lord nearly his entire family and ruling city of Anor Londo. Thus, he used his own emblazoned soul to keep the age going.
Meanwhile, there were two other factors in play: your Hollow and Manus. The Furtive Pygmy, after heavily implied heartbreak, torture, and grave defilement, used his massive soul to twist and contort into the beast of darkness incarnate named Manus. Your undead, while travelling back in time, defeats Manus before the Abyss can engulf the world. Your character then takes the Lord Souls into himself, bringing him into an eventual showdown with the Hollowed version of Gwyn. Upon his defeat, you are given a choice to survive the Age of Fire, or take your place as the Lord of Darkness. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. No matter which, the darkness and Manus endures in a different form.
Dark Souls 2 changes from a focus on curses to one of poisons of the soul. Fragments of Manus take the forms of various queens in different kingdoms, the most prominent of which is Nashandra next to King Vendrick of Drangleic. She dripped vocal poison into his ear to the point where he, after claiming to have stared into the very essence of a soul and only slightly understanding what was there, resigned to passing his knowledge to only a true and worthy king. Along comes your undead, filled to the brim with souls and crowns from the other kings of the world, and you are given an answer. A crown that can sit upon your head alone, and one that protects you from the curse. Your undead is human and, after defeating Aldia, a human leader the likes of which the world has never seen, able to step outside of the cycle of fire and darkness and keep the Hollowing process at bay.
But, from the looks of things, that rule does not last. Which makes sense as your undead from Dark Souls 2 may be one of the few natural deaths experienced in the land as the curse was fully rampant. Dark Souls 3 seems to be switching the theme to ashes, which opens up some intriguing ideas for where the story could go. Especially with the bits and pieces that have been released so far about the upcoming game.
The network test showcased a piece of the High Wall of Lothric. It was likely just a sample size of what’s to come, but there were already some pretty heavy lore implications to soak in. Dragons seem have both returned to some of their former glory and begun to experience another extinction event. Hollows can be seen desperately worshiping the hardened, ashen bodies of the monsters while a different area showcases a live dragon still able to fight back.
In the first Dark Souls, dragons were tantamount to gods, immortal as long as their scales remained intact, and only able to be destroyed by the Lords and Seath. Aldia’s experimentive meddling then spawned an entire new race of partial dragons – likely along the same line as those being worshiped – imbued with the souls of giants in the second game. Here, there seems to be some remnants of that ancient time when dragons ruled over all. These Hollows that bow to the dragons as their skin is ash and cracking away seem to be aware of that mythology and are begging for anyway to have this ashen curse lifted.
The entire concept of ashes in Dark Souls 3 is also telling if the previous entries have taught us anything. Ashes were a prominent visual ascetic in a few locales in the first game. The first you’re likely to run across is Ash Lake where the dragons used to roost and you’re given the idea that this was, at some point, the very bottom of the world from which its fruits sprang. The game’s last area, the Kiln of the First Flame, is the second and was swirled with the overwhelming power of Gwyn’s Lord soul and leaving naught but ruins and ash. From both of these locations, the world sprang anew, the first time under rule of the dragons and second under the rule of your chosen undead.
Dark Souls 3 isn’t a world of pure ashes quite yet as the Lords of Cinder, those massive giants from the original trailer, are still burning brightly and are possibly involved with the spread of ash itself. The idea seems to be that these Lords are some of the last bastions of fire, but that their fire is fading in an unusual way. It’s not a case of the fire dying out just to continue the cycle into an age of dark, but of an apparent full on reset of the world. This is as close to an apocalyptic event that this universe can experience, especially since this kind of event would supersede the cycle players will recall taking place with each respawn. It would be a literal ashes to ashes, dust to dust situation that may or may not include your character becoming the spark that gives a new world life.
What isn’t clear from the scant showing so far is what brought about this apparent end of days, but Dark Souls 3 seems primed to deliver on the end of the cycle regardless. Gwyn committed the First Sin, Aldia studied it enthrallingly so, and it’s presumed that your undead from Dark Souls 2 played some part in finding a third path outside of the cycle – this pathway of rebirth. Of course, a lot of creatures in Lothric and beyond probably don’t appreciate that sacrificial idea. Speaking of which, where is the third side to this triangle, the darkness? The Lords of Cinder seem to be fighting to extend the age of fire while your character is more of a neutral force, able to kill or pass just about anything in their path, but the only hint of darkness thus far was this crown shown during the E3 trailer that seems to emanate dark. Perhaps, as the age of fire has clearly waned in power slightly before this potential doomsday, dark and light have equal agency in the world with both struggling to survive. The Lords of Cinder then would be attempting to slay some fragments of Manus himself, if not a recombined form, which could create a fascinating dynamic if the darkness was somehow “ashing” away as well.
Dark Souls 3, if what’s been told and represented comes to pass, may have to be the last game in this particular series simply because there might be nothing left. Imagine multiple endings like the original Souls where you may have the opportunity to leave the world barren, never regrowing any souls or races out of fear that the cycle will just repeat endlessly. You will have destroyed the world for its own good, and it serves as a testament to how far removed from traditional story telling this entire series is that this option, were it to be included, would fit with the lore. Dark Souls 3 doesn’t have to – nay probably shouldn’t – end happily. Even with an ending reminiscent of Shelley Percy’s Ozymandias, there wouldn’t be much disappointment at all in seeing this torturous cycle, ironically so for the player, come to an end with no encore.