In a short time the world of Lordran will be alive once again with the souls of the lost undead. What will hopefully and likely be an annual event began last year as a tribute to the fact the Dark Souls subreddit gained 100,000 followers on Reddit. To celebrate such an achievement it was decided that for a couple of weeks everyone would make a new character and log on to play the game together, just like when the game launched.
Its following has only grown since then and this year’s Return To Lordran will not only have thousands of players joining together in jolly cooperation but will also feature a Twitch stream showcasing fan art ranging from drawings to animations and even musical pieces all made by loving Dark Souls enthusiasts.
But we must ask ourselves, what is it that brings people back to Dark Souls? 6 years have gone by since its initial release but the series has seen two sequels since then and one spiritual successor in the form of Bloodborne. These games were also madly popular and to this day it’s not hard to find other players on any of them, yet people still cling to the original.
This is vastly unlike other modern game series. Look at Call of Duty, NBA, FIFA or other games with yearly release schedules. No doubt there are still people playing older versions but the vast majority migrate to the newest release as soon as it comes out. I still remember going into a pre-owned game store one year just after Christmas and seeing the entire store front filled with last year’s FIFA. It happens every year now. You just wouldn’t see that with Dark Souls, and not because it didn’t sell as many copies. It’s got staying power and I’d like to take a look why.
For one thing we can see that each of its sequels iterate on the original design. What I mean is that they aren’t just “Dark Souls but more”, rather they change up the mechanics.
Dark Souls 2 changed how rolling and invincibility frames worked by having them governed by a stat you could increase when you level instead of just being determined by the armour you wore. It made healing items more plentiful but less potent and added the bonfire ascetic item if you wanted to make the game more challenging for yourself.
Dark Souls 3 completely changed how the poise mechanic works. In DS 1 and 2 heavy armour gave you poise, allowing you to take heavy hits without being staggered. More poise meant more resistance to staggering. Dark Souls 3’s system made it so the poise stat only took effect during charged up attacks, thus making heavier builds more difficult to play as the combat encounters now favoured characters with more manoeuvrability.
On top of that, for many people Dark Souls was the first they played in the series. Much like Final Fantasy VII, due to it being the first Final Fantasy to release in Europe, most people who know the series know this as the first one and so it has a special place in their hearts. Its predecessor, Demons’ Souls wasn’t nearly as successful and although it is a “souls” game like the rest, a majority of people hadn’t even heard of it before playing Dark Souls. In my opinion, which game you play first can significantly colour your opinion of the others, at least for the Souls series.
“Every time I replay it I find something that reminds me of how I felt when I played it for the first time.”
I did say before that the mechanics receive big changes for each new release and that gives them their own unique feeling but I the same cannot be said of the characters. Since Demon’s Souls they’ve all followed a similar formula. You have a central hub and meet other characters along the way. Many of those characters will go back to the HUB and provide services or unique interactions.
Demons Souls, Dark Souls 1, Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne all have a character that will return to your hub and act innocent, then when you’re away they will kill other characters permanently. Each of them apart from Bloodborne has a depressed warrior who sits in your hub and goes on about how sad he is and how it’s all pointless. There are plenty of other examples too but the point is it’s hard to feel immersed in a new world when you feel like you already know everybody in it. For Gwyn’s sake the crestfallen knights in Dark Souls 1 and 2 use the same voice actor!
Patches also appears in every game in the series to kick you down a pit or off a cliff, then later apologise as if he didn’t mean to. The exception is Dark Souls 2 where he kicks someone else into a pit. If it were just one recurring character it wouldn’t be so bad, sort of like a running joke but when you see familiar faces all around it can take away from the experience. That’s another reason the first you play in the series may leave the biggest impression on you.
But those are just my thoughts and ideas. Since it was a group on Reddit that started the event I thought I’d reach out to them and find out what makes them want to return. Royta15 told me he once did a run through where the Taurus Demon, typically the second boss fight, ended up being his last one. Using your own initiative, Dark Souls can be vastly repayable since you don’t have to take on everything in the same order each time.
Another user, archoNit0 mentioned the key you can choose as a gift at the start. It opens up pathways that would otherwise be inaccessible for quite a long time. But more than that, he said of the game “Every time I replay it I find something that reminds me of how I felt when I played it for the first time. Every time I try to build my character a certain way my progression through the world differs”.
Dark Souls is the same every time but not the same. The enemies are always in the same places, the items are always hidden away in the same nooks and crannies but the fact your play style is so customisable and that you can go through the world in a multitude of ways makes Lordran feel new every time.
To add to that, cubedanomalous played for over 400 hours before finding a hidden area in the game as well characters he’d never encountered before. I myself have been in that position. It wasn’t until after I completed the game 3 times I found out there was another boss I had missed.
So for some players, Dark Souls is all about recapturing that feeling of adventure, of taking on the unknown time and again. For others however, like gunstar it’s “comfort food.” It’s become so familiar at this point that it isn’t scary and tense any more. It “can be as deep or shallow as I want to make it.” Dark Souls’ level of customisation and freedom can give you exactly what you want, when you want it. You can create an overpowered character and take a leisurely stroll through the beautiful but treacherous landscape or you can force yourself to play with no armour and only a knife, making familiar territory that much more challenging!
In conclusion Dark Souls has undoubtedly had a huge impact on its players and even though it’s got to the ripe old age of 6, it seems people will always want to dive into the unique, terrifying and endearing world of Lordran one more time. Whether you’re a long time fan or you’ve never played before now is the perfect time to get into it and test your mettle along with everyone else!
In the words of Reddit user blessedbewido, “It’s good as fuck. I think that sums it up nicely.”
Return to Lordran will be taking place from October 4 to October 26 on all platforms. You can find out more by clicking here.