The End of Fire

Gabriel Silvas, Columnist

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In the beginning, the Bearers of the Lord Souls waged war against the Everlasting Stone Dragons, ending their reign and ushering forth the Age of Fire. When the First Flame began to fade and the corruption of the Abyss was spreading, Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight, sacrificed himself by burning within the Kiln of the First Flame for eternity, prolonging the Age of Fire and pushing back the Age of Dark. This could only last so long before the Flame began to die thousands of years later, but a nameless Chosen Undead braved the dying land of Lordran before confronting Gwyn, now the Lord of Cinder, within the Kiln and linked the fire to save the world and continue the cycle once more. Untold eons and countless cycles have now passed, with great kingdoms being built on the bones of their predecessors before dying and being built upon in turn. The world is barely holding on by a thread and it is only a matter of time before the First Flame, kept alive for far too long, is extinguished for good and the Age of Dark finally arrives. In one last desperate attempt, the Bells of Awakening are rung once more, rousing previous Lords of Cinder from their graves. However, whether it be from madness, despair, malice, or pure spite, the Lords abandon their thrones and leave the world to its inevitable fate. So rises the Unkindled, Chosen Undead that were burned away by the First Flame so quickly they could not fuel it in their times. With Hollows roaming the land as the Darksign emerges once more and the Abyss quickly beginning its corruption of the world, the Unkindled are the only ones who can bring the Lords of Cinder back to their thrones in order to save the dying Age of Fire. And so ash seeketh embers as the final tale of this world begins…

Released in April of 2016, Dark Souls III is the third and final game in the Dark Souls side of FromSoftware’s “Soulsborne” franchise. Taking place in the land of Lothric, a transitory land where the kingdoms of the Lords of Cinder converge, the player takes control of this cycle’s Chosen Undead known as an Ashen One. Having tried to link the fire in their time but were burned away to ash by the First Flame, the Unkindled are the last hope of a doomed world. Essentially the culmination of everything that Demon’s Souls laid out back in 2009, Dark Souls III is a “best-of” experience of the most iconic and polished elements from the entirety of Soulsborne, such as a magic meter from Demon’s Souls, the combat and a number of animations borrowing from the first game, skill point reset items and voice chatting from Dark Souls II, and chargeable heavy attacks and faster combat in the vein of Bloodborne.

Like the previous player characters in the series, the Ashen One is a nameless Undead that has been revived and tasked with an important quest. They alone are the only one who can successfully travel through Lothric, find the rogue Lords of Cinder, and bring them back to their thrones. Oddly enough, they manage to accumulate a number of genuine friends and allies, which is rare for a Soulsborne protagonist when most of them have usually either gone Hollow at some point or were manipulative backstabbers. The Fire Keeper of Firelink Shrine mirrors the role of the Maiden in Black and the Doll in that she will level the player up when enough souls are brought to her; Andre of Astora, somehow still alive after countless eons and cycles and STILL hammering away at that Estoc, continues to serve his blacksmithing purpose in upgrading the player’s equipment with Titanite and will now infuse them with different gems to grant them unique properties, only if he is brought special coals to perform the infusions; the Shrine Handmaid sells general supplies in exchange for souls because while it may be the end of the world, she should not simply stop making a profit from potential buyers; Finally, it turns out that one of the Lords of Cinder did not shirk their duties and faithfully took their throne in order to do their duty in the form of Ludleth of Courland, a diminutive and legless man that will help transpose Boss Souls into different equipment if a Transposing Kiln is brought to him first. Along the way, the Ashen One will meet several other NPCs that might take refuge in Fire Link Shrine or will continue to roam Lothric, such as the companions of Anri of Astora and Horace the Hushed, the brave Siegward of Catarina, this month’s Crestfallen Knight known as Hawkwood the Deserter, and of course, the Soulsborne regular Patches, continuing to do his thing even when when the world is ending.

The primary antagonists are the four Lords of Cinder that were brought back to link the fire, but they refused to do so for different reasons and escaped to the various parts of Lothric. Keeping in line with tradition, they are all tragic figures and have various understandable reasons for abandoning their thrones. The Abyss Watchers of Farron dedicated themselves to hunting down and containing the Abyss wherever it appeared, but now have all gone insane and endlessly slaughter one another within their mausoleum in Farron in an endless game of Infection as some of their brethren have fallen to the very same corruption they dedicated themselves to snuffing out; Yhorm the Giant, the wise and compassionate ruler of what is now known as the Profaned Capital, sits within the blasted remains of his old home out of shame due to his involvement in its destruction; and the Twin Princes of Lothric, Lorian the elder and Lothric the younger, were always destined to link the fire and raised for that singular purpose, now content to let the world end out of spite. These Lords of Cinder have good reasons for abandoning their duty, but the last one is not at all sympathetic and noble like his fellow lords and is instead an actively malevolent villain and the central figure of a just-as-bad religion. Saint Aldrich of the Deep is an amorphous black sludge that eats humans and only became a Lord when everyone else forced him so they could finally be ridden of him. His followers, the Church of the Deep, can be considered the main villains of the game as their forces are responsible for many of the travesties seen throughout Lothric. Aldrich may be their central figure of worship, but Pontiff Sulyvahn is the true leader and it is through his cunning and ruthlessness that the Church of the Deep has now gained so much control.

Along with the mainstay features that have been presented throughout the series, a number of new mechanics or changes show up in Dark Souls III. The Focus Meter, fueled by the Ashen Estus Flask, is used for the various Weapon Arts and all of the Sorceries, Pyromancies, and Miracles found or bought throughout the game. Moreover, due to the nature of the Unkindled, they do not hollow like the previous player characters. Instead, they can infuse themselves with Embers, special coals containing the fire that boosts their health and grants access to the multiplayer portion of the game. The game world itself is, while a bit more linear as a whole compared to previous entries, is much more maze-like and detailed in the different areas. Since Lothric is where the lands of the Lords of Cinder converge, there are MANY call backs to Dark Souls and a few to Dark Souls II scattered around. As is Soulsborne tradition, you need industrial-grade digging equipment to get to the lore of this game, but enthusiasts will have a blast deciphering and theorizing the implications present.

Like its predecessors, there is a couple of DLC expansions available for the game. The first, Ashes of Ariandel, was released in October of 2016, and introduces a new and very large area for players to explore, fight new enemies, and discover unique items. Meeting up with a man known as Slave Knight Gael, the Ashen One is sucked inside the Painted World of Ariandel, a realm eerily reminiscent of the original Painted World of Ariamis from the first game. There, they meet the spiritual leader of the Corvians, Sister Friede, and her faithful knight Sir Vilhelm, both of whom implore the Ashen One to leave this world. It quickly becomes apparent that there is something more going on in the Painted World, especially once the player sees the rot that has begun to infest the landscape. The second and final DLC, The Ringed City, will release in late March of 2017. Taking place after the events of Ashes of Ariandel, the Ashen One chases after Gael, who is in pursuit of the Dark Soul itself, to the eponymous Ringed City, the kingdom of the Pygmies that resides at the end of the world. There, new and horrendous foes in the forms of angels, the last of the Chaos Demons, and even a titanic dragon await the player, where it seems like several series mysteries might finally be uncovered and, maybe, the true nature of the Dark Soul will finally come to light.

Dark Souls III is a fitting end to the Dark Souls series and is an amazing game by itself. It takes the best of all of the Soulsborne games and combines them into a polished, challenging, and hauntingly beautiful world. The designs are elegant and grotesque, the music, provided by series composers Motoi Sakuraba and Yuka Kitamura, is grandiose and somber, and the story hammers home that this truly is the end of not only the world, but of Dark Souls itself. While there might be future games from Bandai Namco and a possible future for more Bloodborne, as far as FROM Software is concerned, this is the end of the main Dark Souls series. As far as conclusions go, it is a very fitting and appropriate end to a now iconic and amazing game series. Even if you have not played the previous entries, this is still a fun and exciting game to buy and enjoy while getting killed over and over again. Such is the Dark Souls way.

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