With less than two months to go for the release of Dark Souls 3, speculation is abound as to what players can expect in the newest installment of the Souls series. While there is plenty of hard information circulating on gameplay, characters, and new locations, much of the main story has been understandably left in the dark. What little has been shared, however, has shown that Dark Souls 3 will continue with the most centric themes of the series, such as revival from death, usurpation, and the endless and inescapable cycle between the faded Flame and the finite Dark.
Recently, Dark Souls and Bloodborne loremaster VaatiVidya released a speculation video on exactly what will be in Dark Souls 3, with intriguing information on the cryptic lore most often attributed to the series. He begins his video in examining the process of revival the player character endures, awakening in the first area, the Untended Graves, as an Unkindled.
Rising from their crypt and ascending the tomb, the player will find themselves faced with the ashen waste of the fallen kingdom of Lothric. Whether this ruin was the result of strife recent or old is not yet known, but what is known is this – the Flame has faded, and you are something akin to an Undead, known as the Unkindled. As an Unkindled, humanity no longer appears to have the same relevance as it once did, as now player characters seek out embers, fragments of the squandered power of the Lords of Cinder.
While functionally appearing to replace the status of the Undead as seen in Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, becoming an Unkindled seems to suggest a separation not from humanity, but from the very flame that burns dimly at bonfires, or the First Flame itself. Unlike the Undead, who are suffering from a curse that eats away at their humanity, the Unkindled seem to be intrinsically tied to the Flame, and yet are severed from it. This provides a rather interesting connection to the Lords of Cinder, as according to the newest Dark Souls 3 cinematic trailer, Lothric is “where the transitory lands of the Lords of Cinder converge,” who awaken only when the flames begin to fade, foretelling of the coming age of Dark.
This either makes for a curious coincidence that the Unkindled happens to be resurrected during this time, or suggests that they are more than just a mere Undead. Could they be the penultimate Lord of Cinder, the one to rise above the rest, including their predecessors from the previous games? For as the ending narration of the trailer would make clear, the Lords of Cinder have gone astray in their goal to prevent the coming Dark, with newfound intentions that have yet to come to light. But one important detail remains – that they will be supplanted by the Unkindled, a theme not unfamiliar with the precursors of Dark Souls 3.
As with the first two titles in the series, Dark Souls 3 strongly heeds to the concept of usurpation, in casting aside the rulers of old and ushering in a new age. In Dark Souls, this fate comes of Lord Gwyn’s botched attempt at linking the First Flame, resulting in the limbo that ensnared all of Lordran and rendered it effectively undead – incapable of being renewed by the Flame, or being smothered by the Dark. In defeating Gwyn, the Chosen Undead becomes the usurper, sealing the fate of Lordran and yet perpetuating an endless cycle, culminating in either the finite tyranny of the Age of Man, or the tenuous continuation of the Age of Fire.
In an unknowingly distant future, the same solemn tragedy plays out in the human kingdom of Drangleic, magnificent in its own way and yet marred by human imperfection. Ravaged by the Undead curse and still bearing meager glimpses of civilization, the setting of Drangleic serves to draw the series away from the tarnished atmosphere of a golden era’s antiquity and thrusts the player into the trenches of human folly. The chosen undead of Dark Souls 2 seeks out their own fate, prodded only by an overwhelming desire to reclaim their past humanity, and an uncertain promise that they might break the cycle causing it.
Similarly, the final confrontation between Gwyn and the Chosen Undead in Dark Souls and the eventual fate of Drangleic’s Queen Nashandra and the new Chosen Undead is left ambiguous, as the Chosen Undead seals themselves away in the Throne of Want, or walks away from it, paralleling the two endings of Dark Souls. In both games, however, there is one shining likeness that is most intrinsic to the main conflict – both fallen rulers are representative of a past that inhibits progression, shackling the world to outdated ideals. In preventing the natural turning of a cycle that began with Gwyn’s Age of Fire, both Gwyn, and more directly, King Vendrick, have sentenced the world to the degradation of undeath, being far worse than their fear of the cycle itself.
Hence, the ascension of a chosen being, to allow the cycle to resume its course under punishment of deposition and death upon the past. This sentence doesn’t necessarily appear to be limited to the physical either, as all mention of Gwyn and his kingdom, beyond faded recollection of nameless legends, are gone by Dark Souls 2. And I expect this will be the same in Dark Souls 3, except one consideration remains – the endless cycle, still left unbroken as of Dark Souls 2, is seemingly altered, including our perception of Humanity and the Dark itself.
Dark Souls 3 does not begin in a world of faded fire, but in one laden with ash, not unlike that of the Kiln of the First Flame. While the previous two games certainly portrayed a world slipping into utter chaos, they are nothing like the grey, profoundly dead land of Lothric. This is probably the truest representation of the apocalyptic fate that awaits a world at the threshold of change, yet it is without a singular monarch desperately pulling back at the reigns.
Rather, the Lords of Cinder seem to rise only at the threshold of change, where the coming of the Dark is imminent and only just at the cusp of being preventable. Perhaps this is the point where the cycle is most vulnerable, where Undeath is without meaning, and the stark contrast of the Flame and the Dark meet in a sort of temporal twilight as the cycle shifts over. As I discussed earlier, the Unkindled does seem to be organically reflecting the state of Lothric in their seeking of embers, and Humanity no longer appears to have a proper place in the world. Yet neither do the Lords of Cinder, and I can’t help but wonder if the rise of the Unkindled is heralding not only an end to the cycle of Fire and Dark, but in doing so, the end of Humanity as we know it.
Until Dark Souls 3 is out, all I can do is speculate on what grains of truth I might have uncovered, or how I might have been digging in the wrong place all along. Whether or not I was right in my theories doesn’t really matter, though. What is clear is that Dark Souls 3 represents a point of change in the series, and I can’t help but wonder if it stands to not only break the cycle of Fire and Dark, but the cycle that has bound the games since Dark Souls itself.