Bonfires are still my favorite FromSoftware idea

At least in year three, and I continue to play Dark Souls very, very slowly. Actually that’s not true. Sometimes I play in frantic bursts. With others, I left it for months without any progress. I’m still relatively early, deep in a dungeon that resembles the inside of someone’s ear, about to fight a spider-like boss. In Souls terms I’m nowhere, a total novice. Still, I would never have gotten this far if it weren’t for bonfires.

Bonfires in Dark Souls are fascinating. In a game full of incredibly good ideas, they might be my favorite incredibly good idea. They’re actually at the core of everything I love: I love that in these games you’re moving a tiny lens of available health through an incredibly deadly environment, where you always feel like you’re making progress, but at the same time you feel that you are overextending yourself. That’s why progress feels so illicit: I’ve come this far, but I’m sure I’m about to die among all the new things I see. Bonfires are at the heart of that system, as they are the base you return to, providing the network of bases, like footholds on the game’s rugged cliff face.

I also love the way the environment flows together: the way you go up or down, see incredible things and feel completely lost. But you trust the game and you know that if you keep going far enough, if you follow a path with enough patience, it will inevitably bend in a fascinating way and take you back to where you started, but facing the other direction. Magic! Absolutely magical, if you ask me, and guess what: bonfires are also at the heart of it all. In a game of loops, snaps and dangerous knots, they provide clear junctions, a moment to rest and say: ah, I’m here. I’m somewhere.

It’s strange how much Dark Souls feels at home on the Switch. Watch on YouTube

Bonfires celebrities do a lot of things that, like other games, took me a while to get my head around. Did they reset the world and all the monsters in it? For what? But I understand that now too. Or at least I understand why it works for me. A bonfire is a rest; it is an opportunity to relax for a moment, to take stock. I would absolutely abuse that ability if there was no skin in the game. I kind of like bonfires because there’s so much to hate about them. They take all the work I’ve done, pick it out of my “out” container and shove it back into my “in” container. I understand that this is a rather older analogy. Back in the day, when offices still used paper, we had these trays, you see…

But over the last few days, as I’ve been alternating between Dark Souls and Elden Ring, which I’ve also been playing slowly, stop-start, for a while and without making much progress, I’ve come to realize something else about bonfires. at. It’s a bit cosmic, so apologies in advance.

One of the things that fascinates me about these games is how much the audience invests in them and invests in their worlds as real, tangible places. People get caught up in the lore and are fascinated by the landscape and its history. And I’m starting to think the bonfires encourage that. Bonfires, places of grace, whatever you want to call them, they are still a time to sit and rest and take stock. They’re still bonfires, a part of the world that isn’t yours but can be yours for a while.

And that’s it, I think. FromSoftware’s world-building is brilliant, perhaps the best in its class, but they have an extra trick. They let you sit there, camp, have a view or vista or even a dark cellar in the Burg. When you come back to the game, you know you are standing by a bonfire. When you leave the game, you will often leave it near a bonfire. The player’s imagination – this player at least – is sensitive to these signals. Horrible, dangerous, beautiful world. But there’s a place for me in there, where I can stay as long as I want, where nothing bad will happen, and where I can just be in this world.

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