Bonfires are still my favourite FromSoftware idea

Year three, at least, and I continue to play Dark Souls very, very slowly. Actually, that’s not true. Sometimes I play in frantic bursts. At others I let it lie for months and months with no progress at all. I’m still relatively early on, deep in a dungeon that looks like the inside of someone’s ear, about to fight a spidery boss. In Souls terms, I’m nowhere, a total novice. Yet I never would have gotten this far if it wasn’t for bonfires.

Bonfires in Dark Souls are fascinating. In a game filled with incredibly good ideas, they may be my favourite incredibly good idea. They’re actually at the heart of everything I love: I love the fact that in these games you move a little lens of available health around an incredibly deadly environment, always feeling like you’re making progress, but simultaneously feeling like you’re over-extending yourself. It’s why progress feels so illicit: I got this far, but I’m sure I’m about to die in amongst all the new things I’m seeing. Bonfires are at the heart of that system, because they provide the base you return to, they provide the network of bases, like handholds on the game’s rugged cliff face.

I love the way the environment interlocks, too: the way you’ll head off upwards or downwards, see some incredible stuff, and feel thoroughly lost. But you trust the game and you know that if you keep going far enough, if you follow a trail with sufficient patience, it will inevitably oxbow in some fascinating way and bring you back to where you started, but facing in the other direction. Magic! Absolutely magic, if you ask me, and guess what: bonfires are at the heart of all that too. In a game of loops and snarls and dangerous tangles, they provide clear junction points, a moment to rest and say: ah, I’m here. I’m somewhere.

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