While I work on my review of Dark Souls III, I've been reflecting on the series at large. I've spent hundreds of hours of my life with the Souls games, and I've visited quite a few standout locations. From the dense foliage of the Forests of Giants to the mesmerizing beauty that is the Painted World, the Souls series has taken players just about everywhere. But few places have made quite an impression on me as the original Dark Souls' Firelink Shrine.
Dark Souls doesn't have the most comforting universe to say the least. Mankind is slowly devolving into undead, the once-great city of Anor Londo is inhabited by the damned, monsters have overtaken most of Lordan, and to make matters worse, the prosperous Age of Fire is nearly extinguished. Basically, it's not a nice place to live. And for the most part, the game's levels reflect its lore. In nearly every area in the game, you can't take more than twenty steps without encountering some sort of beast intent on drawing your blood.
So it's comforting to know that Dark Souls has a hub in the Firelink Shrine, and thankfully, it's quite the nice locale. It's where your adventure begins properly, and throughout the game you'll constantly be returning to the ruins to begin the next leg of adventure via some truly genius level design. But in Firelink Shrine, you're never alone. From Knight Lautrec to the Crestfallen Warrior, nearly every major NPC in the game stops by Firelink Shrine throughout Dark Souls' duration, and you can interact with them to see how they're progressing alongside you.
But while the shrine may be a nice place, it still serves as a reminder that the world doesn't revolve around the Chosen Undead. Many of the characters have their own storylines, and many of them don't end well. Under the surface of the Firelink Shrine's (mostly) friendly residents lies bubbling resentment and regret, which usually manifests into getting themselves killed and never coming back.
But despite the tragedies, the biggest blow to the shrine comes from the aforementioned Knight Lautrec. While he may seem a bit fishy at first, the player has no real reason to kill him. That is, until he murders the shrine's firekeeper and makes off with her soul, deactivating the bonfire in the process.
Suddenly, the atmosphere has changed. The inviting glow of the fire is extinguished, and what was once a nice checkpoint, a breather from the harsh world outside world, is now quiet. The once-comforting bonfire serves no more use, and if you want a safe place to heal up, you'll have to forge through hordes of monsters to get there. For a good part of your journey, the shrine will be a hollow shell of its former self.
That's a big part of what makes marching up to Anor Londo and finally killing Lautrec in his own world so satisfying. Not only do you get to keep his souls and armor, but you can retrieve the soul of Firekeeper Anastacia. And let me tell you, reviving the firekeeper and seeing those flames crackle back to life felt more like a victory than nearly anything else in the entire game. Because while the world of Dark Souls may be harsh, avenging Anastacia shows that at the end of the day, it can be conquered.