The Atmosphere of Dark Souls

The Atmosphere of Dark Souls

The world of Lordran is a beautiful and dangerous place, and from a game design perspective a visual masterpiece.  A contiguous world where all things at once are connected, and there are no immersion breaking instances.  Let’s take a look at some of the most evocative areas, in no particular order

The Atmosphere of Dark Souls


The Depths

RatUnderrated by many, and in many playthroughs completely skipped over, the depths are a cramped interconnected sewer system that connects to several other areas in the game.  Truly the undercurrent of the world, the Depths are also a brilliant exercise in devious level design.  Traps and falls, chutes and tight corners with an ominous feel and meticulously placed enemies which heighten the sense of impingement.  It’s sludgy, confusing and just a little jerky.  Mastery of its navigation is a well earned notch on one’s belt, which sounds just like the epitome of a Souls game.

The Painted World of Ariamis

Bridge_ArtThis snow covered dream-scape cum nightmare holds a special place in the hearts of many Dark Souls players.  Accessed via painting, this conjured haven is art come to life.  Serenely beautiful yet chilling in its isolation, as reminded by the sparse moments of a crow’s caw.  Afflicted and noxious, the enemies here are more deserving of pity than ire.  Except for maybe the bonewheels.  A true land of the lost and outcast, and the crumbling edifices bear testament to a society just hanging on by a cruel thread.


Anor Londo

anorlondoMajestic spires overhead.  Barren and hollow on the ground.  This location captivates upon first entry and isolates upon further exploration and is the perfect study piece for what happens when we are abandoned by what we have put our faith in.  Once the illusion is stripped and the sun is put out, we are left with a twilight that in many ways is more awe inspiring in its honesty.  Precarious ledges, deadly treks over parapets and grand rooms of powerful foes remind the player of his inconsequential existence in a land of titans.

Ash Lake

ash lakeThe background Tibetan monk like chanting is embedded in the minds of all who have set foot on Ash Lake’s sandy shores.  Still, silent and reverent, this hidden area pulses with ancient history.  Something monumental took place here and this lakeside retreat is an ageless museum with precious few clues.  The bases of the arch trees show the player just how artificial a world humanity and its gods have built.  It begs the question of the player, “What are you really fighting for?”

Firelink Shrine


DarkSouls_FirelinkShrineThat song.  Lush and enveloping, it invites the player to rest from the weary burden of a hollowed, hellish nightmare world.  It is a verdant ruin that still serves as sanctuary to the wandering souls of Lordran.  Set aloft in a gigantic arch tree, it offers stunning vistas of other distant areas in the game.  It is sacred ground and one of the few (relatively) safe havens in the game.

Kiln of the First Flame

kilnA worthy final approach, as the player comes full circle to face his or her destiny, descending past the ghosts of fallen warriors.  Covered in voluminous layers of soot, this place is a shade of what it once was, but the grandeur still exists.  Greek inspired architecture and toppled columns show this as a place of the gods, erected to both keep safe and revere the flame of life.  To earn the right to challenge the fallen Gwyn, one must methodically make it past a successive gauntlet of faithful black knights, who followed their lord into the fire.  The sense of accomplishment here is palpable.  The player who made it this far has gone through hell, slaying everything from rats to trees to gods and here is where it all culminates.

Have your own special areas?  Sound off in the comments section! And check out more gamer articles here!


Editor at Fextralife. I look for the substantial in gaming and I try to connect video games to the emotions and stories they elicit. I love all things culture and history and have an odd fondness for the planet Jupiter. I think my dogs are pretty awesome too.

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6 comments on “The Atmosphere of Dark Souls”

  1. Riockmert says:

    Man, this article really shows why Dark Souls is such an amazing game. It’s beautiful environments, it’s amazing story and lore, it’s overpowering foes. These all make me feel that I am fighting against something bigger than me. Like you wrote by Anor Londo: “Precarious ledges, deadly treks over parapets and grand rooms of powerful foes remind the player of his inconsequential existence in a land of titans.” These things make Dark Souls an experience, not just a game.

  2. reim0027 says:

    This is an awesome article. I love the descriptions.

  3. befowler says:

    One thing I’ve always loved about Dark Souls is the level design. It goes beyond atmosphere — nearly every zone is carefully laid out such that almost every foe and every set drop can be observed from a distance if you are paying attention. Moreover, many serve as a warning to dangers ahead. For example, with a pair of binoculars you can easily observe many of the “hidden” items and ambush prone enemies in the Oolacile Township. The location of rings of sacrifice or humanity items is also often a warning that you are about to run into problems, such as the ring of sacrifice near the bonewheel skeleton nest in the Painted World, or the large packs of mobs at the bottom of the elevator in the Township. If you haven’t done a full playthrough of Dark Souls in a while (often the case if you get sucked into PvP or Coop) I encourage you to try it again, and really pay attention to the distribution of the enemies and items. The designers made a hard game, but one filled with hints and warnings if you take the time to appreciate them. It’s almost sublime how much thought they put into the “little” things like that.

  4. Emergence says:

    Sublime is dead on. The world feels like it was meticulously laid out brick by brick. I think that is what defines the Souls series, and not the difficulty.

  5. befowler says:

    It tempers the difficulty, or perhaps more accurately enables the player to control it. If you refuse to pay attention and just charge into unknown areas, then yes it is a hard game. But if you take the time to view the road ahead, and wonder what that weird skritching noise is around the corner before you run out, it’s actually extremely fair and you will likely find nearly every item and be prepared for every foe. One of my favorites was how I first found the silver pendant in the Township — I happened to have the camera rotated way above my head as I navigated the catwalk, and if you do that you can actually see right through the broken roof of the building to the chest, so you know there must be a way inside. And then you find the entrance by reading a designer message from Oscar about needing light. Extremely fair to someone checking the details, hard to just stumble over for someone just sprinting through.

    My main concern about DKSII is that they keep this approach, which I think provides plenty of “accessibility”.

  6. Emergence says:

    I share the same concern. I’d hate to see them eliminate that sense of discovery and attentiveness, and simply keep the enemies hard hitting declaring the game now trimmed of the fat.

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