In the beginning, there were some boring dragons, and a few humanoids living underground. Fire appeared, the people took control of it, and a naked dragon betrayed their kind to help the humans take over. They ruled for a while, but as with any good party, the fire started to fade.
If that sounds like generic nonsense, don’t worry. Dark Souls’ story is built on heavy themes and mythic influence more than logic. The who and why of its bleak fantasy world are detailed in broad strokes through item descriptions, environmental clues, enemy design, and NPC storylines. Knowing exactly what you're seeing or who you’re dealing with at any given moment might be a mystery, but through careful observation and dissection, the lore can be as rewarding to parse as the bosses are to beat.
With Dark Souls 3's arrival, players new and old might be looking for a way to catch up on the backstory. And while it's fine to play in a vacuum, certain moments are made stronger through a general understanding of what happened in the previous Souls games. They're meant to echo one another, each taking on the cyclical, tragic nature of history, as siphoned through a dreamlike fantasy funnel. Man.
To help with all that, I've assembled some of the best lore resources out there. (If you're dying to hear my take, get me two beers deep and yell 'cinder.') Their collective analysis is so focused and well-researched, and each supports such a lively community of Souls fans, that their supporting work feels like a key part of what makes playing each Dark Souls so gripping.
Keep in mind, there will be gaps, a lot won’t make sense at first, and some aspects won’t ever make sense—these intentional plotholes are key to the allure, and while they’re fun to attempt to explain away, our inability to do so is exactly what gives the lore such powerful magnetism.
If you study the lore of only one game in the series, make it the original Dark Souls. With Hidetaka Miyazaki back at the helm, Dark Souls 3 feels like a more direct continuation of the first game than Dark Souls 2.
Dark Souls: The Movie (Final Cut)
In Dark Souls: The Movie, commentary is absent. YouTuber Moonlight Butterfly instead artfully assembles a series of Dark Souls’ most important scenes and uses character narration as the only anchor. As far as most lore videos go, this one definitely won't make you a master of Dark Souls history, but it feels closest to how I first experienced it myself: a wash of moods and familiar imagery punctuated by the tragic stories of a few interesting characters.
/r/DarkSouls comic breakdown
Here's where things start to take shape. These comics provide some light visual aides for a dense, albeit casual summary of the most important pieces of the Dark Souls lore.
Prepare to Cry—VaatiVidya
No other Dark Souls YouTuber has the same subdued tone, comprehensive knowledge, and meticulous construction as VaatiVidya. His classic Prepare to Cry series places specific characters, enemies, and story arcs under a microscope to reveal the artistry packed into every inch of Dark Souls. For example, the dark necromancer known as Pinwheel might actually be carrying the reanimated dead bodies of his wife and child on his back. That probably sucks, so he's dedicated his life to study of the dark arts in an effort to bring them back. Cute, eh? Don't skip these.
From the Dark, a Dark Souls Let's Play—EpicNameBro
Even if you've played Dark Souls before, you probably haven't played it like EpicNameBro has. He's spent a ton of time in Dark Souls' world and probably knows it better than parts of his hometown. ENB is the kind of player who gets when to stop and smell the roses, and he does, often. I love it when a particular vista catches his eye—he'll go off on poetic tangents about the lore, the design, and end up coming around with some accidental parable that gives the game new context. Dude knows his numbers too. No sword goes unturned in From the Dark; nearly every video is an experiment with a new build and play style. It's a great way to explore every nook and cranny of Dark Souls, sprinkled with eloquent, funny commentary throughout.
Bonfireside Chat—A Souls Podcast
Bonfireside Chat is like a Let's Play, stripped of the video component but with every bit of insight left intact. Each week, hosts Kole Ross and Gary Butterfield invite a special guest to discuss a new segment of Dark Souls in detail. They've talked through every Souls game so far, including FromSoftware's earlier games, inspirational works like Berserk and stories from H.P. Lovecraft, and are prepping for a thorough dissection of Dark Souls 3. Think of it as a Dark Souls book club: a friendly, thoughtful discussion weekly discussion. All that's missing is coffee, pie and divorcées.
Dark Souls 2
Dark Souls 2 story is significantly less important to Dark Souls 3 than the original. That said, it's not completely irrelevant, and since the series is all about cycles, inevitable degradation, and pulls from the same batch of western medieval imagery with a Japanese spin, there's still plenty to gain from understanding its lore. Consider it a thematic riff, more than an integral mechanism in the greater lore of the series.
Dark Souls 2: The Movie (Final Cut)
With Dark Souls 2: The Movie, Moonlight Butterfly somehow turns an even longer game into a shorter movie than the first, and maintains the same surreal vibe and essential narrative throughline of the full game. Moonlight strings together so many iconic scenes captured from seemingly impossible angles (unless there's a camera hack I don't know about), that whether you've played Dark Souls 2 or not, it's worth watching for the uncanny aesthetic alone.
Dark Souls 2 Lore: The Story—DaveControl
Nice and simple, DaveControl breaks down his take on Dark Souls 2 in just over 20 minutes. His ideas are clear, his editing is varied and engaging, and most importantly, he's concise. For a game as big and vague as Dark Souls 2, it's a formidable video and an essential watch on the way to a complete understanding.
/r/DarkSouls2 lore compendium
There isn't enough room in the whole of Wikipedia for the /r/DarkSouls2 lore compendium. If you need to reference a specific, throwaway line of dialogue from a secondary character, then it's logged in the compendium. Want to test out a theory that connects Dark Souls 2 to the first game? Check out all the implicit references and theories already in place. The compendium is a group effort to compile anything and everything that could even possibly inform the story, and as such, it's an essential resource for the budding Dark Souls scholar.
Bonfireside Chat—A Souls Podcast
Again, there's no better way to take an exhaustive passion for niche dark fantasy video game storytelling on the go than with Bonfireside Chat. Their Dark Souls 2 episodes show their form and hosting capabilities maturing, and their insight (and terrible jokes) sharper than ever.