Souls series dataminer Lance McDonald was the first to spot a new Dark Souls 3 update for Steam users with access to the game's debug branches, via SteamDB. Presumably it’s for testing the long-awaited return of the game's online features.
The changes are documented under the "Depots" tab on the game's SteamDB page, and the "bnedebug" and "pgdebug" branches added on July 21s are the first changes of this nature in two years. It's difficult to imagine Bandai Namco having any reason to tinker with the 6-year-old game other than addressing its protracted server outage. Notably, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 have no such changes documented on their respective SteamDB pages.
It's the thinnest of gruel for fans of a game that has been missing its online features for 183 days and counting. Bandai Namco shut down the servers of all three Dark Souls games at the end of January following the discovery of a catastrophic security vulnerability in the games' netcode, one that could have theoretically offered malicious users remote access to players' computers.
It's quite the pickle, and FromSoft and Bamco's attention has been understandably taken up by Elden Ring. In May, Bandai Namco publicly assured players that the Souls series servers would be coming back, but has been pretty quiet ever since.
Despite the presence of some occasional exploits and griefing, the companies seem to have overcome this security vulnerability with Elden Ring's online implementation, if it was present in the first place. FromSoft's tactical reuse of assets and tech from game to game has largely proved to its advantage, but there were worries that this vulnerability could have extended to its most popular game.
If McDonald’s findings are true, it appears that the Souls series servers won't be coming back all at once, with service instead getting restored piecemeal starting with Dark Souls 3. It makes sense that FromSoft and Bamco would start there, given that DS3 is the most recent release with the liveliest playerbase on Steam. Until then, our vigilant Souls Watch will continue until joyful GiantDads are once again fast rolling across the Undead Burg's cobblestones.