How Return to Lordran reinvigorated Dark Souls' online community

Lordran, the dusky, desolate world of the original Dark Souls, is a famously punitive place. The gruelling atmosphere extends to the game’s optional multiplayer, which enables other players to ‘invade’ your game and ambush you for your hard-earned resources. Now, years after the game’s debut, fans turn to the community to give both returning veterans and fresh blood the same sense of unease and competition that they experienced back at launch. 

“What originally prompted the event was the celebration of /r/darksouls hitting 100,000 subscribers,” says Cody, also known as e_0, a moderator of the Dark Souls subreddit, and the organiser of the event. “A user by the name of JoeDaddy92 suggested that we host a ‘Restart Day’, that would encourage massive online play—similar to Return to the Nexus, in a way.” 

Return to the Nexus was an event that came about in 2013, when YouTuber Peeve Peeverson put out a call for players to dust off their PS3s and pop in Demon’s Souls, the predecessor to Dark Souls. Many of the collectibles in Demon’s Souls are locked behind a cryptic system where the playerbase’s behaviour can affect things like enemy difficulty or even prompt special events. It lent the game to a community-driven revival event.

According to Cody, the first Global Restart Day for Dark Souls occurred in 2016. “The first major hurdle with Global Restart Day was getting everyone excited for such an event,” they say. “That’s not to say it didn’t catch the attention of people on Reddit, as it did, but that was the problem: it only caught the attention of people on Reddit.”

For many fans of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s work, the multiplayer components of Dark Souls make an indelible contribution to the tone and themes of the game

This led to the moderator “practically begging” Facebook page administrators and other gatekeepers of the community to give it a chance. In 2018, they hosted the kick-off stream for the event—a process that they describe as “difficult”. Streaming anxiety, carving out prep time and reaching out to content creators were just some of the challenges. 

It’s easy to see how this sort of event could foment stress—there’s a reason that community management is a paid position. Still, speaking with participants, the effort is definitely appreciated. That’s because for many fans of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s work, the multiplayer components of Dark Souls make an indelible contribution to the tone and themes of the game, and the lack of activity robs new players of that experience. Return to Lordran offers a way for them to restore an essential part of the ‘launch’ Dark Souls experience. 

(Image credit: Marcelus_SK)

While you can play offline and opt out of these encounters, Miyazaki designed several areas of the game as invasion hotspots, building multiplayer covenants and rewards to encourage such behaviour. Your actions towards NPCs can label you a sinner, marking you for invasion by a certain covenant in a specific area of the game. When there are no players to invade, the effect of your misdeeds can end up diminished.

“[I participated] to help bring the amazing launch experience to new players, particularly by slaughtering them during invasions,” says Jason, or Red_Eye_Stone, another moderator of the Dark Souls subreddit. “The optional multiplayer aspect of the game is what has kept me coming back year after year. The game comes alive when you share the experience with others.”

KillerKram concurs. “A few of my friends picked up Dark Souls in a sale and I told them about this event. They are currently trying to get through it with me as a guide. Having invasions and such is cool for reminding them that Dark Souls is a dangerous and unforgiving place.

Griefing period

“I went through as a cleric for the first time, and it was a cool experience to not just be a damage dealer but to really tank and heal,” KillerKram adds. “I actually find the invasions a lot more fair during this event than during normal times.” 

Several players reported that some griefers took the brutality to an unfair level, standing in front of doorways to block their host’s progress, or using unbalanced strategies or builds designed to punish new players, or even just cheating outright.

Some players feel that griefing is only a minor issue. “Most of the players are here because of their love of the game, so griefing is rare,” says ThomasWright542. Others found that it was limited to specific areas. “My friends needed me to speedrun them through the Undead Burg because we kept getting invaded by people who were either cheating or had postgame setups against people who had only like two hours of experience in the game,” says KillerKram. “After getting out of the intro areas, the invasions got more fair and more unexpected.” 

For many though, Return to Lordran is a way to grant new players the same Dark Souls experience that these veterans so enjoyed years ago, and for most, that’s enough for them. 

“I am beyond excited for next year’s Return to Lordran,” says Cody. “I can’t give away too many details, but Bandai Namco themselves may or may not have gotten into contact with me about [the next] event, and we may have a few tricks up our sleeves. Only time will tell, but hopefully we’ll all be seeing some crazy stuff [this] year.”