Elden Ring being such a smash hit felt like the deserved culmination of a long and rich action-RPG lineage. Its success was only possible because of the games behind it, so it's ironic and unfortunate that in the background of Elden Ring's success, the Souls games on PC feel abandoned—even if ultimately that may only prove temporary.
The servers for all the Souls titles have been down now since January 23 on PC. The last official statement was February 9. At the time, Bandai Namco said the servers wouldn't return until after Elden Ring's launch and that it would tell us when "as soon as the schedule is determined."
103 days since the Souls servers went down, they're still down. What's going on?
The problem with the games was a remote code execution (RCE) vulnerability, which could allow an attacker to run code on the PCs of all players in the game. The exploit was never used but, in theory, would have allowed an attacker to execute code on every online player's machine at once: and these are games that still attract tens of thousands of players daily.
The exploit was first publicised by Redditor Jonientz (opens in new tab), after which the servers went down, and later was documented by the account tremwil on Github in March (opens in new tab).
"Contrary to popular belief, this is NOT a peer-to-peer networking exploit," writes tremwil. "It is related to the matchmaking server and thus much more severe, since you do not need to partake in any multiplayer activity to be vulnerable due to another matchmaking server vulnerability.
"In Dark Souls 3, a malicious attacker abusing this would have been able to reliably execute a payload of up to 1.3MiB of shellcode on every online player's machine within seconds."
That's bad, right? It's obvious why the immediate action was removing the online elements from PC entirely (the games still work fine on consoles), but the real problem seems to be that this hit just before Elden Ring became the biggest game in the world.
An interesting twist is that, when the exploit was first being talked about, it was apparently present in the Elden Ring closed beta test. FromSoft subsequently ensured that it was not present in the release version of Elden Ring.
The Dark Souls games have now been offline for most of 2022, with no news of a fix, or even a suggested timeframe for a fix, and the publisher just doesn't seem to want to say anything. It's hard to shake the sense that either Elden Ring's success has focused too much attention elsewhere, or that this exploit may be an even worse problem (in terms of restoring the games' functionality) than it appears.
Whatever the reasons, these are not 'ancient' titles with no reasonable expectation of support. They've sold incredibly well, people have paid good money for them, and the online play is a fundamental part of the appeal. This is not just a PvP issue: core elements of the game's singleplayer experience, like the messaging system, are online functions.
Just under four months without even saying 'we're working on it' makes it feel like the games are stuck in limbo. The problem now even has its own parody twitter account:
Dark Souls servers are not fixed as of 5 May 2022Servers are down in total for 102 daysMay 5, 2022
While the community memes mostly involve gallows humour.
undead guy who keeps waiting for the dark souls servers to be enabled pic.twitter.com/iMlsVCSIPxApril 30, 2022
Or lore-appropriate resignation.
I'm posting this picture of Siegmeyer of Catarina every day until the Dark Souls PC servers are back online.Siegmeyer has been waiting for 98 days.Release us from this hell, I simply wish to read stupid messages again pic.twitter.com/3C22sOSeY5May 2, 2022
There is nothing on when Souls players on PC can expect to be able to play these games properly again. I've contacted Bandai Namco at various points over recent months for comment, as have other PCG staff, but the publisher's not saying anything. The closest we got was that it should have an update to give soon in mid-April, which subsequently didn't materialise.
The situation is not in the least bit helped by the fact that all the 'online' Steam tags in the Souls games have now been removed, which obviously stoked fears that online would not be returning in any form. That is surely unthinkable, but they are currently being sold as singleplayer games only.
It's one hell of a way to treat a series that, as of 2020, had sold 28.7 million copies for Bandai Namco. The Souls games have been an incredible part of gaming's last decade, and are so widely influential the name became a genre. They are also, and this is perhaps the most important point, magnificent games that just don't work as they should do on PC—and haven't for months—while no-one seems to want to say when or if they will again.
Perhaps it was just the perfect storm, and will pass. Perhaps FromSoft will drop a fix tonight. Perhaps Bandai Namco should just address the issue with a bit of transparency. What is for sure is that the gaming success story of the year is completely overshadowing what's happened with its great predecessors.