The lore within the Dark Souls genre is varied and mysterious. Wars, giants, and dragons, Gods who fell from grace, a knight on his last mission before he goes insane, evil Queens, all peppered around a landscape filled with horrors.

Come with us as we recap the Dark Souls and Dark Souls II story to help give Dark Souls III context. The Dark Souls lore isn't conventionally told, but rather it is learned by the player through talking to NPCs and reading item descriptions. Do we need to say, SPOILERS AHEAD?

Disclaimer: Dark Souls lore is sometimes very ambiguous, and much of it can be open to interpretation. If you think part of the story meant something different, please let me know, and we can discuss it in the comments!

Dark Souls Back Story

Burn, Baby, Burn

Before the world was formed, it was ruled over by dragons; immortal beasts that were kings of a dark land, and the unformed world of archtrees and fog. Then there was fire, which brought with it light, heat, and death; stark contrasts to the world that was. Within this First Flame were the Souls of Lords, powerful Souls which granted the God-like finder status. They were found by Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight, Nito - First of the Dead, and The Witch of Izalith. There was another powerful Soul, the Dark Soul, which was found by humanity's ancestor, the Furtive Pygmy. The Lords used their new powers to go to war against the Everlasting Dragons, relics of the old age, as they ushered in an era of Light.

There was another powerful Soul, the Dark Soul, which was found by humanity's ancestor, the Furtive Pygmy.

Lord Gwyn used his powers of lightning to break the dragon's scales. The Witch of Izalith used her pyromancy flames to burn all the arch trees. Nito unleashed death and disease upon the land. Seath The Scaleless betrayed his own kind, and the dragons were exterminated.

With the dragons gone, the Gods ushered in a new era, of fire and light and prosperity. As time went on, the Fire of the First Flame began to dwindle and fade. The Gods powers also began to wane. Fearing a new Age of Darkness, the Witch of Izalith tried to use her power to create a new flame but it didn't work, and the spell went wrong. Mutation, chaos, and monsters were born of the cataclysm. Gwyn sacrificed himself to the First Flame, kindling it with his own body, but in doing so created the Curse of the Undead.

The Curse of the Undead

In Dark Souls, to be undead is to be just that. Dead but animated. It's also something to be feared, and Undead are rounded up by the living and sent to the Undead Asylum where they are expected to go insane and be forgotten about. It isn't known what caused people to be Undead, but it happened to almost everyone regardless of who they were. The mark of the Undead is the Darksign, proof the curse has taken hold. An Undead doesn't die in human terms. When they are 'killed', they resurrect at a bonfire. They gradually lose sanity to a process called Hollowing, and those who lose their battle become Hollows unless they can find Humanity; small parts of the Dark Soul. Restoring humanity reverses the effects of Hollowing but nothing can undo the effects of death. Not even a good face cream.

So what now?

Your character wakes up in a cell which had the key dropped through the roof by a mysterious figure. You escape and make your way through the Asylum until you find this person, who has sustained a fatal wound. He succumbs to his injuries but not before telling you of a story that his family knows.

'Thou who art Undead, art chosen… In thine exodus from the Undead Asylum, maketh pilgrimage to the land of Ancient Lords… When thou ringeth the Bell of Awakening, the fate of the Undead thou shalt know.'

'Thou who art Undead, art chosen… In thine exodus from the Undead Asylum, maketh pilgrimage to the land of Ancient Lords… When thou ringeth the Bell of Awakening, the fate of the Undead thou shalt know.'

This Chosen Undead then leaves and finds himself the pawn of fate. Traveling to the land of Ancient Lords, he discovers there are two Bells of Awakening, and he fights his way to ring them both.

Ringing the Bells opened the way to Sen's Fortress and woke the primordial serpent, Kingseeker Frampt. Frampt has been sleeping for centuries awaiting the Chosen Undead. He tells you to link the fire, and you'll need to collect all the Lord Souls and defeat Lord Gwyn, thereby succeeding him as the new Lord of Light and breaking the Curse of the Undead.

Fighting his way through Sen's Fortress, the Chosen Undead arrives at Anor Londo, the city of the Gods. There he needs to find the Lordvessel, which is being protected by its defenders, Dragonslayer Ornstein, and Executioner Smough. Upon their defeat, the Chosen Undead meets Gwynevere, daughter of the Lord of Sunlight Gwyn, who bestows the Lordvessel upon him. If you should harm Gwynevere, you discover she is an illusion, and a spell over Anor Londo breaks, showing its true darkened nature with the fading of the First Flame.

Depositing the Lordvessel at the Firelink Altar, the Chosen Undead then has to retrieve the fragments of the Lord Souls that have been split, shared and distributed over the era. This will ignite the fire at the altar which unlocks the door to the Kiln of the First Flame.

After fighting Seath the Scaleless, the last Dragon who had gone insane after sadistic experiments; you retrieve one fragment of the Lord Soul Gwyn bestowed upon him as a reward for betraying his kind. Another fragment is obtained by defeating the Four Kings of New Londo, an area so close to The Abyss, it had become corrupted and had to be sealed away to prevent its spread.

The Chosen Undead will also relieve Nito of his Lord Soul, as well as The Bed of Chaos, which was formerly the Witch of Izalith, transformed by her backfired attempted at relinking the First Flame.

Another fragment is obtained by defeating the Four Kings of New Londo, an area so close to The Abyss, it had become corrupted and had to be sealed away to prevent its spread.

If the Chosen Undead has not placed the Lordvessel at the Firelink Altar by the time he fights the Four Kings, he will meet Darkstalker Kaathe. Kaathe is another primordial serpent, like Frampt, only Kaathe resides in the Abyss and thinks Frampt is an idiot for siding with Lord Gwyn. Kaathe believes the Age of the Gods should come to an end, and wants to bring in an "Age of Dark," putting out the Flame forever, and making the Chosen Undead the Dark Lord.

Once all the Lord Souls are burning at the Firelink Altar, the Chosen Undead goes on to fight Gwyn and defeat him. He will then let the fire consume him and rekindle a new Age of Light, or he can walk away and become the Dark Lord.

Dark Souls DLC: Artorias of the Abyss

This DLC expands the plot slightly by giving context to what may have happened to the Furtive Pygmy.

It is suspected that Darkstalker Kaathe encouraged the people of Oolacile to disturb the burial site of Manus, Father of the Abyss. Manus is said to be power hungry, as the finder of the Dark Soul and promptly forgotten as the Lords of Light waged war against Dragons, he sought out the darkness in order as his lust for power grew, deforming him into a beast. In-game lore from item descriptions tells us that this could be the Furtive Pygmy.

Upon being woken, Manus begins to spread the Abyss, spewing humanity throughout and mutating Oolacile and those who dwell within it.

Artorias, one of Gwyn's greatest knights, was sent to stop it but became corrupted by the Abyss.

Manus kidnaps Princess Dusk of Oolacile as he suspects she was the last person who had his long-lost pendant that he obsesses about.

If the Chosen Undead finds the necklace, Manus will grab him and pull him into the past where he defeats Artorias, Manus and rescues Dusk. All of these accounts are attributed to Artorias however, as the legend got skewed over time.

Why does it get confusing from here?

Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 are set in the same place, but in another time. Dark Souls 2 is set long after the events of the first game. Almost everything that occurred back then is now referred to as a legend, some of it is incomplete or unclear about to whom it is referring. The stories are not directly related. However, there are remnants of Lordran available to be found within Drangleic and the surrounding areas if you have a keen eye to spot them.

Dark Souls was a game about self-perpetuating cycles. If we're to theorize correctly, linking the Flame and extending the Age of Fire works for a time, but the Flame will need Kindling again to keep it alive, and so on until the cycle is broken and the Age of Man begins.

Dark Souls 2 is more about the repetition of cycles.
As said by Albert Einstein, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Perhaps this encapsulates the sentiments of Dark Souls rather well, after all, the Hollowing process is gradually going insane after the repetition of death and losing focus.

Dark Souls 2 back story

Hail to the king, baby

Vendrick was a powerful and prosperous King, and for a time, Drangleic flourished under his rule.

It's said Vendrick was once himself a Chosen Undead, having built the kingdom on the souls of the four Great Ones. At some point, the Curse of the Undead comes to Drangleic and Vendrick does his best to keep this a secret by sending the Undead away.

When the mysterious and beautiful Nashandra arrives in the land and warns Vendrick of an overseas threat from Giants, he heads off into battle with her

But when the mysterious and beautiful Nashandra arrives in the land and warns Vendrick of an overseas threat from Giants, he heads off into battle with her to the land of the Giants. There he finds something of great importance, Giant's Kinship (which is thought to bestow great power) which he takes home with him to Drangleic.

The Giants weren't without a power of their own and followed him back, seeking vengeance. Amidst a big battle, the Giants were bested by an unknown warrior, but not before most of Drangleic and it's armies were destroyed.

So what now?

In Dark Souls II, it seems as though the events of Dark Souls did nothing to break the Curse of the Undead. The dead are still reanimating. After your character, the Bearer of the Curse (the curse's mark is still the Darksign) is inexorably drawn into a vortex, you awake with no memory, and you find Firekeepers who don't seem surprised to see you rocking up to their house in the middle of no-where. In fact, they rather seem to expect it, and they don't have too much hope for you.

Moving on, you find yourself in the deserted town of Majula where the Bearer finds the Emerald Herald, who guides them to seek out the King, find bigger and stronger souls. Her end goal is to break the Curse, but only by guiding someone strong enough to obtain Great Souls and succeeding King Vendrick, will that be achieved. Are you noticing a pattern here so far?

Making your way within Drangleic the player encounters Queen Nashandra, who informs you King Vendrick failed his kingdom and fled long go and wants you to bring back his ring.

Vendrick is eventually found Hollowed in the depths of Drangleic castle. Inside his room there is the King's Ring, which resembles the Lordvessel of Dark Souls; and it opens the way to various locations of the Giants, his brother Aldia and the Throne of Want. We suspect Vendrick may have wanted to keep these areas safe but from whom?

We know from Dark Souls that the Furtive Pygmy was power-hungry, yet forgotten about in the grand scheme of the timeline within the game. Without the DLC, you wouldn't be able to fill in the gaps where things now begin to get convoluted.

When King Vendrick discovers Nashandra's true nature, he locks himself away to keep the power of the Giant's Kinship away from her.

Manus is possibly the Furtive Pygmy, and upon his death, his body was split into tiny pieces and spread across the lands.

The mysterious Queen, King Vendrick's consort Nashandra, who warned him of the Giant threat across the sea, is the smallest piece of Manus that remained. She coveted souls amongst all other things, hungry for power. When King Vendrick discovers Nashandra's true nature, he locks himself away to keep the power of the Giant's Kinship away from her.

Nashandra, knowing she couldn't retrieve it herself uses the player to unlock the way to the Throne of Want so she could succeed the throne. In her view, there was no need for two rulers, and you'd be taking Vendrick out for her.

The Emerald Herald tasks you with putting an end to Nashandra. Which is good, because let's be honest, so far there's been lots of doing as you're told and not so much Curse breaking.

With Nashandra out of the picture, you succeed Vendrick's rule as the new King. Curse status: unknown.

DLC: Scholar of the First Sin/The Lost Crowns

The standalone game again says little at the end about whether or not the Curse of the Undead is finally broken. The DLC expands on this part. (Scholar of the First Sin contains Dark Souls II and all it's DLC packs) During your journeys, you learn of four crowns which together will bring the Undead Curse to an end. Each crown is hidden in a different land.

Wearing the Crown while human, if you die, you do not Hollow, and you do not lose health. Since the Curse of the Undead only affects Undead and not humans, the idea behind this is that there is no way for the Curse to repeat its cycle upon the wearer. The Crown negates the effect of Hollowing for them but does not break the curse itself for everyone.

Done Souls

So there you have it. Unfortunately, there is no TL;DR version. For a series of games with such hidden storylines, it certainly isn't lacking in depth.

Naturally, in an effort not to tire you out before you've even begun, there is much and more that isn't in this overview. There is a whole host of characters who have their own plotlines but don't have a bearing on the main story, and it would be a shame to miss out on them.

For now, though, you're up to date on your Dark Souls lore (in the largest of nutshells). Pick up your weapons, and don your helmets, because Dark Souls III awaits.