Over the course of developing the Dark Souls games, developer FromSoftware made lots of tweaks, but many things stayed the same. That included the game's uniquely harsh checkpointing system, bonfires, which were often placed juuuuust far enough to cause incredible stress. But as players have dug into the code for Dark Souls 3, there's renewed speculation that, at some point, FromSoftware had plans to give players a chance to upend Dark Souls and create your own bonfires.
The latest analysis comes from YouTube creator Sanadsk, famous for investigating the scraps of evidence left behind in FromSoftware's games, whether it's dialogue, descriptions, or in the case of Demon's Souls, whole areas that never went into full production. Here, it's some leftover animations.
Sanadsk discovered a way for the player to kneel and stab their weapon into the ground. Though the game does feature a sequence where you do something similar, it's part of a cutscene. What Sanadsk found is something that would have been in-game, and his theory is that it would have lead to bonfire creation.
There's reason to believe FromSoftware was playing around with something like this. When Dark Souls 3 was first leaked in 2015, there was a screen shot of the player stabbing their weapon into an enemy, causing them to burst into flames. At the time, the YouTube channel that published the leak, The Know, said this was a new mechanic dubbed Sacrifice Ceremonies, where players would drag around bodies, choose a sacrificing spot, and let you visit another game. The ceremonies could have other effects, too, such as—you guessed it—making yourself a bonfire.
A few months later, after Dark Souls 3 was officially announced, a gameplay trailer contained a cinematic showing off the rumored Sacrifice Ceremonies in an elaborate cinematic. FromSoftware had yet to say anything about the gameplay implications, but that was hardly surprising; the developer often keeps quiet about an upcoming game's nuances. It's all part of the charm.
But by including the sacrificial reference, it seemed to nod at something new.
It's not as though FromSoftware hadn't played around with the idea of making players sacrifice for a benefit, either. By digging around the code for the original Dark Souls, Internet detectives stumbled upon an unused menu that would have allowed players to sacrificing stats in exchange for humanity, a useful item that allowed players to do a few things, including switch to an unhollowed, human-like state and increase the chance at rare drops.
In either case, as it turned out, Dark Souls 3 doesn't ever let you make bonfires. And yet...I have to wonder if FromSoftware pulled that feature out late into development. It'd help explain why there are so many bonfires so close to one another in Dark Souls 3. There's a certain rhythm to the appearance of bonfires in a Dark Souls game, which the first games nailed perfectly. It's an ebb and flow that generates tension when it's needed, and surprises when you least expect it.
But there are multiple instances in Dark Souls 3 where you'll find seemingly back-to-back bonfires. Maybe that's because the level design was being shifted around until the last second, leading to an imbalance in placement, or perhaps FromSoftware was overcompensating for areas where players might have had an opportunity place their own bonfire on the ground.
Bonfires are just fancy checkpoints, but obviously, the way FromSoftware uses them is different than most modern games. Whereas other games are worried players might lose any progress, in a Souls game, the danger of wasting an hour is why the bonfires become so important. The idea of being able to create your own bonfires, even if only a handful, is an appealing prospect. If it'd been able to place a checkpoint right in front of a particularly nasty boss, maybe I'd have finally beaten the god damn Smelter Demon in Dark Souls 2!