Wow. So. Dark Souls 3. That sure took a lot longer to finish than expected.

I’ve finally vanquished From Software’s newest, New Game+ is already calling out to me, and the promised DLC is to be announced later this month. And yet, no matter how much I stalled it out, the game and series has come to a close. I could blame the delay on various external conflicts that kept me away from my PS4, or throw pride to the wind and tell you how long I got stuck on the Nameless King. Both are true, but neither one is the truth. Because in the end, my biggest stumbling block was that I just didn’t want to say goodbye.

Dark Souls 3 is the supposed final chapter of the Dark Souls franchise. From Software is moving on to something new and different (which is probably a great idea, considering they’ve been mining the same concept for 5 games, since Demon’s Souls was released in 2009). The game’s plot is… unimportant, I would say. The lore is what you make of it – and I have made a lot of it, but I’ll save that for another blog entry – but the short of it is that your world is dying, and you must fight your way through to the first flame that keeps it all going, either to relight it to linger on through another age or extinguish it forever. A horde of unrelenting undead horrors stand in your path, and your curse is to die over and over in pursuit of victory.

I have previously mentioned the intoxicating experience of overcoming obstacles in these games, and Dark Souls 3 has honed that experience down to a near perfect edge. Though I miss the visceral energy of Bloodborne’s combat system versus the methodical chess game of Dark Souls, that focus and attention it requires of you makes every turn, every enemy, every boss a memorable experience. Because if you don’t learn, you die. I wouldn’t say it’s the same lightning-in-a-bottle experience the first one was, but all the elements work soundly and make for what is technically the best Dark Souls game by a long shot. With great environments, graphics, gameplay additions, lore and some of the most memorable bosses of the franchise (MVPs: Pontiff Sulyvahn, The Dancer of the Boreal Valley, The Dragonslayer Armour, Lord of Cinder, and that goddamn Nameless King), I was always eager to boot up my PS4 again…

Until I wasn’t.

When finishing the later bosses, I found myself slowing down. The game’s ultimate choice – that of having to either relight that flame, or end it at last – held more weight. Because as I marched towards the conclusion, its inevitable end, I wasn’t just approaching the end of the game itself. It was the end of what Dark Souls has been in my life. It was the first game that I was able to share with my wife and play with her. It was something special for both of us; the release of each new Dark Souls game has been a months-long event in our household. It’s a chapter in our life as a couple coming to a close. And maybe it should. Perhaps that new chapter will be a better one. But the thrill of vanquishing the final boss came mixed with a dash of sorrow.

And yet, as tempted as I was to relight the flame, I felt an excitement at what laid beyond that flame and into parts unknown. Add as much kindling as you want, but in the end, every fire fades, and at the end of my game, I hoped for a new adventure, just as all-consuming and frustrating, offering as elusive a victory. And when I find it, I’ll catch it. It just might take a few tries.

Thank you Dark Souls, From Software, and everyone involved, for lighting that first flame to begin with.