Elden Ring Developer May Finally Fix Dark Souls PC Servers, But Fans Are Dubious
A bit of a recap for you: Souls is the short name of the FromSoftware series that predates Elden Ring. To say that the latest game borrows heavily from its predecessors is an understatement in the extreme; Elden Ring is Dark Souls 4 in all but name. The series started with Demon's Souls on the PlayStation 3, but definitely has its roots going all the way back at least to King's Field on the original PlayStation.
The series is kind of a big deal. While FromSoftware has always enjoyed a cult following, Dark Souls was a breakout hit for the company, and followup titles have enjoyed an incresingly bigger market presence—to the point that Elden Ring sold some 12 million copies in its first 18 days. Not bad for a game company that got its start as a productivity software publisher.
The Souls series games, including spiritual successors Bloodborne and Elden Ring, do multiplayer in a curious way. Rather than creating a game session that other players join in a persistent fashion, it's all done through in-game mechanics. For co-op play, you place down a summon sign in the game world that other players can interact with to bring you into their game temporarily. Alternatively, players can forcibly invade other players to try and halt their progress as an adversary.
A significant portion of the fanbase of these games is here for the rich and surprisingly-balanced player-versus-player combat. Cheaters have always been a problem on the PC versions of the games, and FromSoftware has done little to fix it. Most PC Dark Souls players have had the garden-variety cheater experience, where an enemy player has unlimited health, kills you in one hit regardless of how tough you are, or has unlimited ammo or similar cheats.
However, there's another, more troublesome variety of hacker in the Souls series, and that's the players who try to corrupt the save data of other players, or even get them banned from online play. Popular tricks to do either involve teleporting other players out of bounds or filling their inventory with hacked items that can't exist.
Well, early this year, it turned out that the Souls games' netcode had a flaw so severe that it could allow a remote player who connected to your game—which, remember, they can do without your consent, by design—to execute arbitrary code on your system. That means that an invading player could launch applications or modify files on your PC remotely; it's a full remote code execution (RCE) exploit.
This is obviously a gigantic problem, so shortly after the news came out, FromSoftware took all of the PC Dark Souls games offline. That includes Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition, Dark Souls: Remastered, Dark Souls II (plus its Scholar of the First Sin re-release), and Dark Souls III. It's a reasonable step to prevent players from being taken advantage of by the exploit.
The thing is, we're going on six months now with absolutely no word of when online play for these titles might be restored. Well, almost no word, anyway—a Reddit user by the name of "Relevant-Heart-1751" just posted a screenshot of a response from Bandai-Namco support that says that the developers are "actively working on resolving the issue in question and re-launching the Dark Souls servers for PC as soon as possible."
If you're confused, Bandai-Namco is the publisher for the Dark Souls titles. The message goes on to say that Bandai-Namco has no estimate of when online play will be restored. That's frustrating, because enterprising modders have already fixed the issues in question with third-party tools. A Dark Souls III mod called Blue Sentinel, which is a general anti-cheat mod, was able to patch the issue within days of its reveal.
Blue Sentinel actually patches over 100 different possible cheats in Dark Souls III, and the mechanisms that hackers exploit are well-understood, even the remote code execution flaw. FromSoftware even fixed the issue in Elden Ring, which was confirmed to be affected in its Network Test beta version. That's why players have all but given up hope that the PC releases of Dark Souls will have their multiplayer functionality restored; it's been far past long enough for FromSoftware to have issued a patch for the games. So where is the patch?
Even in the Reddit thread, downcast devotees of the series point out that this support reply is clearly a canned response, and furthermore that Bandai-Namco said similar things when the RCE exploit was initially revealed. Some players also point to the fact that someone from FromSoftware or Bandai-Namco has removed the "Online Co-op" tag from Dark Souls Remastered on Steam, although it (and the PvP tag, among other online play tags) is still there on Dark Soul III.
Still, in FromSoftware's defense, the company has been hard at work patching bugs in and preparing new content for Elden Ring. The game's overwhelming success has come in spite of serious technical flaws, including major netcode problems. There's also a promised RTX patch on the way, as well as likely an expansion or other DLC. Going back to an older codebase and preparing a patch for thorny netcode issues may simply be low-priority for a company that's likely already strapped for manpower.
Whatever the case, we hope FromSoftware gets the Souls series patched up sooner or later. It would be a shame for later generations of gamer to miss out on the wonderful experience of the Looking Glass Knight summoning in an Ice Rapier R1 spammer that stunlocks you to death before you can attack. Good times.