A World Divided

From the first moment they materialize out of the fog in the original Dark Souls (DS1) opening cinematic, the archtrees have become somewhat iconic. Giant trees towering over all else certainly leaves an impression, and there is a certain mystique to their portrayal across the franchise. But this doesn’t mean that they are anything less than mundane. Fans commonly draw parallels to Yggdrasil, the tree which Nordic myth purports to seat nine worlds all across it — typically imagined as layering atop one another. The world we explore is itself stratified, and can be reasonably split into two layers, with the layer of earth held up by the archtrees as the dividing line. The Great Hollow and another archtree can be seen branching out through the sunlit earth above, while the cinematic reveals that every great tree’s roots stretch deep into the rocky crags below. But none of this necessitates that there be anything supernatural about the divide itself.

Our means for crossing this divide is consistently to head up or down. The occasional breach in the rock reveals parts of this lower level as we descend, and sunlight can be seen shining through portions of this same rock layer when looking back up from below. This comports more to the logic of standard geology than tears in separate dimensions facilitated by the archtrees. Indeed, Midir enters this lower space from above ground by falling straight down an open valley in Dark Souls III. (DS3) By all indications, the earth below our feet simply hides a massive subterranean cavity propped up by the trees existing in perpetuity. But to help distinguish this area and its underground from the caverns explored in its ceiling, I have decided to refer to it as the “Lower World” and conversely dub the space above the “Upper World”. Simply put, the DS1 cinematic introduces us first to the Lower World while our journey in-game mostly has us tour around the Upper World.

In the same vein, the settings for DS1 and Dark Souls II (DS2) can be cumbersome to describe when making comparisons. Even the most generous interpretation acknowledges that Lordran, Drangleic, and the lands surrounding each of them are very different despite certain similarities between the two settings. And with the addition of DS3, placing them in relation to the latest game’s setting becomes all the more important. For that reason, I have come to call the DS2 setting as the “New World” in reference to how the American continents were viewed by Renaissance Europe; naturally, the DS1 setting is the “Old World”. As to the DS3 setting, my analysis has left no reason to coin a separate term — we have divvied up the world enough as it is.