Dark Souls has always been an incredibly obtuse series, and Dark Souls III [official site] is living up to that tradition beautifully. With a cast of characters who intersect your journey and a backpack full of indecipherable items, only the most observant players will be able to put together Dark Souls 3's subtle clues to unlock the more interesting endings.
That's where I come in. Armed with spoilerific knowledge, I'm going to cast back the mist and lay bare all of the ways your unkindled self can find some kind of resolution in the transitory lands of Lothric. Deciphering what each of these endings mean is going to be up to you, I'm just the one who will show you the way.
The Boring Ending - Linking the Fire
Of all the endings in Dark Souls 3, this one is meant for those who simply played without trying to tease out Dark Souls 3's deep mysteries. If you've already beaten Dark Souls 3, there's a good chance that this was the ending you received because all you need to do is collect the throneless Lords of Cinder, return them to their stoney chairs, and then skip along to the Kiln of the First Flame. There you'll do battle with the Soul of Cinder, and once you've defeated him you can light the bonfire and watch as the final cutscene plays out.
Doing so will grant you one of the three achievements for beating Dark Souls 3, but it's also the ending you get for meeting the bare minimum requirements, which isn't all that exciting. Let's see what a real ending in Dark Souls 3 looks like.
The True Ending - The End of Fire
Linking the fire is good and all, but doing so is basically upholding the status quo that has been plaguing the worlds of Lothric and Lordran for ages. Wouldn't it be kind of fun to break the cycle and see what's on the other side? You can do just that and all you'll need is a fancy pair of eyes to give to our fair lady, the Fire Keeper. The ball is in your court, Van Gogh!
Getting the Eyes of a Fire Keeper is going to be quite a journey and will require heading to an optional area much later in the game called the Untended Graves. After you defeat the Dancer of the Boreal Valley and gain access to Lothric Castle, you can head left and encounter another annoying Chapel Knight like the kind you fought in the Chapel of the Deep. After dispatching him, take the lift down but walk forward enough and angle your camera so that you can see the doorway as it approaches. Jump off before the lift passes the ledge and you'll walk into the Consumed King's Garden.
This is a whole area worth exploring, so take your time and make your way to the boss fight against the Consumed King himself. Once you've stabbed him a few times, light the bonfire and continue through the double doors into a hallway that bends to the right and opens up into a room with a corpse propped up against a vessel. At the back of the room you'll find a chest with an illusory wall behind it that will lead on into the Untended Graves.
This area has some huge implications regarding the story of Dark Souls 3, so I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but it's an almost perfect recreation of the Firelink Shrine. That also means you're going to meet our old friend Iudex Gundyr again, only this time the black goo won't sprout from his back. If you think that's a blessing, you're wrong, Champion Gundyr is much faster and more aggressive than his creepy counterpart.
Of all the great items in this area, the one we need the most is the Eyes of a Firekeeper, which we can find where Irina of Carim is always sitting—she's the blind lady who sells miracles and likes it when people touch her. That area contains another illusory wall that you can roll through in order to find the eyes.
If you take the eyes to Ludleth the Exiled back in Firelink Shrine, he'll have some interesting words about what they represent. Afterwards, you can hand them over to the Fire Keeper who will have more words for you about what the eyes do, and you will have a choice for how you want to proceed. Here's a hint, don't decline her offer.
Now that our Fire Keeper has eyes again, all you need to do is beat the Soul of Cinder much like you would in the first ending. However, don't light the bonfire. Instead, you'll notice a summon sign nearby that will allow you to summon the Fire Keeper and break the link of fire for good.
If you so choose, you can let this final cutscene play out, or, if you're feeling particularly heartless, you can take advantage of a brief moment where you can control your character and quickly step forward to strike the Fire Keeper down, killing her. Doing so will trigger an alternate ending for the End of Fire—but how will you ever sleep at night you monster?
The Best Ending - Usurpation of Fire
While bringing an end to the Age of Fire has its own delicious implications, it can't hold a candle to the complicated Usurpation of Fire, which will require you to follow a specific set of instructions from very early on in the game. If you're already deep into your playthrough, there's a good chance you'll need to start a new game in order to achieve this ending.
The first step of the Usurpation of Fire requires locating Yoel of Londor just beyond the first bonfire you discover before the Undead Settlement. Doing so will let you recruit him to help you back at the Firelink Shrine, and you should because Yoel sells sorceries for you early in the game. He has another more nefarious service he can perform which centers around "drawing out your true strength". Doing so grants you a free level, but it also triggers a mechanic visually similar to becoming hollow in Dark Souls. You can do this five times, but you'll need to obtain a certain level of hollowing each time. Go about your journey and as you die, your hollowing will increase. Drawing out your strength will also grant you a Dark Sigil. It's important to not heal the Dark Sigils using the Fire Keeper if you gift her the Fire Keeper Soul, doing so will ruin the whole process. Make sure you have five Dark Sigils before you enter the Catacombs of Carthus, as Yoel will die prematurely, thus preventing you from acquiring any more.
Along your journey, you'll encounter Anri of Astora and Horace on the Road of Sacrifices at the Halfway Fortress bonfire. Talk to Anri twice during this encounter and then head off on your merry way. Before clearing the Catacombs of Carthus, which lie just beyond the arena where you'll fight Farron's Undead Legion, you're going to want to take a detour into the optional area called the Cathedral of the Deep. Clear this area out and once you kill the Deacons of the Deep, return to the Firelink Shrine to find Anri and Horace near one of the thrones. Exhaust their dialogue options and you're free to head into the Catacombs of Carthus.
Inside the Catacombs you'll discover Anri twice. The first time is near the staircase with the first rolling skeleton ball. Follow the path adjacent to the stairs to find Anri fretting about losing Horace. The second time is in an area with a large swinging rope bridge just before the battle with High Lord Wolnir. Instead of crossing the bridge, there's a path that snakes along the edge of the pit where you'll find them standing alone. It turns out Horace and Anri were separated and they're terribly worried about him.
You can find Horace in another optional area called the Smouldering Lake. After crossing the bridge and drawing the ire of all the skeletons behind you, chop the ropes to cause the bridge to collapse. You can now climb down and fight your way into the Smouldering Lake. This area is dominated by a massive ballista that fires several harpoons at you in succession, so only run in the open when it's reloading. From the entrance to the lake, hug the right wall until you eventually find a small cave which you can follow to find Horace. He's a bit grumpy and will attack you, so go ahead and kill him. Head back to Anri and tell them where you found Horace and they'll mention going there to look for him. Whether or not they do is up for debate, but you can safely defeat Wolnir and head on to Irithyll of the Boreal Valley.
Anri will be found in the Church of Yorksha bonfire where you need to exhaust their conversation options again. To the left of the entrance inside the church, you may find messages from other players in front of a group of statues. One of those statues is actually a hidden character that you should be careful not to attack as they're crucial to this quest.
Once you've talked to Anri, you're free to clear out Irithyll and take on Pontiff Sulyvahn. Once he's dead, return to the Firelink Shrine and talk to Yuria of Londor (she's where Yoel used to be) and exhaust her dialogue options. If you've done everything correctly, Yuria will inform you that your spouse awaits you in the Temple of the Darkmoon.
Back in Irithyll, head up the buttresses in the area behind the Pontiff, dodging the archer knights, and make your way into a hallway before the coiled staircase that leads to Anor Londo. There's an illusory wall here that you can dispel, revealing a long hallway with a pilgrim like Yoel that will give you a sword. Walk forward to the altar room and use the sword on Anri and watch the cutscene. Head back to the Firelink Shrine and talk to Yuria some more and she'll congratulate you and tell you to wait for the opportune moment to steal the first flame. After defeating the Soul of Cinder, touch the bonfire and enjoy the coolest ending in Dark Souls 3.