My first meeting with Solaire was hardly what I expected. I’d finally delivered the killing blow to Dark Souls’ first proper boss, the Taurus Demon, a feat that felt Herculean at the time. Being a newblood whelp to the game, scaling the castle walls of Lordran and slaying the hammer-swinging minotaur was a thousand times the feat that it is now; it was something to be feared, and something that still gave that rewarding rush of blood to the head upon victory. While bathing in the euphoria of my success, I waltzed down the stairs to a bastion on the wall, and there he was.
Standing idle, as if unaware or perhaps untroubled by the hordes of undead just a minute’s walk away from him, simply staring at the sun – he didn’t even turn around when we exchanged words. But it was his choice of words that irked me most, the hundreds of video games I’d played before had conditioned me to expect something else.
‘Amazing! You did it! You really are the Dragonborn!’ Skyrim would have said. ‘Thank you for saving us! Now we stand a chance!’ Castlevania: Lords of Shadow would have cried. Solaire didn’t have time for such hyperbole. He knew what was ahead, that in reality the Taurus Demon fight was a playground in comparison to the rest of Lordran. He didn’t even make mention of the battle I’d just won, but instead befuddled me completely by waffling on about the flow of time, warriors summoning each other from different worlds, then ending it with that rather unnerving chuckle. I couldn’t think of anything to laugh about at a time like this, but clearly he didn’t agree. And then, after giving me a special white stone and telling me I’d be in need of it, he uttered that classic line:
‘The sun is a wondrous body, like a magnificent father. If only I could be so grossly incandescent!’
Solaire’s quirks might have seemed foreign and almost irritating to me back then, but they’re something almost every Dark Souls player comes to love. A small seed of happiness in an utterly hopeless world, that despite almost insurmountable odds never seems to falter; as Solaire resolutely reappears throughout Lordran, potentially right up to the end of the game.
He’s not the ally most video games want to have, taking no notice of your achievements and even having the nerve of saying you must have feelings for him due to your paths repeatedly crossing. Yet, amidst the snark, there’s hope, and there’s life. Solaire is living proof of the possibility of success, and a real friend to sit around a bonfire with and regale each other with war stories. He’s certainly weird, but in the words of Hawkeye Gough, ‘What is bravery, without a dash of recklessness?’
Of course, he isn’t just there for idle chatter. Being the leader of the Warriors of Sunlight covenant in Lordran, his pragmatic purpose in the game is that he can drop into your world and help fight bosses. There’s something rather profound about the existence of the Warriors of Sunlight, an entire way of playing the game that revolves around helping total strangers overcome Dark Souls’ toughest battles. Joining the covenant gives you a special golden summoning stone, making it much easier to connect to other people’s world, and it’s so popular that ‘Sunbro’ culture and Solaire-worshipping is rife in Dark Souls’ fanbase. In many hard games, adding a second or third player might be seen as a cop-out, but Dark Souls’ world makes it seem reasonable. The key to winning was always there provided you looked hard enough: in other people. Solaire often acts as the hand on the shoulder if you can’t find any online players, a summon sign that’s always there. And help he does, even with his rather paltry setup. A meager sword, shield and weak armour is enough for our friend Solaire. It’s almost like a reminder of when I hadn’t a clue how to make a half-decent build, a modest friend that wouldn’t make fun of your nonsensical armour/weapon combination.