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I mean it changes how the bonfire looks, but what does it do as a game mechanics? For example, in DS3 you respawn at the bonfire you've lighted, but this is not the case in DS1 - you need to rest at it first. I believe you can't warp to a lighted-but-not-rested-at bonfire neither (or can you?).
There must be some reason developers added this action to the game.

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    You can't warp to lighted-but-not-rested bonfires
    – arghtype
    Sep 15, 2017 at 16:18
  • I think they just messed up in DS1. Lighted and can't warp there, so if you have white summons, you then have to backtrack and solo the area to activate the warp. DS2, you light it and can warp there, but if you died, then you go back to the last one you rested at. I think they finally fixed it in DS3.
    – Nelson
    Sep 15, 2017 at 16:51

2 Answers 2

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Just lighting a bonfire in Dark Souls 1 does absolutely nothing gameplay-wise (except grant you an achievement if you don't have it already). You have to rest at a bonfire in order to respawn there or warp to it (if it is warpable).

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In Dark Souls 2, lighting a bonfire means you can now warp there.

For Dark Souls 1 and Dark Souls 2, lighting a bonfire is a separate action than resting at it because you cannot rest when there are phantoms in your world.

The mechanics for Dark Souls 1 is unknown, but for Dark Souls 2, there are plenty of times where I invite White Phantoms to explore a difficult area. I light all the bonfires along the way, and then warp back to them once they leave or I die.

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