The Dark Souls series is notoriously hard, and while it has become popular among gamers in the last few years exactly for that difficulty, it remains a bit inscrutable and overwhelming for many players. Dark Souls III is arguably a more easygoing Souls game, however, in that it gives players a little more leeway as they learn and provides something of an easier time getting into the game. It’s still no walk in the park, but it might not be as ruthless as previous titles.
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Players who have been thinking about the Dark Souls series but have abstained because it looks like a lot of work aren’t necessarily wrong, but it is possible to get into Dark Souls III. With a little insider information and a lot of patience, anybody can become a hollowed, medieval warrior and a skilled smasher of hideous monstrosities.
You’re going to die in Dark Souls III. Sometimes it’ll be because you came up against something you weren’t ready for. Sometimes it’ll be because your skills weren’t up to par. Sometimes it’ll be because a guy snuck up behind you or because his sword went through a wall in a way you didn’t expect. These things happen and they’re a fact of life in Dark Souls. Each time you reawaken from a death, you begin at your last bonfire, which function as Dark Souls’ safe havens. Treat these as home base and each step you take away from them as a venture out into the unknown. If you return and rest, you can travel between bonfires instantly or refill your health-restoring Estus Flasks — just keep in mind that the regular enemies you’ve killed will respawn whenever you do.
The first time you find a new bonfire and you set out to see what’s beyond it, you’re not necessarily trying to make progress, you’re trying to fill out the map in your head and learn about what you’re going to face. If you die, yes, you do drop all the souls you’ve accumulated from bashing bad guys, which function both as currency to buy things and a way to increase your character’s stats. However, you’ll always collect more. There’s an unlimited number of enemies and souls, so even if you drop them all and then lose them — die once and you can return to the same spot and recollect them; die twice and the souls are gone forever — you’ll be collecting more momentarily. Don’t sweat the loss. Focus on learning from the experience.
You can say this about everything in Dark Souls III: being especially good at the game, with quick button-pushing reflexes, isn’t really that important. Most players assume they need a high degree of skill to play Dark Souls, and that turns people off to the series. But while having a fast thumb will certainly save your life at times, it’s not what’s going to get you through the game.
The fact is, dexterity pales in comparison to the usefulness of experience and learning. Every encounter with an enemy, and especially with a boss, is about learning how they move, attack, and react to your attacks, as well as what you’re capable of and how you can react to them. You don’t need amazing gamer reflexes if you know how to read your enemies, and every one of them has tells that give you the information you need about what they’re about to do.
If you want to play Dark Souls III, you need to be observant rather than quick. Watch your enemies, and pay attention to how they’re beating you. You’ll quickly learn what attack they’re about to launch when they take a menacing step forward, or whether you’ll need to leap clear of an attack to avoid getting popped in the face with a shield. Get good at dodging, blocking, and watching. The rest will follow.
Dark Souls uses a stamina system to dictate what you’re able to do and for how long. The green bar depletes every time you dodge, roll, swing your weapon, or block an attack, and it only refills when you’re not doing those things (and slowly if you’re holding your shield at the ready). You don’t have a ton of stamina, and you’ll often find as you dodge backwards away from enemy attacks that you run out of stamina as your enemy keeps charging forward, pressing the offensive. It’s a good way to get killed.
Instead of dodging away from attacks, try dodging sideways or, more often, forward. If you time a dodge correctly, you’ll be immune to just about any attack, so while it seems suicidal to roll forward, it’s actually advantageous. Many bosses, especially big ones, are at a disadvantage when you get in their faces. The direction you choose to dodge can often mean the difference between coming up swinging — and pulling out a victory — or spending a fight constantly on the retreat.
You might have chosen a sorcerer or a naked brawler for your character class at the start of Dark Souls III, but even if it seems counter-intuitive, go out of your way to get hold of a bow as early as you can. You might find one in the game’s first big area past the first boss, and if not, you can likely buy one in the Firelink Shrine, a location you’ll return to throughout the game as you level up and resupply.
You can also equip up to three weapons for each hand and switch between them quickly, which means you can pull out your bow whenever you want, so long as you have arrows equipped to go with it. Trust me when I say you’ll want them. Dark Souls III is full of moments and locations where you’ll have a positional advantage over a particularly annoying enemy, where they can’t reach you but you can snipe away at them. There are bad guys early on in the game that you’re going to want to deal with at a distance, and having a well-stocked bow will mean you can take advantage of those moments and save yourself some sanity, as well as a few deaths. You can also use your bow to draw enemies out of groups or to fight in locations that are better suited to your play style —something you should do anyway whenever you can.
Maybe the most obtuse part of Dark Souls III for the starting player is its leveling system. You have all these souls you accumulate that you can bring to a character in the Firelink Shrine, and once you have enough, you can buy a new level, which allows you to increase a single character stat by one point. There are a bunch of stats, however, and it’s not exactly clear how important each one is or what they might do.
Though having so many stat numbers to parse can be intimidating, it’s likely that you won’t need to worry about the majority of these numbers. If you want to be a sword-wielding, shield-carrying knight, for example, you’ll want to invest chiefly in your Strength stat, because that determines how powerful your strikes are and how well you can block with your shield.
You’ll also want to amp stats such as Vigor, which dictates health; Endurance, which controls your stamina bar; and Vitality, your defensive capabilities, on a case-by-case basis because everybody uses those things to dodge attacks and withstand blows. But the rest — Dexterity, Faith, Intelligence, and Luck — aren’t really important to your kind of character. You can more or less ignore them as you learn the game.
Put another way, your stat numbers allow you to dictate what kind of character you want to play as. Whereas magic-based characters will want to put their points into Intelligence and Faith, long-ranged fighters should focus on Dexterity. Players who want heavy armor and big swords should go for Strength.
A good way to determine what you want to invest in is to pay attention to the weapons you like to use. Weapons will often have stat requirements with a specific icon at the bottom of their descriptions, telling you how high that particular stat needs to be in order for you to use that particular weapon. So you if you have a spear you think is cool, spend some souls on Dexterity; if you want to cast a particular spell even though you largely are a knight, invest in Intelligence. It’s all based on what you want to do, and any character can be anything. But generally focusing on a particular kind of fighting style, and the stats that go with it, will let you maximize your capabilities.
Leveling up your stats can be great — a little extra Endurance might give you the last-second dodge you need, or a boost in health might let you withstand an extra attack or two a clutch moment —but don’t agonize over it. Level gains in Dark Souls III are pretty incremental, so use levels as a way to get the necessarily stats you need to use the gear you want.
Players familiar with role-playing games like Dark Souls III will be expecting to find new swords and armor constantly, and to always be searching for the best gear to use for a particular situation. There’s some of this at play in Dark Souls III, but not as much as you might think.
The stats attached to particular weapons to tell you if they’re better than what you’re using can be hard to understand in Dark Souls III, and some weapons “scale” based on how high your particular stats are. Keep an eye out for weapons that might be particularly stronger than what you’re using, but for the most part, you’ll want to pay more attention to how weapons feel and what they do than what their numbers say.
For example, as a knight, you’ll start with a Straight Sword, which is a pretty solid weapon that will scale as your character does. You might find other cool weapons, such as pikes or great swords, that seem interesting but aren’t stronger than what you started the game with. Try them out anyway — you may find that you like the way a weapon handles better than what you’re using, and each one is different. Having gear you can use effectively is more important than how hard it hits. You can always upgrade weapons to be stronger with souls and Titanite items you find in the world, but if you carry a huge great sword that hits crazy hard but is too slow for how you want to play, it’s not worth much in the moment. Go for the gear that feels best for your playing style.
There’s a lot to learn about Dark Souls III, but the Internet is filled with wikis, guides, videos, and other players who can offer you insights if you get stalled. Your focus should be on making forward progress; the point of Dark Souls is to experience triumphing over adversity, but there has to be adversity in order to get to the triumph. Maintain realistic goals so that you’re always moving forward and you’ll feel a lot better about minor setbacks and deaths.
There are a lot of hidden secrets in Dark Souls III as well, so be sure to explore, if cautiously. Expect the game to set traps for you. For example, at one point I saw four enemies kneeling up ahead of a long stretch of empty hallway. They looked like easy kills, so of course a huge enemy was waiting just around the corner and out of sight, turning the easy pickings into a five-enemy ambush. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
You’ll also want to speak to every non-enemy character you come across until they start repeating themselves. These people often head back to the Firelink Shrine, where you can interact with them or later buy stuff from them. And sometimes you can summon them to help you out in boss fights — just look for white markings on the ground near the entrances to major battles. You’ll need to use the “Embers” item in order to see them, but you’ll want to do that anyway before intense battles for the health benefits.
Dark Souls III can seem intimidating, especially in its opening area, which is sprawling and pretty tough. However, it really isn’t that bad once you get the hang of it, and doing so is the ultimate goal. If you take your time and focus, you’ll find that Dark Souls III is a surmountable challenge that pays off its arduous, tough battles with righteous victory. If there’s one thing Dark Souls does well, it’s making you feel amazing after you defeat a boss you previously thought might be unbeatable. Just remember that none of them actually are.