Dark Souls 3 is a bit of a strange beast for newcomers. The lore and setting is essentially relient on knowing on a LOT of the backstory that was covered in Dark Souls 1 (with some thematic elements attached to 2), but the core gameplay system is easily the most approachable and fun in the series. With that said, let’s explore Lothric as beginners, as here are some tips that will make your harrowing journey a little bit more manageable.
Landing critical hits in the forms of parries and backstabs are absolutely essential, now moreso than ever. Unfortunately From has mixed up the variety of enemies and included a few that are actually impervious to backstabs. This is countered by the somewhat more forgiving and more open hitboxes that can trigger backstabs in most enemies, making the combat experience exhilarating, strategic and of course, challenging.
The art of the parry is something you can easily go most of the game without using, but nailing the timing is absolutely satisfying on many levels, especially parrying and unleashing a huge counter attack on bigger enemies, including bosses. While you can finish the game without ever using the parry system, it’s still a great combat style to practice. Revisiting starting areas later on is a perfect way to learn the parry system on enemies without dying over and over again.
And of course dodging. Like in Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3 tends to focus a bit more on dodge rolling and lighter builds are definitely going to have a lot of fun with the somewhat more forgiving equipment burden+dodge speeds. Tanks are absolutely still part of the core game, and there are just so many builds to experiment with, but know that fans of the ‘glass cannon’ approach will find Dark Souls 3 to be the most balanced gameplay system in the franchise yet.
Let’s not forget Art Attacks. Again, like parries, Art Attacks aren’t essential to beating the game, but learning to properly utilize these attacks will garner you incredible damage against tougher enemies, at the cost of Focus Points. Of course, these attacks tend to leave you open to some heavy retaliation damage, so again, practice makes perfect.
This is essential. Dark Souls 3’s world is even more expansive than ever. Exploring every nook and cranny will yield essential items, weapons and most importantly, NPC’s. Ignorant players will easily miss some interesting Covenants and merchants from speeding through areas. Some NPC’s will only be in certain areas for certain parts of the game, and missing out on them will completely cut out sidequests, which is a little maddening but does encourage careful exploration and planning.
Speaking of NPC’s…
There are a HUGE roster of NPC’s in this instalment, and most of them congregate at the Firelink Shrine. Make sure to always, always visit the Shrine after finding a new NPC in the world, after completing areas and bosses. Make sure to exhaust all dialogue in order to unlock more items and gestures, and of course story content. There are many useful things to find around the Shrine. Perhaps most interesting is the mysterious Yoel of Londor, a frail figure who offers free levelling up, a reward too enticing for us to refuse. However, this being a Dark Souls game, there is a heavy, heavy price to pay that some may not see until it is far too late…
Since we’re at the Shrine we might as well level up, and this is again a crucial part of the series. While many players tend to find one style and stick to it and only level up certain stats (tank builds for instance pouring points into strength, dexterity and vigor), I actively encourage pouring at least enough stats into Faith, Intelligence and Luck in order to use most of the starting gear. Being able to use Soul Arrow or Heal Aid is immensely useful, and only requires 10 INT/FA. Considering the minimal amount of Estus Flasks you begin with, having even the beginner healing spell is a huge help. Luck ties into item drops, so if you find your drops from enemies lacking somewhat, it actually is worth dropping at least a few points into Luck to boost your finds.
And hell, if you make it far enough without stats in certain areas, Dark Souls 3 actually allows you to respec. Of course, revealing how and where to respec is a huge spoiler so let’s move on.
And of course level up your equipment. While I actually got through the majority of the game using a simple broadsword levelled up to inflict tonnes of damage, sticking to just one weapon isn’t a great idea. It helps that you can infuse your weapon with elemental damage at minimal cost (and of course, an elemental gem), so levelling up and infusing several weapons is actively encouraged. Some weapons are of course more vulnerable to certain elements, as I learned the hard way…
And since we’re experimenting, it always helps to have a long range weapon to chip away at some enemies’ health. A Greater Demon blocking your way? Why not cheese it out and knock off his health with some long range arrows/ Soul Arrows. While this sort of gameplay is discouraged from many players, it does help even the odds in those pesky group combat scenarios, allowing you to draw away attackers one at a time, making it a more even ground for a fair fight.
Use your Embers. Embers are basically the new form of ‘Hollowing’ (but don’t be angry, Hollowing still makes an appearance is it’s usual sinister ways), and you can easily go the entire game ‘unkindled’ so to speak, but using a precious ember will grant you a huge health boost and open you up to summoning (and of course, invasions). Having an NPC summon for a boss fight is always a huge blessing, and of course you will need to go out of your way to find these NPC’s so again, exploration is key to success.
Don’t be afraid to die! The first time I lost 16000 souls in a foolish skirmish, I immediately dropped the controller and went outside to curse the sun. The fifteenth time I died with a hefty amount of souls, I just shrugged and moved on.
It’s infuriating, it’s challenging and it’s a heartbreak to lose so much to some foolish mistakes. But it’s all part of the fun of Dark Souls, and learning from your mistakes it a key component to completing the game. Souls are temporary, but inventory is permanent, and I actively encourage doing a ‘suicide’ run, going to a high level or high risk area, sweeping up the goods and dying. You can always get those souls back. Do not despair, as death is an integral part of Dark Souls. While most games actively teach you that death is a failure state, here it is nothing more than a mere stepping stone.
Hopefully you will go into Dark Souls 3 with a bit more confidence. If you’re a newcomer, I fully recommend Dark Souls 3 as the most balanced and fun of the series, gameplay wise. Have fun in Lothric!