If the hundreds of news pieces haven’t given it away yet, a new Dark Souls game is on the horizon and we are quite excited to play it. Now most of us at VGU are seasoned Dark Souls fans, but many people will either be coming to Dark Souls III straight off the back of Bloodborne or coming in as brand new fans who want to finally see what all the fuss is about. While it may initially seem daunting and players constantly go on about its difficulty, it’s one of those games that will suddenly click with you after a few hours of play and you’ll hopefully understand why so many people rave about the series. To ease that transition and to demystify some of the more arcane elements of the series, we have composed an absolute starter guide to the franchise as a whole, to make those opening few hours that little bit easier. When we get access to Dark Souls III, we will also be doing a beginner’s guide for that so if you are looking for specific tips, just wait that little bit longer.
1. Don’t sweat the lore too much.
Many Dark Souls fans (me included) love to wax lyrical about how amazing and deep the Dark Souls lore is, how it requires fans to work together to fill in elements of its universe and so on. Stumble into any Dark Souls forum or subreddit and you’ll see posts of people speculating on lore theories and having lengthy discussions about what a single word in an item description could mean for a character you’ve never heard of. Don’t worry about it, there is no need to have memorised the family tree of Gywn or know the exact details of the Age of the Gods in order to enjoy Dark Souls. All you really need to know is that ancient people meddled with powers beyond their control, things got way out of hand and now you have been dragged into an age old struggle to sort it all out. Imagine yourself as a warrior janitor, brought in to clean up the world by slaying skeletons, demons and the occasional god. Just enjoy the ride during your first playthrough, get used to the combat and the world and then dive into the item descriptions and lore if the mood takes you. No-one really knows what is going on in the mind of Miyazaki so don’t worry if it all seems a bit too convoluted.
2. Picking a starting class and your build path.
While there isn’t a hard and fast class system in the Souls series, picking and sticking to a starting archetype can help make the opening hours easier, as you aren’t too worried about creating your own character build and are more focused on learning the controls and how combat works. Just for the initial defence boost and larger health bar, I personally always choose the Knight class to start. You get some heavy armour to soak up damage and make initial mistakes without losing masses of health and a decent weapon like the Broadsword which has a great moveset and stat scaling. I’d steer clear of the magic-based starting classes as running a pure mage build can be notoriously difficult and requires you to spread your level ups across multiple stats in the very beginning, which can mean you miss out on early game health and stamina upgrades. View magic as something to supplement your build to start with, by equipping weapon buffs or utility spells, rather than relying on it for pure damage.
3. Upgrading weapons and understanding scaling.
Improving your weapons in tandem with your stats is integral for getting stronger in Dark Souls, as having the appropriate weapon can see your damage output increase massively. Almost every weapon in the Souls series scales with a certain stat, usually being either Strength or Dexterity, with some special weapons scaling by Faith or Intelligence. For example, most large weapons like ultra greatswords or axes scale with Strength, meaning that having a higher Strength stat will mean you do more damage with those weapons. Upgrading weapons can increase scaling, meaning that a weapon that starts with a C rating scaling in Dexerity could go up to an S scaling by the time it has been upgraded 10 times. Along with standard upgrades which simply boost base and scaling damage, you can augment your weapons with different elements like Fire or Lightning. Usually, augmenting a weapon with an element like Lightning actually gets rid of the stat scaling but replaces it with a different damage type. However, certain weapon augmentations like Holy will swap scale stats, so instead of having a katana scale with Dexerity, it will scale with Faith instead. Upgrading weapons correctly can vastly improve your character build and finding the right weapon will be a major part of this. As someone who usually makes a Strength-based character first in every Souls game, finding that one weapon with the combination of a great moveset and decent scaling can be as difficult as defeating a tough boss but once I’ve found the weapon for me, combat becomes a hell of a lot easier.
4. Knowing your defensive options.
The Souls series has three main defensive options: parrying, dodge rolling and shielding. If you’re coming from Bloodborne, you’ll be up to speed on dodge rolling but without a gun to parry from a distance, you’ll have to get used to deflecting strikes with your shield or an offhand weapon like the Parrying Dagger. Parrying takes a lot of practice to master but once you have the timing down, you’ll even be able to parry strikes from bosses using giant weaponry. Keep in mind that if you mistime a parry, you do receive full damage from that strike so spamming parries to learn timings can often lead to death if you aren’t careful. As for dodge rolling, Dark Souls is a little different to Bloodborne as your rolls actually change based on how much equipment you are wearing. The original Dark Souls had a fast, mid and fat roll but in every subsequent Dark Souls game, there have only been normal and fat rolls, with roll distance changing based on how much you have equipped on your character. If your equipment load is over 100%, be prepared to walk very slowly and to fat roll, meaning your rolls take about a year to complete. Shields differ in how much defence they provide, with some shields having full damage protection in exchange for being very heavy while others may be light but cause you to be damaged even if you block a hit. Do note that some shields have very low stability, meaning it can only take a few hits before your shield hand is knocked away and you are left wide open for an easy hit. Shields do engender passivity and make you quite the sitting duck, so learn to roll when against a fast enemy.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
People will often brag about how they completed Dark Souls without any help but don’t feel put off if a boss is too hard and you need some assistance. Some of the most intense boss fights I have ever experienced in the Souls series have been because I have had a buddy there to fight alongside me. Use everything in the game to your advantage so engage in some jolly co-operation if you are stuck, either with an NPC partner or another human player. Talk to friendly NPCs if you don’t know where to go next and if all else fails, go to a Dark Souls fansite and ask for help. Most people will be happy to help out, by either offering some advice or even coming to help you in game as a summon partner. The Souls series actively encourages players to work together so don’t pass up help!
6. Embrace death.
This may sound morbid but you are going to die while playing any Dark Souls game. You’ll be murdered by traps, tough enemies, tricky jumps and even by your fellow man but don’t be disheartened. Every death gives you an opportunity to learn what killed you and improve for the next go around. The Souls franchise always gives you a chance to regain all your souls back from whatever killed you so don’t think it is the end when you lose 80,000 souls to a Mimic chest. Take it slow, keep your wits about you and you’ll be fine. Also, taking a break from the slog can sometimes be beneficial. Constantly running at an obstacle and getting more and more frustrated will probably increase your chances of wanting to quit the game for good so grab your souls, teleport back to the nearest bonfire and take a load off.
So, there are some general tips for anyone who is wishing to start their Dark Souls career. We will be releasing a specific Dark Souls III guide in the near future, once we have made our own pilgrimage to Lothric to link the Fire. If you have any handy tips for first time players, put them in the comments below.