Dark Souls 3 PvP guide: play styles, Covenants and key items

Dark Souls Pvp Header

Spoiler warning: we'll be covering late game mechanics and items. Turn back now if you've yet to finish Dark Souls 3 and don't want to read names of a few items on this page and covenants and locations on the second page.

The Dark Souls series’ multiplayer is built to enable griefing—in an already unrelenting dark fantasy world, a player can invade your game and hunt you down at nearly any point. No matter how predictable enemy AI is, human behavior is erratic and conniving, but by enabling evil, Dark Souls has also generated a culture of nobility among the chaos. It’s arguably one of the more interesting multiplayer scenes around. Don't skip it, even if you're a newcomer and the prospect of facing off invaders is intimidating.

Granted, a series known for oblique, punishing mechanics doesn't make PvP super easy to get into, so we’ve assembled this guide to help you learn how to survive and thrive.

On the first page, we cover key online play items, a few suggested PvP play styles, and key PvP items.

And over on page two, we look at every covenant (PvP and co-op) in the game, detail where to find them, and the rewards they dole out.

Before you take off after any unsuspecting players, keep a few basic tips in mind:

  • If you’re invaded and the odds are against you, book it to the nearest bonfire so reclaiming your souls isn’t a risky endeavor.
  • If an invading phantom bows, bow back—they’re likely looking for a respectable duel. That probably means no Estus Flask use either (but being more honorable than your opponent is a good way to end up dead, so beware).
  • Don’t expect every invading phantom to bow. Some might hide in wait or even assume the shape of an environmental object using a spell. Only slash at the moving gravestones.
  • If you see a ton of red summon signs on the ground, you’re likely in a popular dueling arena. Join in on the friendly competition, but don’t go looking for cheap kills, jerk.
  • And remember, if PvP isn’t your thing, you can always summon for co-op help or avoid using Embers unless absolutely necessary.

Key online play items

more dark souls 3

Our hidden weapon guide helps you find DS3's most powerful weapons.
Just getting started? Choose how to play with our class guide.
Our beginner's guide offers 10 tips for new players.
This lore guide will sweep you away to a world of gothic fantasy.

Dark Souls 3 starts you with a few of the key items used to play online, but you'll need to buy or find a few more to start helping other players as a phantom (or invading them to steal their souls). Here are the key items for playing online and how to get them.

Ember: Use to enter Ember Mode, which allows summoning of phantoms. Found throughout Lothric and awarded to you for helping another player defeat a boss as a phantom.

White Sign Soapstone: Place a sign that allows you to be summoned as a phantom to another world for cooperative play. Defeating the boss of an area or the death of the host will return a phantom to their world. Phantoms only receive half of their Estus Flasks (both types) while in a host’s world. Purchase from the Shrine Handmaid for 500 souls.

Black Separation Crystal: Allows a host to return a summoned phantom to their homeworld.

Way of White Circlet: Restores the link between worlds. If a host repeatedly disconnects when phantoms invade, they will no longer be able to see summon signs. This item restores the link and allows the host to see summon signs once again.

Dried Finger: Allows a host to summon a 3rd phantom, but also increases the frequency of invading phantoms. Purchase from the Shrine Handmaid for 2000 souls.

Cracked Red Eye Orb: Consumable item that allows for the invasion of a player in Ember form. A player can only invade hosts of a higher level.

Red Eye Orb: A non-consumable item that functions identically to the Cracked Red Eye Orb.

Red Sign Soapstone: Summon a Red Phantom to your world to do battle. Time to duel!

Roster of Knights: A Roster of Knights of the Darkmoon.

Covenant Insignias: Covenants can be changed on the fly by equipping a covenant insignia in the player equipment screen, to the right of the armor and rings section.

PvP play styles

Savvy invaders aren't as easy to take down as your average Dark Souls enemy. They may taunt you with a sword, only to switch to a pyromancy flame and roast you without warning. They may send you into a panic with a fast-hitting knife edged with poison. Just as there are many, many tactics to survive your run through Lothric, there are many ways to face off against human opponents.

Here are some play styles that may help you vanquish your foes—find the one that's best for you, and study them so you know what you're up against before you go in swinging.

Critical damage

This play style is very popular with invaders, and is recognizable when a phantom has a weapon with high critical damage and a parry shield. One counter to this play style is that most of the ultra-weapons' two-handed strong attacks cannot be parried. There are four ways to gain critical damage:

  • Parry/Riposte: The most common critical hit involves a player using a shield to parry a strike from an opponent and performing a riposte while they are stunned.
  • Shield kick: Many weapons have a shield kick when pressing forward and basic attack at the same time. If an opponent is blocking when the kick lands, they will be stunned in a similar fashion to a parry.
  • Poise break: If an opponent has no stamina left and is hit with an attack while blocking, they will be stunned with the same animation as the shield kick. The animation time is much shorter, making it a smaller window of opportunity to land a riposte.
  • Back stab: The Dark Souls bread and butter of many, many PvP players. Landing a back stab online was easy in previous Dark Souls games due to lag, but has been refined in Dark Souls 3 to be more forgiving to the victim.


A successful caster has some points in Dexterity or the Sage Ring to reduce casting time. The Sage Ring is the equivalent of adding 30 levels onto Dexterity, but there is a hard cap for casting speed around 50 Dexterity. To compete against most play styles, a caster must also have a good variety of spells attuned:

  • Long range: These spells are usually high in damage, but often relegated to the beginning of a battle when the enemy is further away.
  • Medium range: Probably the most used in battle as these spells are much faster to cast and do not use as many Focus Points.
  • Homing attack: Casting a homing attack can cause an opponent to focus on the homing attack over other attacks, which is a nice diversion.
  • Weapon buff: A good strategy is to buff a light weapon and cast a homing or AoE spell. The opponent focuses on the homing attack allowing the caster to run in and land a series of blows.
  • Short range: Spells like Soul Greatsword do damage in an arc around the caster that can be a very good counter to players who are trying to attack with physical damage.

Ultra weapons

This style is a good counter to the critical damage play style, but usually does not afford much in the way of forgiveness. It relies heavily on landing a few two-handed strong attacks in a row to finish an opponent off quickly while they are stun-locked. Some key notes on this play style:

  • High vigor: High HP allows the player to take a hit in order to land one, especially when each hit can be upwards of 500 damage.
  • Moderate endurance: The ability to swing an ultra-weapon more than once or twice in a row is a big benefit.
  • Consumable items: Always carry throwing knives in order to alleviate the weakness of lacking long distance attacks.
  • Unpredictability: Drop a rope bomb while running or toss a quick throwing knife. Don’t use the same attacks over and over. If the last dodge roll was followed up by an attack, keep the enemy on their toes by swapping the attack for another roll or even nothing. If your attacks deal a ton of damage, then a slip up from your opponent is costlier than it would be for you.

Stun lock

Speed of both player and weapon strikes help to continuously damage an enemy and keep them stun locked. Straight swords, curved swords, and katanas are best suited to this play style. Additionally, weapon buffs can greatly help to increase the damage of each strike. Important notes for this style:

  • Lightweight: Successful players close the gap quickly in order to begin attacking an opponent.
  • High endurance: The ability to string attacks together is a necessity. The idea is to continuously hit an opponent (blocking or not) until they are either dead or their poise is broken and a riposte can be performed.
  • Weapon buffs: There are a fair number of shields that block 100% physical damage, but damage from other types still whittle away at an enemy’s life bar.
  • Low level: This build is suited to being a low level and using a weapon like the Astora Straight Sword. Swords like these have low stat requirements, but can do a lot of damage when reinforced to Raw +10 (in this case 322 damage) and buffed with either magic or pine resin.

Key PvP items

Winning in PvP isn't all about your weapons. There are some key items that can turn the tables on your opponent. Confuse them, interrupt their attacks, and stop them from healing to gain the upper hand.

Seed of a Giant Tree: Turns the PvE enemies in a host world hostile toward an invading phantom. These drop from the Giant Tree outside Firelink Shrine near the locked Tower Gate. Frequent invasions by phantoms expedites the creation of a Seed from the Giant Tree.

Undead Hunter Charm: These are thrown like fire bombs, but they create a cloud of smoke. When a player passes through the smoke they cannot use Estus for the next 25 seconds.

Throwing Knife: Using throwing knives can really mess with a player, especially casters. They are very effective as they have a short throwing animation and can be thrown in quick succession.

Poison Throwing Knife: Best used against players who are constantly blocking as they still cause poison buildup when they hit a shield.

Kukri: Another type of throwing knife that inflicts bleed damage. If using a bleed weapon, these are very good at helping to keep the bleed status bar close to full on your opponent or for finishing off the bar to inflict blood loss.

Rope (Black) Firebomb: Similar to firebombs, but instead of being thrown, these are left behind the player. Very good at scaring away or damaging opponents that are chasing the player. The Rope Black Firebomb works identically to the Rope Firebomb, but yields higher damage.

Carvings: Everyone likes carvings and the goofy voice they emit. They are equipped just like items and are not consumed when used. Carvings in Dark Souls 3 are all obtained by trading with Picklepum the Crow, located above Firelink Shrine.

On the next page: the covenants to join if you're all about that PvP life.