Good news, Dark Souls fans: Dark Souls 3 is a dense, challenging game. But for those who are new to the series, this might be an intimidating portent. Dark Souls is notoriously difficult to get into; plenty of players who would definitely love it instead press their face to the glass and long for the gusto to finally take the plunge. I know. I was one of those people once, so don’t fret, because Souls games turn from a demanding slog and into a harrowing, glorious adventure once you get over a few speed bumps. Dip in a toe or two with these tips, and we’ll ease you into the deep end soon enough.
I’ve limited these tips to the earliest hours of Dark Souls 3 to avoid major spoilers. I also don’t reference any specific bosses or story beats, but if you’d like to go in completely fresh, turn back now. Sure, the game isn't officially out yet, but it's still good stuff to think about before diving in. New player or not, if you're still not sure whether Dark Souls 3 is for you, check out our review in the meantime.
Get a good starting shield and an extra healing vial early
The starting areas in Souls games don’t hold back, and because of the early bosses and heavy damage that regular enemies do, it’s easy to see why newcomers might call it quits so soon. So to ease up on the throttle, I’ll point out where to find a shield that protects your health bar from 100 percent of physical damage, and an item that converts into an extra Estus Flask, a healing vial that refills after resting at any bonfire.
From the Tower on the Wall bonfire, drop down a level (keeping mind of the knife-throwing enemies), head out the door, run across the roof, and slide down the ladder descending from its far corner.
Head through the door next to the ladder and keep going straight. You’ll eventually enter a room with an elevated walkway above a few wandering knights and a zombie dog or two. A chest with the Eagle Kite Shield is located on the upper level. In that same room centered on the far wall is a treasure piece. Take out the axe-wielders and dogs, and pick it up to get an Estus Flask Shard. Bring it back to your favorite blacksmith and he’ll turn it into an extra Estus Flask, a permanent addition to your healing inventory.
Pump up that Endurance sooner than later
Hit points don’t mean everything in Dark Souls, especially because the primary stat that prevents you from taking damage is based on your Endurance level. How much damage a block absorbs, how many swings you can take, sprinting, and dodge rolls all depend on the amount of Stamina available, which is leveled up via the Endurance stat. All the health in the world won’t save you from getting stunlocked into a devastating chain, but if your endurance is high enough, you can dodge roll, sprint, or block your way out of some of the hairiest situations. Don’t neglect it.
Buy the tower key ASAP
I won’t get specific, but early on, you get the opportunity to buy an Old Tower Key from a vendor in Firelink Shrine. The old tower in question is part of Firelink Shrine, the locked door upstairs and outside. Don’t wait too long on this one. Take the risk and grind out some souls, because a ton of worthwhile goodies hanging out up there. Be thorough, look up, look down, and don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith from time to time.
Don’t forget about your Battle Arts
Dark Souls is designed to force you out of your comfort zone, so if a particular enemy seems impossible to defeat, it probably has a weakness you’ve yet to exploit. In for the assist are Battle Arts, a new combat system that gives every weapon and shield a special ability. Temporary buffs, devastating uppercuts, and the ability to parry are just a few available from the get go, and each has vital benefits. It’s easy to get stuck in a habit of exclusively jamming your light attack and hiding behind a shield. Take time to pull the left trigger and experiment with all the tools available. You might find a way to turn a particularly difficult enemy or scenario into a piece of cake.
Throw yourself at the naked katana-wielding person
A good place to practice your Battle Arts is directly outside of the Firelink Shrine. Up a path to the left of the main entrance is a katana-wielding person chilling in their birthday suit. They’re quick and hits pretty hard, but even if they kill you over and over, they double as a convenient practice dummy. Work on those parries, dodge rolls, and estus flask timings. Expect to die repeatedly, but eventually you’ll take them out and get their gear as a reward.
Soak in and study the environment
Contiguous level design is a huge part of DS’s charm, and it often indulges in sweeping cliffside vistas that offer a view of where you’ve been and where you’re going. Sometimes you can see the entirety of a level—enemies and all—from a single vantage point and plan for the dangers ahead. Recruitable NPCs and all sorts of treasure items are tucked away in hidden corners of each environment, and the only way to know is to stumble into them or catch a glance from up high. But sometimes the vistas are just nice to look at. In a game as oppressive as Dark Souls 3, I’ll take pretty whereever I can find it.
Dodge roll into suspicious walls
They might just (poof) disappear.
Check in with your NPCs friends often
One of my favorite parts of Dark Souls games are the characters you meet along the way. They have their own stories, requests, and moral dilemmas that unfold over time. So be sure to talk to each one repeatedly until their dialogue repeats. It’s an indicator that there’s nothing more you can do with them until they’re next triggered. If you ignore them completely, they might disappear, which means you miss out on interesting lore and special items. Stretch those social muscles, get chatty.
Don’t be afraid to spend souls on items and equipment
Souls are never in short supply. Enemies (and the souls they drop) respawn every time you rest at a bonfire. Don’t feed the impulse to spend all your hard earned dark fantasy bucks on leveling up. There are a ton of weapons and armor sets to purchase, upgrades and infusions to test out, miracles and spells to cast, and a few more keys to lob money at. Spend willy nilly, play with all the toys, and find what works best for you.
Dark Souls 3 is only hard if you consider character death as the fulcrum for difficulty. It’s a deeply embedded habit for a lot of newcomers to see death as failure, but the actual challenge hinges on knowledge acquired. If you die, but find a new item, a time-saving shortcut, or a lost NPC along the way, you’re making progress. Dark Souls is a slow expansion into the unknown, like digging a pool in your backyard on a low budget. You’ll get there.