A beginner's guide to Dark Souls III

With a reputation that preceded it, Dark Souls III is finally upon us. Dark Souls 3 is well known for it's punishing boss fights, moody setting and difficult to glean plotlines making it one of the most challenging games ever to grace consoles in the last ten years.

For the "Unkindled" among us, Dark Souls III would likely be a source of high blood pressure, broken controllers, and brown pants. The veterans of the series will find it refreshing and as much a challenge as they'd come to expect from developers From Software.

Like the 8th rule of Fight Club, if this is your first Dark Souls, you have to fight.

But if this is your first Dark Souls game, you might find you're feeling a bit bewildered by the story, lack of maps, and absent in-game guide. And frequently dead. To make the passage a little smoother, here are some tips to see you through.

Fashion Souls

Starting a new game, you'll have to make your character. While you can fairly freely choose the look of your character, that's not our focus. The starting class of your character determines your stats and the armor you begin the game with. You're never locked into only using one weapon. If you have the stats to wield a particular weapon or shield, you can use it. You can always amend stats later by levelling up. Weapons also have stats that they scale with to improve damage, as armor increases defense. Increasing these levels will boost the effectiveness of the item.

Later as you find more clothing items to wear, you'll see they have stats too, and even the pieces that don't even look like armor (like skirts) have defenses.

However, armor seems much less useful in Dark Souls III, though more practical than being completely naked. While most armor sets aren't just cosmetic, you may begin to feel that's all it is.

Know your classes

There is no 'best starting class' as you're able to develop your character any way you please, but your choice of class at the start will impact your character's abilities as you progress through Dark Souls. Here are your options:

  • Knight: The Knight is predominantly a melee character and comes with well-balanced stats right off the bat. You could easily enough include spells to his arsenal, and Knight armor is probably the best you can get early game, making it an excellent choice for new players to the series.
  • Mercenary: The Mercenary is also a melee character. Not as strong as the Knight, but it has better Dexterity, making wielding fast weapons like scimitars and katanas a good choice. This character can dual wield it's starting weapons so that you can attack with both hands.
  • Warrior: The Warrior has high HP, endurance, and strength, making this your go-to damage dealer and you can take more hits. You'd need to invest more points to make magic a viable choice, however.
  • Herald: The Herald starts with a shield which offers 100% block (see the importance of this below), a spear with a long reach and a healing miracle. This would be another good choice for new players. The healing miracle is not very strong, so it wouldn't be wise to rely on that alone.
  • Thief: The Thief starts with high Luck, so enemies will drop items more often upon death and starts with a dagger which is good for critical backstabs. It has high dexterity, but the other stats are lower than the characters listed above.
  • Assassin: With good all round stats, the Assassin comes with a spell which negates fall damage, making stealthy aerial attacks sneakier. The rapier doesn't deal especially high damage, but you'll be able to attack more often as your equipment load is much lighter.
  • Sorceror: High Attunement (which determines how many spells you can equip and how many Focus Points you have) and Intelligence (your spell damage) makes spells a clear choice. You won't be able to equip other armor or weapons early on due to other low stats.
  • Pyromancer: Stats are well balanced, you start with an axe and can cast fire spells. Good for a battle-mage. This class and the Knight have the lowest Luck, so item drops don't occur as often.
  • Cleric: A character that focuses on buffs and damage reduction. With access to good healing spells and a variety of barrier spells, levelling a Cleric right could make a very powerful build capable of massive boosts in damage output and defense.
  • Deprived: Level 1 and all stats at 10. The Deprived wears only rags and carries a club and a wooden plank shield. One for those who like a challenge from the start and take no prisoners in the process.

Shield your eyes

Keeping your shield up is a must. Early in the game, most enemies will be able to cut through you in just two or three hits. Shields have different stats; yours could be more efficient at blocking physical damage than against magic or fire. 100 is the highest rate of blocking defense, which means the shield will block 100% of the damage it takes. However, keep an eye on your Endurance, as blocking will knock the points from your stamina rather than your health. If you're entirely depleted, it will leave you open to having your guard broken leading to taking devastating damage, which you won't be able to dodge away from either.

If you can't keep your shield up, dodge, roll, launch yourself out of harms way.

Once you're feeling more comfortable with the mechanics of the game, you can choose to wield your weapon in two hands, forsaking the safety a shield might provide (best to wear a helmet, then). It is possible to block with a weapon, but with far less efficiency. If you can't keep your shield up, then you should dodge, roll, or launch yourself out of harm's way. Remember, this also uses Endurance. Endurance will regenerate once you stop using it, and you can increase it by levelling up, or increase the rate of regeneration using rings, shields, and Green Moss.

Have a drink on me

Estus, your healing item, can be switched between healing your health points, or healing your magic points. You can allot a specific amount of both, or balance them however you want. This is a new mechanic for Dark Souls III.

Depending on the character you choose may dictate how you want to tackle this early on. If you're predominantly a magic user that also uses healing spells, you might forgo the healing estus entirely, so you only carry the blue magic estus. If you're mostly a melee character, until you can use sword arts, you may think of allotting all of your estus to healing health.

You're fired!

Bonfires are your checkpoints. Lighting one will give you a new travel point in your bonfire travel menu, and you will be able to use them to travel to and from areas without completely back-tracking. Sitting at a bonfire will also respawn any enemies that you have killed, or reset them back to their starting positions. This is useful if a horde of skeletons is chasing you, but beware; anything that comes into the bonfire area will cause the fire to 'go out'.

The fire is also a good way to know whether or not another player has invaded you. If you happened to put your controller down while you got a drink and came back to find your bonfire is no longer useable, keep an eye out for red phantoms seeking you out.

Free is my favorite price, but beware traps

Talk to every NPC you find in the game and do so more than once. Most often they will give you items for absolutely free, for doing nothing more than talking to them. People you come across during your adventure will end up at Firelink Shrine, and after every couple of bosses, they will give you items as a reward for being so big and vigorous. Go you!

Many objects will be lying around the terrains, but if it looks too good to be true, it usually is. Be wary when picking up items that appear to be unattended. There is a good chance you're about to get slammed by a ballista bolt, or surprise attacked.

Got the time?

The game itself is about patterns and cycles, and the enemies and bosses are no different. The likelihood of taking out a boss on the first try is pretty slim unless you're able to quickly adapt and learn the attack patterns of your enemies.

It takes some people longer than others to learn these patterns, but the end result is the same. Take the time to learn how your enemies move and attack. Plan your assaults between the swings of their weapons.

Take the time to learn how your enemies move and attack. Plan your assaults between the swings of their weapons.

There is an innate need in all of us to go on a full-out offensive when something starts to kick our butts seriously, but this impulse isn't something you can nurture in Dark Souls 3. Getting greedy with hits will invariably get you killed, or at least severely beaten. The urge to keep swinging until you're unable to swing anymore is strong — we've all done it — but Dark Souls 3 will reprimand you most strongly for doing so.

Knowing how your enemies move should also help you strategize how you will proceed. If you have a keen eye and spot that there is a cooldown between hefty boss attacks, you could use these moments to heal or buff your weapons.

Hearts for Arts

Most every weapon has a unique ability or a Battle Art. These are crushingly powerful attacks or short-term boosts to your damage output. Some could be just sharpening the weapon, and others could be low, long, sweeping cuts capable of devastating those unlucky enough to connect with it. Using a Battle Art will decrease your blue Focus Points, so you should only resort to them when you're in a tight spot more rather than going gung-ho and flapping your sword all over the place. Focus points are essentially your 'magic points', and you'll use these when utilising these arts and using spells. Focus can be replenished with the Blue Ash Estus.


A large part of Dark Souls' charm comes from the ability to play with your buddies. Whether you're helping each other out by taking down the bosses together, or invading each other's worlds to attack them, it's better with friends. Buying a White Soapstone from the Shrine Handmaiden in Firelink Shrine (to the right of the passage towards the Blacksmith Andre) will enable you to be summoned into other players worlds.

Engaging in fabled Jolly Co-operation can grant you rewards towards your covenants, and at the very least, is a way to earn more souls. Succeeding in clearing the boss with your partner will give you the Ember status back in your own world, granting you more health until the next time you die.

Freely enlist the help of anyone you can, or set up matchmaking passwords so only those who know it will be able to see your summon sign.

Keep Calm and Carry On

One of the biggest threats in Dark Souls III comes from within. That's right. The player. I've fought against a single boss for three hours, and it's so hard to keep yourself in check when you see how little progress you've made on getting their health bar down.

The most enjoyable part of the entire Dark Souls series comes from getting it right. The sense of accomplishment you feel when killing that final boss is immense. The number of times I've saved and quit, feeling cheesed off, only to load the game back up mere moments later. Practice makes perfect, and nobody is good at Dark Souls immediately. Even people who know Dark Souls inside out, having plumbed every nook and cranny, will still take damage and die horrible deaths.

You'll Learn To Love It

You will see the words "YOU DIED" more from start to finish of Dark Souls III than you would in perhaps three other (non-Dark Souls) games combined. It's designed to be that way, but something about it compels you to keep going. We learn to take death as just a part of the game, and not as an insult to our gaming prowess. We're not dying because we're playing poorly, we're dying because we're not used to being challenged in such a way.

Death is inevitable in Dark Souls III. With no maps, you're bound to stumble into situations you'll be unable to get out of. Like everything, once you know what you're doing and where you're going, the intimidation factor is massively decreased. You will die, and that's okay!

Lauren Relph

Lauren Relph is a games writer, focusing on Xbox. She doesn't like piña coladas but loves getting caught in the rain. Follow her on Twitter!