Stoke the fire
Call me bad, but I actually found Dark Souls III a little harder than Dark Souls II and Bloodborne at first blush. Maybe I was just rusty, but my first few hours with the game were brutal. It took me more tries than I’d care to admit to beat the tutorial boss (uh oh), I had trouble dealing with some of the early undead gangs (eek), and the first Lothric Knight put me in the dirt enough times that I was sure I was going the wrong way and was supposed to come back to him later (shameful!)
After hearing how Dark Souls III is supposedly the most accessible Souls game to date, dying so often in the first few hours was a pretty sharp kick to the ego. Of course, it didn’t have to be. As always with the Souls games, stepping back, adjusting your strategy, and picking up a few key items can dramatically improve your odds so long as you’re willing to keep an open mind. My problem was just rushing in and assuming my familiarity with the series would carry me through without looking at the changes in Dark Souls III and the new options available.
If you’re having trouble getting started, I have a few tips that can steer you in the right direction. (Obviously, there will be some very minor location and enemy spoilers below.)
Assembling some decent gear fast
A big problem I had early on is that my gear seemed pathetically outclassed right out of the gate. As a Pyromancer, the free fireball was nice — the tissue paper shield and flimsy armor were not. Not to mention it felt like it took eight or nine chops from that stubby little hand axe to take down basic enemies. However, good gear is available within the first thirty minutes of the game if you know where to look.
- Select the Fire Gem as your burial gift – My eyes just glazed right over this option on my first playthrough. I figured it was another consumable like Pine Resin. With the Fire Gem, the blacksmith in the Firelink Shrine can immediately craft a fire-infused weapon that basically doubles your damage right then and there.
- Or go Raw – If you don’t want to go with a fire weapon, consider a Raw upgrade instead. There is a guaranteed drop of a Raw Gem early on by a Crystal Lizard (on the same roof with the worshiping Hollows), but there is also a decent chance to get one from a random Hollow in the area. Raw infusion removes attribute scaling on a weapon (the bonus damage you get from your Strength or Dex stat) in favor of, well, raw damage. This is a great option in the early game when your stats suck and the scaling bonuses are negligible anyway — you can always swap it out later when your stats are higher.
- Drake Sword 2.0 – There is another option for early game dominance if you’re willing to work for it. When you reach the fire spewing Drake, linger at the top of the stairs and wait for the flames to die down to an acceptable level and charge through. Provided you don’t get fried to a crisp, you’ll find a collapsed room with a treasure chest at the bottom of it. If the blood pools and frantic messages didn’t give it away enough already, it’s a Mimic. Defeat it (or tame it with an Undead Hunter Charm) and you’ll discover a Deep-infused Battle Axe that does considerable damage. Oh, and the first boss just happens to be weak to Dark damage. Like the Drake Sword before it, this axe is a crutch through and through, but it might be what you need if you’re having trouble getting started.
- Defend yourself – If you didn’t start as a Knight or Herald, your shield probably isn’t up to snuff. Yes, it’s totally possible to play and win with a small shield (or even with none at all), but why go through all that stress on your first playthrough? A solid shield with 100% Physical damage defense will make your life much easier. There is one available for free in the High Wall of Lothric. Once you make it to the second Bonfire in the area, head to the roof with the praying Hollows, go down the ladder and enter the doorway immediately to the left. Inside you’ll find a scary Lothric Knight with a spear and shield combo. Kill or run past him and descend the stairs and follow the path to a small nook with a chest that contains a Silver Kite Shield. Boom, 100% Physical defense and decent stability.
- Don’t stop there – The same area contains a bunch of other goodies, so explore thoroughly. At the bottom of the steps, defeat the large Hollows and dogs (shouldn’t be a problem, but firebombs from the balcony can help soften them up if you’re struggling) and search the area for an Estus Flask Shard (more Estus!) and a Cell Key. The Cell Key can free a merchant trapped in the High Wall area who will sell decent armor in Firelink that may be an improvement on your current gear.
- Consider a Miracle – Depending on the class you started as, you either already have 10 Faith and one Attunement slot, or it’s probably a fairly small investment. The Heal Aid Miracle (which you can buy from the old lady in Firelink) only restores a small amount of health, but don’t sneer at it. Any health is good health, especially at the start of the game when Estus use is so limited. Use it to recover when you have time and space to help save your quick Estus use for a boss.
- Make sure you’re not a victim to fashion – I went helmet-less for a long time because I like to see my character’s face. Turns out my vanity was significantly undermining my survival. Dark Souls III calculates damage reduction differently from previous games in a way that makes it essential to have something equipped in every slot. This video explains it better, but basically, not wearing a head piece guarantees you’ll take 10% more damage from every attack, before even factoring the helmet’s stats. The same goes for any equipment slot; even rags are better than nothing. Players who roll as a Thief should try to find a pair of gloves pronto and Deprived players, well, RIP.
Quality-of-life tips and a few tricks
There are a few things I wish I knew at the start of the game that I only figured out a week and change into things. Benefit from my hard knocks.
- Hold down on the D-pad to instantly switch to Estus – Well, technically it just quick selects whatever is in your first item slot, but I’m going to guess for 99% of players, that means Sunny D. Don’t get flustered and pick the wrong item trying to heal ever again.
- Pack Undead Hunter Charms – Every invader I’ve fought so far has healed with no shame, even NPC invaders. Always pack a few charms, they’re cheap and will save you no end of frustration when dealing with chuggers.
- Use the dagger quickstep weapon skill in bad terrain – There are a few swampy and flooded areas where it’s hard to move early on. However, you can blow through those areas by using the quickstep skill that is included with most daggers. This is especially handy when trying to scoop up items guarded by dangerous enemies.
- Fire stuns plenty of enemies – There are tons of enemies early on that hate fire. Dogs, some types of Hollows, those weird Plaga virus guys. A hit from a basic Pyromancy or fire bomb will make them writhe in pain, free for some cheap hits.
- Upgrade with abandon – Titanite shards seem rare when you first start, but after a few hours in, the game just gives them away like candy. Don’t fall victim to “too good to use” syndrome. Upgrade your weapons whenever you can.