Tech by VICE

Dark Souls III Is Only as Hard as You Make It

From Software and Hidetaka Miyazaki have designed a game that works on a sliding scale of difficulty.

by Matthew Gault
Apr 4 2016, 2:37pm

Image: Dark Souls III screengrab

A lot of people are going to die soon.

In just over a week, Dark Souls III will come to American shores. Hardened fans and curious newcomers alike will throw themselves against the bloody brick wall of difficulty that is From Software's flagship series.

Dark Souls III does not disappoint. It's got the same tight controls, beautiful atmosphere and brutal difficulty curve that makes this series special.

Publisher Bandai Namco loves to make a big deal about how hard the Souls series is. The downloadable bundled re-release of 2011's Dark Souls is subtitled "The Prepare to Die Edition." One print ad shows medieval knights waiting in line to lose their lives to dragon's fire. Another is just the words "You Died" in red on a black background.

Dark Souls fans love to play up the game's difficulty too. That combination of intimidating ads and passionate players can turn off series virgins, but everyone should try the series. It's unique, immersive and beautiful. Dark Souls III is a great place to start and it's not near as hard as the publisher and the player base want people to believe.

Here's what those Bandai Namco's ads and hardcore players ignore: the Souls series, and Dark Souls III in particular, is only as hard as a player wants it to be. Series auteur Hidetaka Miyazaki has long pushed back against accusations that his games are too difficult. He always says he feels the games are tough but fair and that he takes pains to design a game accessible to a wide range of playstyles and skills.

He's right.

From Software did an incredible job designing Dark Souls III and part of that design is a sliding scale of difficulty built right into the mechanics of the game. I'm not talking about anything as crass as a difficulty bar. From Software's too good for that.

Some minor spoilers for Dark Souls III follow. If you're curious about the Souls series but afraid to dive in because you think it's too hard, the rest of this article is for you. If you're a veteran who wants to do a blind run, I promise I won't spoil anything major, but purists who want a truly blind run should turn back.

A pile of dead players who didn't take my advice. Image: Dark Souls III screengrab

First, let's talk about death. Every player is going to die in Dark Souls III and they're going to die a lot. But dying in Dark Souls III isn't like dying in other games. Each death is a lesson, not a punishment.

Sure, players lose souls—the currency used to level up and buy items—but they always learn something too. Most of my deaths in Dark Souls III came when I encountered a new enemy or explored a new area. Again: Deaths are lessons, not punishment. Internalize that and you're part way towards become a Dark Souls III master.

Right from the start, Dark Souls III allows players to chose their difficulty. Like most RPGS, players choose a class in Dark Souls III and that class determines how easily a player moves through the game.

Players new to the series who want a challenge but don't want to get frustrated should play the Knight. The class is basically Dark Souls III's "normal" difficulty setting. It starts with heavy armor, a decent weapon and stats focused on keeping the player alive and dealing damage.

If the game is still a little too hard, focus on getting better shields, heavier armor and halberds. The long reach of the halberds and the shield's protection keep new players thrashing enemies without pulling out their hair. As you level up, focus on strengthening vigor, strength and dexterity.

Players who want an easier time should make a caster. The Sorcerer is Dark Souls III's easy mode. The spells consume stamina and focus. Stamina recharges on its own but focus only replenishes using potions and bonfires—the game's safe spaces. Players who don't mind the small amount of resource management will absolutely devastate the world of Dark Souls III.

First, let's talk about death

Using the Sorcerer I can literally reach and kill Dark Souls III's first boss in three minutes. Most of the games monsters use melee attacks and characters who stand back and shoots magical darts are at an extreme advantage. Mobs often travel predetermined paths and usually turn back after chasing players a certain distance. The patient sorcerer can set the terms of any engagement and unleash hell.

Having trouble with a boss? Use the game's multiplayer features to call in someone to help you take it down. Hell, call two. Taking on a boss is way easier with extra people. But going cooperative also opens the player up to invasion from aggressive PVP players.

But in Dark Souls III, players can mitigate that risk by joining the Way of Blue Covenant. Covenants are like clans. Characters will encounter several during their time in Dark Souls III and joining each bestows different advantages.

The first one the player will find is the Way of Blue. When a PVP invader attacks a character allied with the Way of Blue, NPC sentinels also join the player's game to fend off the invader. It's an extra layer of security in a dangerous world and one that lessens the penalty of cooperative play.

Dark Souls III scales the other way too. A player who wants more of a challenge should pick the Mercenary or Thief class. Both focus on light armor, dodging and tricky melee attacks. They're a lot of fun, but designed for more advanced players and people coming in from the more aggressive Bloodborne.

Gamers who want the ultimate Dark Souls III challenge should pick the deprived. This class starts at level 1 (the Knight starts at nine and the sorcerer at 6), wears no armor and starts with the weakest club and shield in the game.

I've got one more tip to lighten the burden of Dark Souls III. I promise this will make sense when you need it to. Early in the game, after you raise the banner but before you walk through the gate with the dogs, make sure you turn around. There's an easy to miss NPC at the edge of a ruined bridge. Be his friend and he'll do you a service that'll make the journey through Lothric far more tolerable.

The genius of Dark Souls III is in its design. From Software created a game where item descriptions tell the story and every strategy is viable. It's up to the player to choose their own path and their own difficulty.