Dark Souls 3: what every Souls veterans needs to know before playing
We are going to talk about a lot here. If you’re new to the Souls series of games, most of what’ll be mentioned here won’t make a lot of sense to you.
However, if you played everything from Demon’s Souls to Bloodborne, or at least one game in this venerable series, you’ll know that each of them bears enough nuance that lumping them together feels like a sweeping generalisation a lot of the time.
Although some core mechanics are shared between all Souls games, the smallest of changes mean a lot to veterans of the series, and that's exactly what we're going to cover.
The following tips can still be used by anyone, but are designed for veterans first and foremost. They will cover things that'll help save you some time trying to figure how this or that works in Dark Souls 3.
Very minor spoilers to follow.
You can completely ignore Weapon Arts
You've probably heard of Weapon Arts or Weapon Skills, Dark Souls 3’s biggest new feature. In short, these allow non-magic users to use up the blue bar (FP) to perform unique attacks that are different for each weapon. These attacks are very strong and cannot be interrupted most of the time.
However, having recently finished the game, I've used the system only a handful of times. It was never my first, second, or even third option when running into tougher-than-usual foes. I haven’t used it once against a boss, for instance, with one exception.
That’s not to say it’s not useful. In fact, it’s pretty good at staggering enemies early on. It’s also a great way to start your combo, opening up with an Art, then flowing into a heavy or regular attack.
If you’re running a sword+shield set-up, using the sword’s special skill requires you to power stance it. Which means you’ll have to switch back to your shield after you've depleted your FP bar, and it’s a small bar.
Some shields allow you to use the weapon’s skill while they’re equipped (they auto unequip and re-equip, basically), but generally speaking, you’ll have to remember to switch back and forth.
If you’re not interested in learning this, or think it will get fiddly trying to remember all that in the heat of battle, you can absolutely, 100 percent ignore them.
It’s also worth noting that Weapon Arts are tied to weapons, and not character classes. Meaning you could switch between them at will by just equipping the weapon you want.
Estus Flasks are your only source of healing again
There are no more gems, or Demon’s various different grass types. Chugging Estus is the only way for you to regain your health in Dark Souls 3. You will find some one-time use items later (like Blessings), but they’re few and far between.
However, if you’re not finding any use for that FP bar (assuming you've been ignoring Weapon Arts), you can use it to activate healing miracles. Most classes start off with an Attunement slot by default, and you just need to get your Faith high enough to equip any sort of miracle.
Once you've done that, any talisman with a low enough Faith requirement will do. Doing this lets you basically have the equivalent of healing gems. The healing process is obviously slower than an Estus, but it’s better than nothing at all.
This is especially useful early on before you find Estus Shards or Bones to increase Estus effectiveness.
Better yet, you can allocate all of your Estus into the HP type. The blacksmith will do this for you, for free, from the start of the game. Good to remember that next time you’re doing a boss run.
The Hollow system works differently
You know the deal, when you die in these games, your health bar loses a decent chunk that you can only get back by becoming human.
Things are a bit different in Dark Souls 3 though. The Hollowing system has two different forms. The easy, on the surface one, is called Ember. You start off lacking Ember.
If you want to get your health bar back to its full value, you consume an Ember, or beat a boss. The number of Embers you find throughout the game - much like it was for Human Effigies - is not very high, and although you’ll be able to buy it from certain NPCs, it’s still a constrained resource.
You’ll notice your character having a few red/firey highlights around it when you're in Ember form. That and your massive health bar.
Hollowing itself also exists on another level, which goes up to 99 and can be tracked on the character status screen. It starts at zero, and keeps getting higher the more you die. But you only go Hollow after dealing with a certain NPC and accepting "free" levels from him.
There’s an item you’ll find later that’ll allow you to reverse the appearance of Hollowing, and a consumable that will reduce your accumulated Hollowing levels temporarily. You can permanently halt Hollowing by using the Heal Darksign option at the Firekeeper, after you've brought her a certain item.
This healing process is also pretty expensive, and it removes one of the possible endings you could choose. Not to mention ending an entire quest line.
Backstabbing is back
Of course, backstabbing never really left. You've always been able to gain massive damage when attacking the back of an enemy and triggering the canned backstabbing animation.
The difference in Dark Souls 3 is that the window to perform it, as well as the opportunities that allow it, are easier to identify. It’s almost on the same level of Demon’s Souls. Almost.
This will generally be the case until the latter parts of the game, when the window gets shorter.
You should rely on backstabbing early on to save up on Estus use and the like at a relatively low risk, and it’ll only take you a few tries to get into the groove.
Certain classes like the Thief are best at this, but they're also the ones that need it most.
You can move while drinking Estus
Dark Souls 3 does the right thing: allowing you to move your feet while chugging those Estus Flasks.
You can’t run or anything crazy like that, but we all know one inch could be the difference between getting grabbed by that boss move and retreating to safety.
It's amazing how such as small change could change up the combat.
Dark Souls 2’s Adaptability is gone
One of the things people hated about Dark Souls 2 was how that game required you to spend points in Adaptability in order to even have a decent roll, raise your shield up, and drink Estus quicker.
Dark Souls 2 started you at a disadvantage, and nobody likes that. Dark Souls 3, on the other hand, has all the stats you'd expect from a Souls game, with no new weird or ambiguous additions.
Your initial allocated attributes still obviously depend on your starting class, but it’s very clear what everything does.
You can’t upgrade armour
Unfortunately, Dark Souls 3 doesn't let you modify your armour in any way. You can still do that for weapons and shields, including a wide array of Infusion options, but not gear.
This puts a greater emphasis on mix and matching armour sets in order to maximise armour effectiveness. It ends up not being a huge deal, however, because of the sheer number of available armour sets, each covering the various damage absorption rates and the like.
A lot of times you’d also be finding complete sets, making you worry less about farming certain enemies for that missing piece, although that's still a thing.
Roll on fashion Souls!
You can re-spec
There’s an NPC you’ll come across in the game that allows you to re-allocate all your stats. SPOILERS for a covenant name, NPC and item to follow.
To re-spec, you’ll need to travel to Rosaria, Mother of Rebirth in the Cathedral of the Deep. You’ll need to join her covenant before you can do anything, but don’t worry, you can always switch covenants easily.
Once you’re accepted, you’ll need to offer her a Pale Tongue, which you’ll come across in your travels (or by performing certain actions). You can do this up to five times.
Illusory walls and mimics are here in a big way
Illusory walls, the optical illusions that have the appearance of walls but are in fact doorways, are aplenty in Dark Souls 3. There’s almost as many here as there were in Dark Souls 2, and they hide more than treasure.
At a certain location, an illusion is all that stands between you and one of the game’s secret areas. When you've cleared out an area of all enemies and still see loot you can’t get to, more often than not an illusory wall will be your way to them.
Similarly, mimics are almost in every area. In fact, there are probably more of them than there are real chests, so it’s always a good idea to slash once, just to be sure.
Because of this, it’s always best to deal with chests when everything around you is dead. These mimics are no joke in this game.
Crystal lizards are the easiest they’ve ever been
It wouldn't be a Souls game without those little buggers ruining your day and luring you into traps. Thankfully, they’re relatively simple to take down this time around.
A good thrust or slash will flip them over, giving you ample time to finish the job. They also take longer before vanishing, for those times when you just keep missing. So take your time, but don’t linger.
Very rarely will you run into more than one of them at a time, too, so no more reloading the bonfire to have the ones you missed spawn back.
Weapon degradation/durability returns
Weapon degradation was introduced in Dark Souls 2 and most of us hated it. Not only that, but if you played that game on PC, you had it even worse. The solid 60fps PC players enjoyed was actually making their weapons degrade a lot faster than on consoles.
Weapon durability is still a factor here, but it’s nowhere near as bad. You’ll actually find yourself running out of Estus a lot more often than seeing your weapon reach 60 percent or 70 percent durability. And with Bonfire placement being the way it is in Dark Souls 3, you won’t really ever have to carry a broken weapon.
Should you ever find yourself in that position though, Repair Powder is cheap and it’s very, very effective. I started the game off with seven, and finished it with 3, never needing to buy more.
You don’t start new game plus automatically
The Miyazaki pendulum of justice swings in our favour once again, replacing Bloddborne's terrible new game plus transition with the classic Yes/No question. Dark Souls 3 gives you this choice right after the ending cut-scene, if you choose no, you'll spawn back at Firelink Shrine.
The decision to get into new game plus or stay is completely yours. Whenever you feel like it, the Shrine Bonfire will always have the option available for you to make the jump..
Looking for more help? Check out our full 3 guide and walkthrough.