Yes, Dark Souls 3 is hard. No, it's not impossible. And no, you don't need to git gud.
In this Dark Souls 3 build guide, we'll suggest a good starting point for players who aren't ready for or keen on challenging twitch-based action. It is intended to serve as a companion to our step-by-step walkthrough, and has been tested right through the game including both DLC packs.
This stealthy, ranged PvE build is designed for players who have not mastered the split-second timing, tell reading and twitch reflexes required to duel enemies toe-to-toe, but sitll want to explore this rewarding RPG. It cuts down on the frustrations of dying repeatedly to grunt enemies as you make a run on the boss, while providing a solid foundation for more advanced builds as your character grows. It assumes you are willing to accept help from other players or NPCs in boss battles, and also to cheese difficult encounters. We call it Cheeseburger Assassin.
This is not an advanced build guide for expert players, and nor is it a PvP build. This is about helping new players survive and hopefully enjoy a game that can be super punishing for those not blessed with oiled steel reflexes.
Starting class: Assassin
In Dark Souls 3, as in past Souls games, your starting class mostly affects your initial equipment. We recommend the Assassin.
The Assassin wears lighter armour, which makes them both stealthier and quicker than heavier classes - but they're not as fragile as some of the other light builds. They have access to some very useful spells, but they can hold their own in melee combat better than any of the magic starters.
As an Assassin, you can immediately begin putting our play advice into practice. Let's talk about that.
Stealth and aggro control
Really high-level Souls players just charge into knots of enemies, fearlessly cutting them down as they perfectly dodge attacks, chain backstabs and nail parries and ripostes.
This is not us. What we do is manage aggro. Most enemy AI in Dark Souls is easy to exploit, and this is by design. Enemies have four states:
The enemy stands still, staring gormlessly at nothing. It does not know you are there.
The enemy wanders back and forth on a set route. It does not know you are there. Some enemies only begin to patrol when you pass specific geographical points.
The enemy has heard you or suffered damage and is investigating the area, but does not know you are there. If it does not find a threat it will drop back to a passive or patrolling state, and will often return to its original position or route.
The enemy has spotted you and is actively in pursuit. It will attempt to kill you. If it loses you, it may return to a passive or patrolling state, but is less likely to return to its original position or patrol route.
Enemies have three ways of detecting you: they can hear (footsteps, attacks, breaking props, arrows), they can see (line of sight) and they have a search zone around them while hostile which you will need to escape in order to lose them.
This can be manipulated to our advantage. You can approach and attack an enemy, then run away from it before it can react - or even before it actually detects you. If you get outside the enemy's search zone and it cannot hear or see you, the enemy may well forget you exist, dropping back from hostile to suspicious to passive or patrolling. You can repeat this until the enemy is dead.
Not every encounter can be cheesed in this way, but so many of them can - especially once you have a decent bow - that you can get through most of the game outside boss arenas without ever having to duel. Attack, then run away: take this approach on any enemies who frighten you, and when you're making a boss run and don't want to take damage on the way to the arena.
The best attacks for stealthy builds are headshots from arrows, certain spells and backstabbing. Backstabbing is a matter of getting behind your enemy and being right up on their tail before hitting the attack button. Except with very sensitive enemies, using even a simple stealth spell like Spook will allow you to brush right up against the enemy, pressing your character model against theirs; this is when you want to hit the attack key. You'll know you're successful because you'll see a unique animation.
As with a headshot from a bow, a backstab will cause the enemy to stagger for a few frames, allowing you to GTFO of their detection range. However, backstabbing results in a full aggro to hostile, because you're inside the detection zone when the attack ends, whereas a headshot only makes an enemy suspicious as long as you're at a distance and they don't actually catch sight of you. You can also backstab in active combat.
Putting it together
Several factors affect your success in evading detection. Different enemies have different vision distances, hearing detection radii, search zones and speed - making it easier or harder to get out of their search zone.
If you stagger an enemy, knock them down or ping them with a headshot, they're far less likely to spot you as you whisk out of sight, which means they'll become suspicious but not hostile. Ranged attacks (bows, crossbows, throwing weapons and magic) make it easier to get away with sneak attacks, and some spells allow you to sneak up on enemies more easily.
Put it all together with these tips:
- To increase your chances of sneaking successfully, walk, rather than run, and use the sorcery Spook or the Slumbering Dragoncrest ring to mask your footsteps.
- Stick to light and medium armours; lower equip loads will help you roll and run away quickly, and make less noise.
- Use sorcery spells such as Chameleon and Hidden Body to evade visual detection.
- Snipe enemies or use magic to attack at a distance.
- Arrows against the environment and the spell Aural Decoy will turn enemy attention where you want it briefly.
- Lure enemies out one at a time to defeat them. Shoot an enemy with an arrow or spell to attract their attention to you; stay in line of sight or detection zone to encourage them to pursue you.
- If an enemy aggro's, get out of detection zone, break line of sight and go silent to make them forget you.
Tools of the trade: bow
The most important tool in this build's collection is a good bow; ranged attacks are the easiest way to lure single enemies away from groups, and to cheese them without risking a duel. As you progress through the game vendors will offer bows for sale, but at the start the easiest way to get one is to collect the Longbow guarded by a snake beast in High Wall of Lothric. This is a very difficult fight for beginners, so if you can't do it, just run up onto the tower and grab the item before the enemies kill you. When you revive at the bonfire, you'll have your bow (and can immediately use it to take revenge).
You'll want to replace this bow later on, but in the meantime there's no harm in upgrading it; Titanite Shards and Large Titanite Shards are very common in later locations, and can even be farmed on high Wall of Lothric if you're very patient. When you get to the Keep Ruins bonfire, Black Bow of Pharis is well worth the effort, as it has longer range than other bows.
Later on you may want to upgrade to a greatbow; they're rubbish for quick fire but do huge damage, so if you are running out of patience but loaded with cash, you can cheese much more quickly. The Darkmoon Longbow available via transposition after beating Aldrich is another option; it inflicts magic as well as physical damage, scaling with your intelligence stat, and its weapon art allows it to pierce shields.
It's important to carry a lot of arrows. Every time you rest at a bonfire, you should return to Firelink Shrine to stock up. The Shrine Handmaid offers Wooden Arrows, and when you unlock Greirat, he'll sell you Standard Arrows. These are cheap enough that after a few hours of play you can easily max out your inventory and storage space for both, just by spending the souls left over after you level up. Later, when you're a much richer Unkindled, you can invest in more powerful arrows. As you progress through the game, you'll find it much easier to take down standard enemies with melee attacks so you can save your arrows for when you need them most.
Equip your bow in your secondary left hand slot and press the left bumper to ready it. You can lock onto enemies and hammer the right trigger to attack quickly, but generally you'll be sniping. After readying your bow, press and hold the left bumper for manual aim. Zoom with the d-pad up and down. If your arrow doesn't quite reach whatever you're trying to lure, aim slightly above it and you may squeeze out a few more metres of range.
Most bows scale with dexterity (we explain scaling in the melee weapon section below), so if you're using your bow to inflict damage rather than just to lure enemies, you will want to invest in this attribute. Many also have a strength requirement; check this before purchase.
Bow damage decreases over distance once you get past their primary range. Feather arrows have slightly longer range than other arrow types, which helps.
Tools of the trade: melee
Since arrows do come at a price you don't want to be using a bow as your primary weapon when you're fighting less tough enemies. No matter how good your bow is, a melee weapon will almost always do more damage, and when you can't cheese an enemy for whatever reason, you'll need something to smack them with.
Since bow damage scales with dexterity, it makes sense to pick a starter weapon that will take advantage of your high dexterity attribute. To check a weapon's scaling, view it in your inventory and look for the "attribute bonus" section. From left to right, the icons are strength, dexterity, intelligence and faith. If one of these icons has a letter by it, it means the weapon's output will be increased by a bonus amount derived from that attribute. The effectiveness of this bonus is indicated by the letter. E and D won't provide much of a bonus, while C is average and B and A are very good. (The screenshot above shows an example of poor strength scaling, good dexterity scaling, and zero intelligence and faith scaling.)
Initially and ideally you'll want a primary melee weapon that scales well with dexterity, such as a spear, dagger, thrust-type sword or katana, because you'll need reasonably high dexterity to use a bow effectively - but it's more important to find one you feel comfortable using, because you can always use a Sharp Gem to transform a weapon to scale better with dexterity if you decide to pile all your eggs in that basket.
What you're looking for in a weapon is one you can use well. When you find a new weapon type, try it out and see how you like it. When you find a move set you fancy, you can begin looking for powerful examples of that particular weapon type, and then infuse them to fit your build.
Our walkthrough suggests you cheese the NPC outside Firelink Shrine once you have a bow, and take his Uchigatana. This weapon is quite powerful, has low requirements, and scales with dexterity. Its broad slashes make it perfect for crowd control, and it has medium range so you can keep your foes at a reasonable distance when duelling. It is capable of both slash and thrust type damage, so it's quite versatile, and its weapon art is easy to use and will help you take down shielded enemies.
In the screenshot above, we've infused our Uchigatana with a Sharp Gem to make it scale even more effectively with dexterity, but later we switched to a Simple infusion, which worked out to grant us higher final damage thanks to intelligence scaling - and had the added benefit of constantly recharging our FP for sorcery. Nice.
Tools of the trade: shields and armour
You should also seek out a shield. Twitch-reflex players generally prefer to dual wield or two-hand for extra melee output, but we're interested in survival. Look for a shield with 100% physical damage absorption, such as the Silver Kite Shield near Tower on the Wall.
Also keep an eye out for shields with special attributes such as magic or fire absorption for those bosses and enemies who don't just do physical damage. As long as you have some stamina and are facing the source of the damage, a good shield of the right absorption type will protect you from taking any harm. There's no reason not to keep every shield you find and switch the right one in when you need it for a specific circumstance.
Armour choice really comes down to personal preference. Since we're doing our best to avoid engaging enemies toe-to-toe, you don't need to stick to the lighter armours, but the heavier sets should be avoided as they're significantly less stealthy and will slow you down hugely when you're trying to run away - and the increase in protection is rarely that impressive.
Armour scales with your character so you don't need to worry about upgrading it, which is liberating: you can freely mix and match and chop and change as you find new pieces or encounter new situations - a location where you need fire or magic protection, say, or perhaps poison resist. Carry all your armour around and adjust as necessary.
The Assassin set you start with is actually a pretty decent set you can use in many situations. Some pieces of the Dreng set found in Cathedral of the Deep offer a great weight to protection ratio. The Black Leather set sold by Unbreakable Patches is extremely sneaky, but very light - change to something heavier in non-stealth situations like bosses. The lightest proper armour set in the game is Shadow, found in Consumed King's Garden.
As we got further through the game and had some points to spare on vitality, we came to enjoy using slightly heavier sets like Pontiff Knight and Dancer. In some situations you may want to trade the faster roll speed of light armour for something heavy - as when you simply can't avoid a boss's attacks no matter how much you practice, and just need to survive long enough to chug estus and let your phantoms do the work.
"Hang on VG247," you're thinking. "This sneaky shit is all very well, but no matter what I do, the boss detects me. And then it smashes me while I'm nocking an arrow." Yes, indeed - and that's why we bring a friend.
Bosses are deliberately very difficult, and are balanced for co-op. From Software wants you to work together. There are whole covenants designed around helping each other fight bosses. Do not hesitate to summon co-op assistance for boss fights. Even if you live in some distant future when Bandai Namco has deactivated the Dark Souls 3 servers, you can still summon help for boss fights in the form of NPCs.
To summon, you need to be in Ember form ("alive"). When you kill a boss or consume an Ember, you take on Ember form, with more health and the ability to summon player and NPC phantoms - but you also run the risk of invasion by hostile player and NPC phantoms. It's best to take your Ember at the boss gate; you'll usually find a stack of summon signs waiting for you, unless you're egregiously over- or under-levelled.
To complement your Assassin build, you'll usually want to look for big, tanky characters rather than fellow archers and spell casters. Unusual weapons and armour frequently indicate a skilled and knowledgable player. (By the way, red summon signs invite invaders in, and pink ones summon a player who may elect to help you or may just murder you for your vertebra. Seriously.)
Most of boss battling is just learning a series of tricks or having the best gear to protect you from or dish out specific damage types. But "give them another target" is an excellent strategy; with two players, you can keep the boss turning between you, allowing whoever isn't in the target zone a chance to unleash hell while the other just survives for a few moments at a time, and take turns doing this. With three or more players, it just becomes a rout: you will triumph magnificently.
It's a good idea to have a go at a boss on your own when you first encounter them (or to watch a few videos of the encounter) so you have some idea of what's going to happen and what you need to do; otherwise you'll waste your summon partner's time. But when you're ready to have a go, summon away with no regrets. If you defeat a boss easily, why not volunteer for summoning and help someone else? It's good practice and very rewarding.
Levelling up and evolving
We've talked a bit about how your weapons scale with dexterity, but that doesn't mean you should pour all your souls into that attribute. With this build, your patience, stealth, aggro control and supply of arrows are far more important than how much damage you do with each individual shot or blow. You can play this build as a glass rogue, investing all your points in damage output, but it's very frustrating when you get to boss fights.
In the early game, while you're getting used to playing, it's far more important to spend points on Vigor, to increase your available health pool. Although you'll want to balance it out with other attributes as you progress, you will almost certainly not regret building this stat up as far as 16, and we'd even recommend aiming for about 20 by level 50. You should also regularly place points in endurance, as stamina is a hugely important resource for guarding with a shield, rolling and running away as much as swinging a sword.
Beyond this, adjust your attributes to meet equipment requirements and then just plug holes in your play style - running out of stamina constantly? More endurance. Still feel too fragile? Vigor. Equipment too heavy? Vitality.
After you've covered these basics, you can continue to up your damage output by stacking points on dexterity if you want to keep it simple and stick to bows and the Uchigatana, but after about 40 the results diminish considerably and you're better off looking to add strength, intelligence or faith scaling to the mix as well.
You probably don't want to do this until you find the weapon and play style that suits you best, so as to avoid wasting levels on attributes you don't need. If you're not sure what to do with your level up, spend the money on new equipment and goodies instead; souls come and souls go, and you can usually get the same amount back pretty quickly by running a familiar environment a few times.
Once you're in late game and have found out what you want to pursue, adjust your build to take advantage of a strength-scaling weapon, miracles (faith) or sorcery (intelligence). Aiming for both schools of magic or for pyromancy (faith and intelligence) is not recommended; you'd need to have three primary damage attributes (dexterity, faith and intelligence), which is spreading yourself a bit thin (save pyromancy and double school builds for a second run where you want to focus on spell casting right from the get-go and are not interested in melee).
Use the level up screen to preview the effects of increasing an attribute; you'll be able to see how changing your attributes affects your damage output across all your equipped weapons at once.If you've hit 40 on dexterity and your primary scaling stat - in our case, intelligence - check whether strength or faith will push your damage up, as stacking scaling can be considerably helpful. If the damage needle's not moving, consider investing in vitality, vigor and stamina to increase your equip load and survivability.
The good news is, the Rosaria's Fingers covenant will allow you to respec up to five times per playthrough - but if you've been conservative with your levelling, as we've described above, you should find it pretty easy to adapt for anything even without resetting your attributes manually.
Beware of over-levelling; if you grind too much, you'll find it hard to summon phantoms to help with bosses.
Tools of the trade: spells
So you've been piling on the dexterity but your bow and sword still aren't cutting it (ha ha)? You want to try something else? Excellent. Let's take advantage of the assassin's natural propensity for sorcery to supplement our skills. Sorcery is a magic school that draws on and scales with intelligence, so if you pursue this build you'll want to focus on increasing this stat once you meet the minimum requirements for your gear.
- Spook, which you start with, is one of the cheeseburger assassin's greatest tools, allowing you to backstab, make escapes, and just sneak around enemies with ease.
- Chameleon is available before Anor Londo if you pursue Anri of Astora's sidequest - even if you don't chase the third ending. It will allow you to sneak past frightening enemies with ease.
- Hidden Body is sold by Orbeck after you give him the Golden Scroll and makes you invisible to enemies for 20 seconds unless you're right inside their detection zone. They can maintain a lock on you if they detect you, but break line of sight and stay outside the zone and they won't be able to see you again until the spell wears off. It's amazing and should instantly replace chameleon for PvE use.
- Aural Decoy is sold by Orbeck. You can use it to pull enemies away so you can slip past them.
- Pestilent Mercury is sold by Orbeck. It releases a cloud that gradually eats away HP. The first amazing thing about it is that enemies will not step out of its area of effect. The second amazing thing about it is it usually penetrates walls. Stand on the other side of a wall from an enemy, unleash it and step away. The baddie on the other side dies.
- Magic Weapon is sold by Yoel, Yuria and Orbeck. Its upgrades Great Magic Weapon and Crystal Magic Weapon are sold by Orbeck after collecting the appropriate scrolls. These are incredibly useful enchantments for those times you have to confront an enemy with melee attacks.
- Twisted Wall of Light is sold by Orbeck and provides incredible protection against magical attacks; good for fighting Crystal Sages, Aldrich, Pontiff Sulyvahn and other enemies who use magic type damage.
As your intelligence increases, many of the offensive spells become pretty useful damaging, so you may want to consider adding them to your arsenal.
We ourselves tend not to bother with them, and instead leverage our intelligence attribute for Crystal and Hollow infusions on our melee weapons (melee weapons that already have good intelligence scaling are a great starting point). Although it can't be infused, the Darkmoon Longbow mentioned in the bow section update above scales well with intelligence when fully upgraded, too.
Catalyst-wise, we tend to stick with the Sorcerer's Staff the assassin starts with as it's nice and light and provides a decent spell buff when upgraded.
It's okay to cheese. Really
Some people will pooh-pooh the approach detailed in this guide, but you can quietly ignore them. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this play style, and From Software does not want to prevent you seeing all this game has to offer just because you're less physically gifted than twitch-reflex players.
The Souls family of games have a great deal to offer: beautifully mysterious locations, carefully crafted atmosphere, unravelling layers of subtle story, magnificent dungeon and creature design. Exploring these worlds is a pleasure nobody should miss out on.
Unfortunately, lots of people do: the difficulty curve is just too off-putting. The half-joking but unfortunately too frequently serious reply to this is "git gud": learn to play the way the real hardcore do, at a level of action gaming closely approaching that of versus fighters, where split-second twitch reflexes, instantaneous tell reading and perfect timing are a must.
You don't have to do this. You do not have to git gud.
The Souls family of games was designed to evoke a feeling similar to that of Japanese players sitting down with western RPGs way back in the early days of gaming, when the unfamiliarity of the systems, poor or absent localisation and frequently flat out broken games made the whole thing bafflingly mysterious, utterly painful and intensely difficult. When you work your way through a dungeon by trial and error or figure out what an item does in spite of its vague description, you're doing what those players did; when you check and share messages, you're emulating the experience of rushing off to bulletin boards to offer and beg for assistance.
The point of this is: the Souls games are not designed as purely masochistic experiences for the best of skilled action players. The much-lauded "difficulty", which boils down to the unusually high amount of damage enemies dish out, is just one of a number of systems which serve to provide an atmosphere where exploration feels risky, where every enemy is terrifying. It's all part of From Software's ambition to provoke particular feelings.
In this context, you may begin to comprehend that it is perfectly legitimate to play a Souls game without ever getting into the intense action combat some of the most fervent fans claim is the only way to play. You can absolutely crawl your way through, working the game's systems to your advantage, and doing as little hand-to-hand duelling as you can.
If you feel the fear, if you feel a battle is too much for you: you are experiencing exactly what you are supposed to experience. You are enjoying the game in one of the many ways it is intended to be enjoyed.
See you in Lothric. You can do this.