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Five essential tips for Souls virgins

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The Souls franchise is known for its brutally challenging gameplay and is arguably the most difficult series of games ever created. If you are new to the Souls franchise and want your lessons in death to begin with Dark Souls III on 12 April 2016, you should read my five essential tips for Souls virgins.

Even with the knowledge at hand, I’ve died countless times in Souls games, so these tips won’t stave off death indefinitely, but will give you a fighting chance when you take your first plunge into a Souls game.

(Please note that the videos contained in this article do show some early game area / boss spoilers)

1. Death is only the beginning

You will die in Dark Souls III; over and over again. Death will come swiftly from just about any source, as you try to progress through the game. You might find it disheartening at first or even think you are not good enough to play; don’t. I’ve died countless times in Souls games and at certain points wanted to give up. However, I’ve learned that dying is an essential part of the experience. With death comes knowledge and experience.

Every time you die in a Souls game, you learn something new. For example, not to stand close to a ledge while fighting an enemy or a specific enemy skill to avoid at all cost. Never give up; determination to push through after countless deaths makes the experience of finally standing over the corpse of a foe all the more rewarding.

Without the brutal difficulty and the many deaths that come with it, it wouldn’t be a Soul’s game. Dying is a good thing because it forces you to learn and adapt. However, Souls games can also severely punish you for dying.

2. Keep your Souls close

Each enemy you dispatch rewards you with souls, which is the currency you use for upgrading / purchasing items and leveling up. When you manage to make it to a bonfire (a safe haven in Souls games), you get to spend your souls on leveling up your character. When (not if) you die, you will lose all your unspent souls. If you manage to make it back to your corpse without dying again, you can recover your lost souls. However, if you die before reaching your corpse, you will lose those souls forever.

It is of the utmost importance to start your journey with the mind-set of “it’s a marathon not a sprint”. If you’ve gain a ton of souls in the first sections of the game, rather backtrack to the nearest bonfire and spend your souls. Keep in mind that when you do “rest at a bonfire” all the enemies in the area will reset. Even so, repeating an area a few times and leveling up a bit is essential to the learning process and moving forward.

Use restraint while progressing to a new area and remember to never underestimate enemies you have already killed when trying to get to your corpse. Always keep focus; I’ve died too many times against “easy” enemies and lost countless souls because I became overconfident.

3. Stamina management is the key to success

Dark Souls III has a health (red), magic (blue) and stamina (green) bars. One of the most difficult aspects to keep track of for a new Souls player is his/her stamina bar. In Souls games, you require stamina to perform any action, from blocking and attack, rolling away or attacking an enemy. If you’ve managed to save some souls, I suggest investing in a decent amount of the “Endurance” stat, which will increase your stamina.

As mentioned earlier, you will die and hopefully learn from each death. Stamina management is by far the reason I’ve died the most in Souls games. You will need to learn enemy attack patterns and use your stamina wisely. For example, if a boss takes two big swings before taking a three second pause, you first have to dodge those attacks, which of course drains stamina. It is very tempting to open up with some heaving attacks in the pause window. However, using heavy attacks drains a lot of stamina, which will mean you might not have enough stamina left over to avoid his next two sweeping attacks.

Even outside of boss battles, stamina management is of the utmost importance; although normal enemies might be a bit more forgiving when you make the mistake of running out of stamina, you should keep an eye on your stamina bar at all times. When you learn to effectively manage your stamina bar, you will without a doubt die less often and gain some confidence in your character’s abilities as well as understand the limits of your character.

4. Experiment and find your comfort zone

Dark Souls III offers a wide variety of starting classes, each with its own starting weapons, shields and armor. The starting classes are merely suggestions and offer starting stats; you could start off as a warrior and end up casting spelling during the final parts of the game. The class you pick at the start doesn’t limit you to a specific play-style for the rest of your journey.

There is no shame in starting a new game with another class and experimenting with different classes until you find the one that best suits your play-style; your starting experience and the steep learning curve Souls games have will very likely shape the way you play most of the game.

If you are new to Souls games but you’ve watched a lot of videos, you will mostly see players using a shield and a sword. However, Dark Souls 3 offers a wide variety of options including bows, big 2-handed weapons and magic. For the most part, a balanced character build is the best way to go about your first Souls experience, offering a wide variety of options to dispatch your foes with.

5. Pick your battles

If you are stuck on a specific group of enemies for a long period of time, you might want to back off for a while and farm an easier area to increase your character’s power. Not every enemy you run into will even be possible to beat at your current level or with the gear you have equipped. Therefore, if you are stuck, try exploring the area further or find an alternative route to your next destination.

You can skip some enemies altogether by running past them. The skipping strategy is used mostly when you are trying to kill a boss (which has enemies between it and the last bonfire you spawned at). Instead of spending a lot of time clearing enemies for another boss attempt, you could run past and dodge enemy attacks until they lose agro and run back to their spawn points, leaving you alone.

It is important to realize that some enemies might be nearly impossible to defeat. The game doesn’t hold your hand or tell you where to go, so you will very likely venture into some enemies you are simply not ready for yet. 

Dark Souls III will release worldwide for PS4, Xbox One and PC on 12 April 2016. PC gamers can pre-purchase the game on Steam for R735.08 as a special pre-order discount if you own any of the previous Dark Souls games. Check out all the local pre-order pricing details for PC, PS4 and Xbox One compiled for your convenience by my colleague Han Cilliers.

Will Dark Souls III be your first Souls game? Are there any other tips those who are Souls veterans want to share with new players? Let us know in the comment section below.

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