The first time I played Demon’s Souls, the original game in From Software’s now-famous Souls series, I beat the whole game solo. That’s the best way to familiarize yourself with the games’ totally unique worlds: by throwing yourself against them until they click. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There’s another way to play Dark Souls 3: you can summon other players into your world to help you, and leave yourself open to attack by malicious invaders. The methods and mechanics are complex and unfriendly, but it’s worth it to learn the ropes. Playing Dark Souls 3 with other players doesn’t just make it easier—it changes the game entirely.
Dark Souls 3 can be punishingly difficult, but play it long enough and the game becomes predictable. Enemies are always in the same place, and their attacks never vary, each one a wind-up soldier that sputters and fails in the end. By the time you’ve defeated them all a dozen times they’re just another part of the setting, same as the vines choking crumbling battlements and bonfires lighting your way.
But there’s nothing less predictable than actual humans. Once you invite them into your game world, all bets are off. Enemies within your game become stronger when you summon friendly “phantom” players into your game, but that doesn’t matter when you’re rolling around with a squad of two or three teammates. The game world transforms from an oppressive maze of traps and assassins to a playground of domination where you frolic from kill to kill flanked by bodyguards.
Playing co-op doesn’t remove all the danger—you’ll still be killed in a matter of seconds if you drop your guard or relax for too long. But it does make things a lot easier. Summoning friendly phantom players removes so much of the tension that the game feels completely different. It’s empowering.
There’s a flip side, of course. Summoning players to help requires putting yourself in a state that makes you vulnerable to invaders, unfriendly players whose only job is to see you dead. They can use any number of tactics to do so, from attacking you directly to waiting in the shadows for you to get distracted and pouncing at the worst possible time (you’re alerted when you get invaded, but you can’t always see where the invader is).
In Dark Souls the stakes are almost always high, since you’re in danger of losing progress every time you die. And you can almost never count on the odds being consistently in your favor, since “the flow of time itself is convoluted, with heroes centuries old phasing in and out,” as the great Solaire once put it. Your companions might die at any time, while another invasion is always seconds away. You never stay ahead for long. Every victory is fleeting. In the end you always succumb to death. It is Dark Souls, after all.
It bums me out that so many players go through the game without ever trying multiplayer out because they simply don’t know how, and they don’t realize how significantly it can change the experience. I take every opportunity to show new players the ropes. With that in mind, here are a few steps that will get you started once you’re an hour or so into the game:
- Gear up: First buy the item “white sign soap stone” from the handmaiden vendor (the one sitting by the blacksmith) in Firelink Shrine. Using the item causes your “summon sign” to appear on the ground in other players’ worlds, and it never runs out, so you can try it as many times as you want.
- Try it out: Try using it near bonfires or the fog gates that lead to boss fights so you can practice and earn extra souls. You don’t lose your souls when you die as a phantom in another player’s world, so the stakes are much lower.
- Get embered: You can summon players into your own world, but only if you’re “embered.” That happens when you beat a boss in your world or another player’s, or when you use an item called an “ember.” It goes away if you die, though. You can tell when you’re embered because your health bar gets longer, your clothes look like they’re smoldering and the icon in the upper left of the screen changes.
- Take precautions: Being embered also leaves you open to invaders, so make sure if you’re running around in that state you’re also summoning players to help you. In some areas you can get invaded by more than one player at a time, and you’ll almost always lose a two-versus-one fight. Take any help you can get.
- Be offensive: You can also invade other players using items called “cracked red eye orb” and, later, just “red eye orb.” You get five from a character who shows up in Firelink Shrine leaning up against the center throne around the time you reach the Undead Settlement area, so keep checking back there until he appears.
- Use the finger: When you want to kick things up a notch buy the item “dried finger” from the shrine handmaiden. It lets you summon an extra phantom while opening you to an extra invader. In some areas you can have five other players all mucking around in your world at the same time, making for some truly epic scraps. I messed around with it a lot in the video above.
- Join a faith: Throughout your journey in Dark Souls 3 you’ll come across various “covenants” that can affect the ways you interact with other players. An early one called “Way of Blue,” for example, can automatically summon helpful players to join your team when you get invaded. Later you’ll come across the “Blue Sentinels"—join them and you’ll be the one getting summoned to help "Way of Blue” members. You can switch between covenants freely in this game, so try them all out and see what happens.
If Dark Souls 3 is your first Souls game, I recommend doing as much of it solo as you can. Playing Dark Souls alone can be brutal, but it’s also how you get good. The best way to get the hang of it is to simply dive in and see what you can discover and conquer on your own.
Once you have the basics figured out, there’s no better way to keep things interesting than by throwing some good old human randomness into the mix. Just make sure you’re prepared to die.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor, in charge of all things video games. You might as well just let him win if he ever invades you. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.
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