When people think about the “Dark Souls” series, they often think about their reputation as brutally punishing single-player action RPGs, but little did they know that these games also have multiplayer/PVP modes. In fact, they are the one thing that kept me coming back long after I have exhausted every point of interest in the campaigns. And to celebrate the upcoming release of Sekiro, Shadows Dies Twice, From Software’s (Dev for Souls series) new IP, I’d like to take us back to their last game, “Dark Souls 3,” and showcase the multiplayer aspects, which isn’t as well-known but equally as brilliant as the single-player campaign.
There are three main modes to multiplayer: invasion, co-op and dueling in the Undead Arena. Invasion is perhaps the most engaging but also the most demanding. Simply put, it’s a mode in which players “invade” other player’s game worlds and try to kill the latter, who are called hosts, as they progress through the campaign. It is an intense game of hide and seek, baiting and waiting, with the game world as the hunting ground. But at the same time, it’s an incredibly difficult game of fighting multiple opponents at the same time, due to how the host can (and often does) “summon” other players to protect himself from the invader.
There are also several other downsides to the invader, such as having his usage of Estus, the game’s healing potion, halved, and having his health reduced by 30 percent, all of which make invasions hard to pull off. It is precisely because of its difficulty that makes it extraordinarily rewarding when you do win. Not only is it a feat of great skill, but also a demonstration of the invader’s knowledge about the game, such as how to counter certain weapons and playstyles, and the calculated preparations that went before the invasion, like having specific items or weapons readily available to better finish off the opponent. I myself love doing invasions in the DLC maps, which are the most expansive and the most popular ones, hunting lone players or being hunted by “gankers” determined to exterminate me. Sometimes I like going aggressive and fight them all at once, but other times I prefer to hide in the corners and pick them off one by one with my sorceries.
There are physical rewards, too, which the games hand out after you have defeated a player in an invasion or killed the host, according to your current covenant (like a clan). These covenant items can be used to exchange useful spells and weapons, or even respect your character attributes. All in all, invasion is possibly the most challenging way to play multiplayer in “DS3,” but nevertheless the most engaging and rewarding (though I personally still prefer dueling).
Opposite to killing other players and ruining their progress, you can also join them and help them play through the game, whether to go through an area, fight a boss or fend off invaders. And since DS3 is a difficult game, you should never run out of players to assist. I used to help random players fight the final boss all the time, just because I wanted to relive the encounter. Co-op can also be a great way to convince people to play with you: “We can play together, it’ll be easier!” I know I did this to one of my friends, but since I had already beaten the game and I knew everything about it, I didn’t want to make things too easy for him. I purposely neglected to help him and really enjoyed being the witness of all his untimely demises, though he and I both had a great time in the end. But if you want to be even more deviant, you can gang up with players to bully invaders. Since there is no limit to how many times a player can summon/be summoned, you can be summoned over and over as long as the host lives, or summon an infinite number of players if you are the host. Now I have personally never done this, but I can imagine that it would be morbidly entertaining, albeit a little despicable, to annihilate invaders with such brute strength in numbers. There are also covenant items to be had after each boss fight won, or invader killed, similar to the ones given in invasions. The main takeaway here is that there is a ton of options when it comes to co-op in “DS3” and it’s an amazing feature for players who don’t want to suffer alone. (But beware! Playing co-op increases the chances – prioritized by the matchmaking algorithm – for you to be invaded!).
Now comes my favorite part, dueling in the Undead Arena, a mode which offers isolated small, maps for players to fight in, with my favorite being the Round Plaza, encased by ocean-blue skies and set underneath a gigantic full moon. Unlike playing through the PVE content, which has you anxious about everything at once, about your souls (in-game currency that you can lose upon death), about dealing with multiple enemies at the same time, about where they might be hiding, and about where you might fall off and die, dueling in the Undead Arena allows you to focus tightly on the Souls series’ biggest strength – the 1 to 1 combat. It is such a punishing but robust, well-designed system that challenges the player to think deeply about every input’s impacts and its consequences. Yet at the same time, it becomes highly addicting once you get the hang of it, because you feel like there’s always room for improvement and winning a fight feels satisfying (a recurring theme in the series) due to how much skillful input and game knowledge that requires.
Through every duel, you get to learn every aspect about your weapons’ mechanics – its range, its damage, its move-set’s timing for dodging and “poise frames” – and the weapons relationship to other weapons – what counters what. You get to learn advanced techniques such as setup parries, running attack buffering, ring swapping, baiting, delayed timings, identifying backstab timings, identifying true combos and aiming without lock-on or crosshair, by learning from every opponent and every defeat. The range of encounters is also staggeringly diverse, since the game features such a deep customization for your character: 9 stats to upgrade from, hundreds of weapons and spells and probably thousands of armor pieces to choose from.
Every opponent has a unique gimmick or personality (there are meta set-ups, but thankfully not many people are that desperate to use them) that they’re role-playing. This is what earned the game and the series the nickname: “Fashion Souls.” There is just so much freedom to express individuality. I personally love playing as a battle-mage, with light robes and armor, capable of dishing out damage through fast sorceries and gigantic weapons like the Great Club. And I have hundreds of hours in this game of me just dueling with that character.
There are of course balancing issues regarding PVP, since the game was designed chiefly with PVE content in mind. In fact, there are many, like rolling being too abusable and the fact that some weapons are objectively better than others in every way. But despite these numerous flaws, the game still successfully provides a rich gameplay experience, in addition to its stellar single-player campaign, with invasions, co-op, and especially dueling. It is challenging, enjoyable, complex, and endlessly addicting. That’s why “DS3” is my favorite non-fighting-game fighting game. And it should be yours too.