Combat has always been the main focus on the Souls series, and Dark Souls 3 is no different. Sure, there are characters to meet and treasures to unearth, but the vast majority of your time in From Software's latest will be putting the hurt on whatever monstrosity decides to cross your path.
Dark Souls has always taken a unique approach to combat: instead of relying on the button-mashing antics of classic action games, the Souls series is more about intuitive controls and a more measured pace.
It's great once you get the hang of things ... but anyone who's used to playing action games like Bayonetta or Batman: Arkham Knight will have some adjusting to do.
So, if you've been having trouble getting the hang of the combat mechanics in Dark Souls 3, you're in luck: our guide covers everything, from the most basic of maneuvers to complex techniques. Your sword and shield will be your best friends on the journey to conquer the Lords of Cinder — best make sure you know how to use them!
Swords, Shields, and How to Use Them
As opposed to the light attack/heavy attack/counter control scheme of most action games, Dark Souls 3 focuses almost entirely on the controller's trigger buttons.
Your character's right hand will determine their primary attacks: the right bumper is your standard attack, while the right trigger acts as a heavy swing. The left hand is used mostly for defensive play: most characters will shield themselves with the left bumper, and parry with the left trigger (more on that later). Players can also choose to use both hands on their primary weapon for a bit of extra damage by holding the Y or Triangle buttons, or use a jumping attack by moving forward and hitting the right trigger at the same time.
Magic attacks control similarly to weapons, and wands can be used in either hand — just use the bumpers like you normally would. Later on in the game, your character will also be able to dual-wield weapons — if you're carrying a sword instead of a shield in your left hand, simply use the left trigger to attack.
It may sound complicated, but once you get your hands on the game, it should start to make sense. Just remember that the right side of the controller is for your character's right hand, and you should be fine.
Weapon Arts are new to Dark Souls 3, and they're easily one of the biggest changes to the series since its inception. Basically, each weapon comes with its own specific special move — it may be swinging a polearm around in a massive arc, or buffing your damage before starting a fight — and at the cost of a few Focus Points, Weapon Arts can be the difference between surviving a battle and heading back to the bonfire.
They're extremely simple to use, too: while two-handing your weapon, simply hit the left trigger to initiate your Weapon Art. As expected, each Art behaves differently depending on the weapon, so it's important to experiment with whatever new gear you find. Just make sure to keep an eye on your Focus gauge — if you're using both magic and Weapon Arts, you may want to keep some extra Ashen Estus Flask handy.
It may sound strange, but a quick kick could end up saving your life. By pressing forward on the control stick and hitting the standard attack button at the same time, your player will kick at whatever enemy you're locked onto. It's not necessarily an offensive maneuver — it doesn't do any damage whatsoever — but there are a few reasons to use your boot as a weapon.
Firstly, using the kick on an enemy who isn't guarding will send them tumbling backwards. This probably won't help much in the middle of a field, but if you're fighting someone on a narrow bridge, a well-timed kick could end the fight early.
Secondly, kicking an enemy who's hiding behind their shield will instantly break their guard. It's a great way to deal with overly defensive AI or human players, and it'll set you up for a heavy-damage Critical Attack as well. Just make sure to time it well — a missed kick will leave you wide open for a counterattack.
Backstabbing is about as self-explanatory as you can get: if you manage to get behind an enemy and press the standard attack button, you can stab them in the back for a Critical Attack and extra damage. Many fights can be ended in a single backstab — and if your foe does survive, the subsequent animation of them getting off the ground is a great chance to heal up or switch weapons, if you need to.
The best part about backstabbing is that, unlike the kick, you're completely invulnerable while the animation plays. It also works on larger enemies and even some bosses, so there's really no reason not to go in for the backstab — just make sure not to get yourself surrounded.
Parrying and Ripostes
In Dark Souls 3, the player's most powerful attack is also their riskiest.
With the proper shield and expert timing, players can parry enemy attacks for a chance at an extra-powerful Critical Attack. On paper, it's simple enough: simply hit the left trigger as the enemy's about to hit you, and you'll shove their weapon away. Follow that up with a standard attack, and you've just executed one of the hardest-hitting attacks in the game — and just like backstabs, parrying can even work on some bosses!
However, pulling off a parry/riposte combo is extremely risky: not only does the necessary timing change with each different enemy, but missing your window means that you'll be taking the full force of whatever attack was headed your way. A successful parry could end up putting the odds in your favor ... but missing a parry could put you back at the nearest bonfire.
Of course, combat is just half of what makes your character unique — determining what stats and attributes they'll focus on is just as important as your technique in the field. If you've been struggling to figure out what sort of class you want to play as (or just need a refresher), make sure to check out our character-building guide!
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