My weapon was buffed, balls of energy were swirling around my head, and all my rings were in order. I was ready. My goal: to kill the host of embers in Anor Lando. I was invading in Dark Souls III.
While searching for my victim, I was joined by another ally, an Aldrich Faithful. We bowed and continued on toward the area just outside of the bonfire, where an open courtyard acts as the chosen battleground for PVP duels. There we found the host and their gold-tinged guardian, another player coming to their aid.
We all bowed, and like samurai in some action movie, we split off into single duels. The Aldrich Faithful took the “sun bro”. I took the host. We circled each other, slashing, rolling, and maneuvering to get in a few hits each. Meanwhile, I hear the other battle nearby, catching a flurry of strikes occasionally out of my character’s peripheral vision.
After a few well timed strikes, I have the host against the ropes. One more good strike and I’ve won the duel for both the Faithful and I. Just then, as I’m reading the notice that another spirit has been slain, my impromptu ally killed in battle, I hear the telltale “shunk!” of a sword being plunged into my back. The host’s guardian won their duel and was finishing the fight with a well-timed backstab.
I failed, was sent back to my world, and could not stop grinning.
Dark Souls III multiplayer is like no other. I don’t invade to win, I invade to make the game more exciting for the host (I do like winning, though). When that host watched their ally murder me from behind, it must have been exhilarating. Can you imagine? You’re on death’s door, you watch your ally win their own battle, and you buy just enough time to survive your own. I lost, but I felt thrilled for my opponent.
In many ways, playing Dark Souls III multiplayer is like acting as a support character in a stage production. The culture of multiplayer with its bowing and sun praising reinforces my presence as a benevolent spirit when I’m there to help. When I invade, I play the foil, stressing out my host through my presence alone (I like to cast Chameleon and hide deep in a level).
I’ve been invading a lot lately, the hosts defeat me most of the time, and that’s just fine. In fact, with so many ways to bring in support, Dark Souls III is very much weighted against invaders, but that doesn’t mean that it’s broken. From Software didn’t create the invade mechanic to just piss off hosts. We invade not to troll, but to enrich the experience of others.
This is just one way that Dark Souls III is the most social game that I’ve played in a long time. It’s definitely more social than League of Legends, and in some ways, I interact with other players more regularly and positively than in most MMOs. The Souls franchise has always bound players together, especially through the message system, which allows you to leave friend scribbles (or misdirections) on the ground for other players to read. I only just learned that when someone rates my messages, I’m also fully healed. Even when not summoning other players into the game, I am bound to the larger Dark Souls community.
This communal sharing extends well outside the confines of the game as well. The Dark Souls heroes who edit the various wikis have helped me more than they know, and I find the folks testing crazy mechanical and narrative theories inspiring. The Reddit community (unlike so many other Reddit communities) is actually remarkably welcoming. For the most part, they want to help others love the series as much as they do.
This is partially why I find the conversation about an “Easy Mode” in Dark Souls III kind of confusing. An easy mode is already built in, just not in the way that we might expect. I’ve felled most of the Dark Souls III bosses with summoned helped, and I don’t feel the least bit bad about it. I’ve also watched Oceiros mow down a dozen allies at least before defeating him on my own.
The extreme difficulty of Dark Souls is exaggerated, largely by the community itself, almost as a reminder that it’s okay to ask for help. The NPCs that you can summon before boss battles in the game serve a similar function. When I faced Yhorm the Giant, a familiar face showed up unannounced, and while the battle was trivial, it was also incredibly memorable.
Even when I die alone, I know from the bloodstains that others have fallen before me. When I defeat a boss and read a message proclaiming victory, complete with hundreds of approvals, I’m reminded that we overcome these challenges together.
Yes, Dark Souls III is hard, especially if you don’t bother engaging with the larger fan community whatsoever. But next time that you’re struggling against some freakish boss, just remember: you’re not alone.
Oh, and if I invade and murder you, don’t worry. It’s for your own good. I swear.