If you’re a gamer you’ve likely heard the name before- whether you’ve played it or not, you’ve completed everything FromSoftware has to offer in the infamous Souls series or you’re scared to pick it up for fear of losing your television and likely your sanity to a game which has, time and time again, been referred to as the ultimate challenge for experienced gamers. Dark Souls has a ruthless community of fans who are quick to assure new players that ‘you will die’ and that the sole way to overcome certain obstacles is to painstakingly memorise a myriad of enemy attack patterns and hone your reflexes until they are virtually cat-like. But that doesn’t sound like my idea of a video game at all, and approaching the series for the first time can leave you pondering; aren’t games supposed to relieve stress? to be ‘fun’? to enchant and encapsulate, rather than to infuriate? if this is you, don’t threat. The Souls games require a certain mentality, sure, and you certainly will have a hard time if your definition of ‘gaming’ consists of Candy Crush and Scrabble. But those familiar with console gaming shouldn’t put it off for fear of the infamous ‘you died’ screen. Souls veterans are quick to scare off new players, leading them to form preconceptions of the game before even experiencing it for themselves but once you do you’ll realise, not only are the games entirely doable, but an extremely rewarding and immersive experience. The sense of wariness, the fear resting in the pit of your stomach after turning a corner only to be met by a seven-headed hydra which spans the entirety of your screen, or traversing a fog wall and being met unexpectedly by a highly aggressive and imposing boss with seemingly endless pool of health and a mess of black and writhing limbs is a huge part of what makes the games as enjoyable as they are. Because nothing is as daunting as it first seems. Most every boss battle has a technique to it. occasionally a well (or not so well: see Bed of Chaos) crafted gimmick. Sometimes obvious, sometimes obscure, but it’s there, for sure, and you’ll feel great once it all clicks into place.
Few games stress the importance of player mortality, or rather, avoiding death and exercising caution as well as the Souls series but rather than making the game a frustrating grind of death after death, rinse and repeat, it serves only to add to the epic heights the game reaches for. It provides a challenge which often scares you infinitely more than it should, and when you come out victorious after only a few attempts and reach the other side more or less unscathed you’re left to ponder why it took half an hour simply to muster up the courage to try it in the first place. The Souls series, and Dark Souls III in particular, do a brilliant job of easing you into the games at a pace which at first glance seems like an insurmountable challenge, only to have you look back soon after at the figurative mountain you conquered earlier and realise it was little more than a bump in the road. That’s not to say there aren’t many genuinely difficult obstacles to overcome, areas and bosses which seem deliberately designed to make you scream and pull at your hair until there’s nothing left, but you’re given ample time to learn and familiarise yourself with the controls, not to mention the ability to partake in some good old ‘jolly co-operation’ which is finally made simple in the latest and (hopefully not) final release.
There is little use in ranking the games in order of difficulty as these opinions are formed by players after the fact and are highly dependent on a number of factors, such as the order in which they were played by each individual, how much outside influence aided them (online guides, help from friends) the build and stats they invested in and their ability to pick up the controls and adapt to the subtle but all-important differences between the three games. It is fair to say, however, that committing to playing these games blind, without the use of any external aid to guide you, no clues as to where to go next, where to find good weapons, gear and a number of items needed to actually progress through the game will undoubtedly lead to a much more unforgiving experience and should be reserved for only the most masochistic gamers out there. Much of the difficulty stems from the unknown, being caught off guard and learning from mistakes- this is likely why many seasoned players, especially those playing all the way back in 2011 when stat guides and quest guides and weapon guides and area guides and boss guides weren’t so readily available, consider the first instalment to be among the hardest in the series. That and Anor Londo.
With that said, good luck!