Wrapping your head around online play in Dark Souls III can, it's fair to say, be a little tricky - especially if you're new to the Souls series. Online play can be just as obtuse as the rest of the game, often requiring you to find and deploy an array of abstract, unhelpfully-named items. It doesn't help either that many of Dark Souls multiplayer functions are tied to covenants; that is, NPC-governed clans that, frequently, are hidden away in the game's obscurest corners.
To make things a little easier for you, we've broken down the key elements of Dark Souls III's online experience, starting you off with the very basics - namely message writing - and moving on to more sophisticated concepts such as Summon Signs and invading. Hopefully, by the end, of all this you'll be set to enjoy one of Dark Souls III's most elusive, but rewarding, components.
On this page: Sending messages and using summon signs
On the other pages:
Dark Souls 3: how to play co-op
Where to place your summon signs for co-op and PvP, and how to play the game with friends.
Dark Souls 3: how to invade other players
How to invade other games, using covenants and automatic summoning, and penalties you can face from doing so.
Messages between worlds
Start a game of Dark Souls III and, provided that you're connected to a server, you'll almost immediately spot the strange orange scribbles strewn across the landscape. These, as you'll no doubt quickly realise, are message left by other players in their own game worlds. To revel in their words of wisdom, simply stand over the orange signs and hit the interact button.
These messages form the backbone of Dark Souls III's online experience, offering contextual advice on overcoming the dangers around you, revealing valuable secrets and, on occasion, even attempting to confound you with trickery and misdirection. But how can you separate the useful messages from those left with malicious intent?
Once you open a message and its contents are revealed, you're able to rate it as either 'Good' or 'Poor'. This rating system is beneficial for two reasons; firstly, messages with a high number of 'Good' ratings generally contain information considered valuable by the Dark Souls community. As such, following these message will usually help you avoid danger and perhaps even earn rewards.
This won't always be the case, of course (some people are just mean), but the rating system is still a great way to filter the helpful advice from the bad. As such, if a message proves useful on your travels, always consider rating it for the benefit of the players behind you.
Additionally, whenever a message is rated as either 'Good' or 'Poor', its creator will receive a health top-up provided that they're online at the time. It might not sound like much, but that health boost can be invaluable in sticky situations; there's nothing quite like winning a last minute reprieve from death as you near the end of a gruelling boss encounter!
In the first Dark Souls game, leaving messages required the use of a special item. In Dark Souls III, however, the process has been streamlined considerably. To write a message, simply open the in-game menu (featuring your equipment and inventory screens), and select the fourth option. From this 'Message' sub-menu, you're able to write new messages, check the ratings of your previous messages, and peruse the messages that you've read most recently in the world.
Message writing can be a little fiddly at first, largely because you're expected to assemble your missives from a list pre-defined words and phrases. To being the process, hit the 'Template' box and pick the sentence that best fits your intended meaning - the asterisks denote the spot that words can be added to later. Next, open the 'Words' box and browse through the different sub-categories until you find a word that completes your sentence.
It's not immediately obvious, but you're able to create more complex messages by joining two sentences together. Simply press the 'Change Note Format' button until the 'Conjunctions' box appears, then complete the remaining boxes on the form. With a bit of imagination, you should be able to convey pretty much anything - but if you're unhappy with your final message once it's been placed in the world, interact with it, delete it then start again.
Incidentally, cycling through the 'Change Note Format' option will also let you add a gesture to your messages. If words alone don't seem seem to probably convey your intended meaning, why not add some wild gesticulation to enhance your awkwardly assembled advice?
Using Summon Signs
As you progress through Dark Souls III, you'll spot other player-generated symbols on the ground that, while very similar in appearance to standard messages, aren't orange. These variously-coloured scrawls are known as Summon Signs.
As their name suggests, Summon Signs are used to summon other players into your game - for both co-operative and player-versus-player action. Unsurprisingly, you can also create your own Summon Signs so that other players can beckon you into their worlds.
Summoning another player into your world
If you wish to summon another player into your world, the process is simple; just stand on top of their Summon Sign and interact with it. However, in order to see Summon Signs in the first place (red PvP Summon Signs excluded), you must be in Lord of Cinder form.
To enter Lord of Cinder form, you'll need to consume an Ember - a relatively common item that you'll find discarded around Dark Souls III's world. If you're ever low on Ember, the Handmaiden (sat in a chair back at the Firelink Shrine) has a limited number to sell - and you'll always earn one Ember for completing your objective in another player's world.
Be warned, however; consuming an Ember and adopting your Lord of Cinder form automatically increases your chances of being invaded by a nefarious red phantom (whose goal is to kill you) from another world. As such, once you consume an Ember, be sure to hunt out a friendly Summon Sign as quickly as possible. That way, you've got some back-up should the unthinkable happen.
Summon Sign colours
Easily the most important thing you should note about a Summon Sign is its colour. A Summon Sign's colour denotes the activity that its creator wants to participate in. As such, you'll want to familiarise yourself with each colour early to prevent your multiplayer sessions from ending in confusion and calamity.
Red versus white
The two most common Summon Sign colours in Dark Souls III are white and red, denoting the two basic multiplayer modes in the game. White Summon Signs are left by players wishing to indulge in co-operative action, while red Summon Signs are created by players looking for PvP. Once a player has been successfully summoned into a host's world, they'll appear as a translucent phantom, adopting the same colour as their Summon Sign.
It's useful to remember that summoned players are bound by a specific set of rules when in a host's game. White and yellow co-op-based partners, for instance, can kill environmental enemies and pass through fog gates to take on bosses with their hosts. When an area's boss has been defeated, co-op partners are automatically returned to their own worlds.
Red PvP phantoms, meanwhile, cannot pass through fog gates, and their presence prohibits the session's host from doing so too. Red phantoms automatically return home once either they or the summoning host has been killed.
Other summoning sign colours
Alongside the standard white and red Summon Signs in Dark Souls III, you'll find a number of other colours too - each denoting a player's current covenant allegiance and, by extension, the specific multiplayer variant they're engaged in. Each covenant adds its own twist to the game's standard co-operative and PvP ruleset, and you can read more about them elsewhere in this guide. For now, here's a quick run down of the Summon Signs you'll most frequently see:
WHITE - Use to summon players for standard co-operative gaming
YELLOW - Use to summon a member of the Warrior of Sunlight covenant for co-op assistance
RED - Use to summon hostile red phantom for PvP duelling
PURPLE - Use to summon a member of the chaotic Mound-Makers covenant. These players are effectively able to co-op and PvP at the same time, and given their uncertain allegiances, you should use caution when summoning them.
Additionally, Summon Signs may occasionally feature a blend of two colours, denoting a player's covenant alignment and their, sometimes contrasting, current preferred game mode. A red summon sign with a gold outline, for instance, indicates that a member of the usually benevolent Warrior of Sunlight covenant wishes to participate in PvP.
The purple mound-maker mystery
While we're on the subject of covenants and colours, it's worth taking a moment to talk in more detail about the new (and slightly confusing) Mound-Makers covenant. Mound-Makers (whose Summon Signs appear as purple) are intended to be the wild card online, and their covenant is designed so that its members are able to help or hinder their summoning host on a whim.
Mound-Makers seek the Vertebra Shackle item, which can be acquired in a number of ways: either by killing a world's summoning host, by killing a certain number of red or white phantoms while in that world, or by killing another Mound-Maker. As such, Mound-Maker's are able to flit freely between co-operative and PvP roles. That makes them utterly unpredictable and using a purple Summon Sign can be risky business.
Mound-Makers can lay a Summon Sign by using either the White or Red Sign Soapstone, with each item affecting what they can do within a host's world. Mound-Makers entering a world via the Red Sign Soapstone can kill the summoning host and other phantoms, while using the White Sign Soapstone enables Mound-Makers to kill area enemies too. All Mound-Makers are automatically returned to their world once the host player passes through a boss gate.
Co-op summoning limitations
If you're looking to summon phantoms into your world for co-operative play, there are a few limitations worth noting beyond the need for you to be in Lord of Cinder Form. Most importantly, white or yellow co-op Summon Signs won't appear in a location once the area's main boss is dead - even if you've consumed an Ember. You WILL be able to see purple Summon Signs, however, but only those placed by Mound-Makers wishing to PvP. They won't be able to co-op enemies.
Additionally, Dark Souls III uses a matchmaking system that pairs co-op players based on their current souls level and weapon strength. Although the game is fairly accommodating - allowing strangers within around 20 levels of each other to team up - you might struggle to find co-op partners if you're either excessively underpowered or overpowered for the current area.
Extending the co-op player limit
Ordinarily, a host can only summon two co-op players into their game at any one time - be they human, NPC or a combination of the two. However, by using the Dried Finger item (which can be purchased from the Firelink Shrine Handmaiden for 2,000 Souls), it's possible to increase the summon limit by one, enabling three co-op players to join your party.
Doing so, however, also raises the basic invasion limit by one, meaning that, while the Dried Fingers are active, it's possible for two hostile red phantoms to invade your world at once. Note that dying and re-spawning at the previous bonfire won't reset the effects of Dried Fingers. To cancel the limit increase, you'll need to warp away to another area completely.
- Head back to the first page for the rest of our Dark Souls 3 guide.