Like most sane people, I play Dark Souls and Bloodborne in offline mode. Now, I know this admission is the sort of thing which will irreparably damage my Internet Gamer Cred, being as it is a lifelong devotion to not getting good, but I don't care. The games are hard enough as they are without people like 'Sexy McButt Face' (a real player, I should add) jumping into them and twatting you off that bridge for having the temerity to try and play it. Multiplayer is for true Dark Souls geeks, I always thought. They all spoke a different language, one of emotes and duels and social conventions and invitations to '1v1 me bro '.
It all seemed a little bit too much like hard work, until I had to do it for work, and now I'm sad to say that I'm actually enjoying it. A lot. I'm one of them now; reading up about the best sets of tactics for a given area, thinking about my build a lot – reckon I'm gonna call my gang the Poise of Summer – and learning what 'ganking' means.
I'm in now. Initiated, etc. But the real question is: if you're a noob Souls player, should you do the same?
The answer, as always with these games, isn't exactly clear. Starting co-op or getting into competitive multiplayer isn't just a matter of hitting an option on a menu, of course. Instead, you've got to acquire certain items – a soapstone from a merchant in Firelink to summon, a red eye orb from the same place to invade other people's games – and then try and get it to work. There are other considerations: you can't summon if you have already beaten the area boss, and invading changes your Estus allocation, among other things. Oh, and you have to be 'embered' – via a consumable commodity – to do any of this.
Is it worth it? Yes, for the most part, but as your attorney I advise you to leave it until later on in the game. Well, the invasion stuff, at least. Having other humans to help you out with the game's ridiculous bosses is obviously helpful right from the start, and being embered also enables you to summon NPCs to do the hard work of getting destroyed while you clip the Big Bad's ankles for ten or so minutes. It's a legitimate and encouraged way of playing the game, useful for overcoming all manner of difficulty spikes.
The real fun, however, is in PvP: a test of skill and nerve and your ability to not roll off the side of cathedrals to your doom. The best part about it is how it totally changes the way you approach everything about the experience. It is perfectly possible to coast your way through a lot of the Souls games, pumping yet more stats into your strength, HP, and stamina, buffing that weapon you really like and leaving it at that. Competitive play forces you to look at new arms, new spells, new armour, while also demanding that you look into what DEX really means, and how it works.
Beyond all that shite though, all that homework, is one of the most rewarding combat games out there, like some mad, hyper-budget Bushido Blade. So much of PvP is about intimidation that players can lose duels before they even start them, or be forced into stupid errors with ease. The environments play a huge part in this, not just in the case of backing your foe up to the edge of a cliff, but also in positioning yourself like a glowing medieval Batman, perched atop a battlement for maximum menace. One of my first encounters as an invader in DS3 saw my prey scrambling to an end of a rope bridge, hoping to lure me in and then cut it loose. I stopped the pursuit early, avoided the trap. For a brief moment they looked back, did a little jig, and escaped. Bastards. This is the joy of the mode: your enemies are smaller, but the occasion feels grander.
This sort of thing happens often in Souls PvP, making it worth the hassle of getting your head kicked in a lot. So if you're a Souls newcomer, or someone who has played them all from the comfort of offline mode, give it a shot.