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Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel beginner’s guide

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Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel, the first expansion of developer From Software's action role-playing game, builds upon the foundation established in Dark Souls 3. It also does things that the original never did.

Before you travel to the Painted World of Ariandel, you need to prepare. Our Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel beginner's guide will make you ready for the challenges to come.

From your character's level to the best gear to strategies for defeating the enemies you'll face, we'll teach you everything you need to know to get the most out of your journey.

Table of contents

What level should you be?

Don't let the warp location fool you: To play Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel, your character should be able to beat Dark Souls 3.

As a message at the beginning of Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel says, "Before one faces the painting, one should face the depths of Lothric Castle."

Lothric Castle is a late-game area. (If you need a refresher, check out our Lothric Castle walkthrough.) The upshot? From Software, not exactly known for extending many helping hands, warns you at the beginning that you shouldn't play Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel unless you have a late-game character.

What's a late-game character? We've played with characters as low as about level 130, and Ashes of Ariandel was still very challenging. Keep that number in mind before you start.

What gear and items should you use?

In the early stages of Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel, there are multiple enemy types who spit and hurl fire at you. You should equip armor, rings and other items that boost your fire resistance. You'll also need to keep an eye on your frost resistance.

What you equip is up to you, given that you need to balance offensive and defensive items and your equip load. (Check out our Dark Souls 3 Status screen guide to learn more about equip load — and a lot more.) Still, here's a list of suggestions to help you along the way.

Fire resistance

  • Equip the Flame Stoneplate Ring.
  • Increase your strength stat, which includes a natural resistance to fire damage.
  • Use the Flash Sweat pyromancy. You can buy that from Cornyx of the Great Swamp in Firelink Shrine.
  • Use red bug pellets, which temporary boost fire resistance. Unbreakable Patches or the Shrine Handmaid in Firelink Shrine sell them (depending on Patches' status).
  • Wear the Fallen Knight armor set, which not only has high fire resistance and is relatively light, but also looks awesome.

Frost resistance

  • Wear the Outrider Knight Armor set.
  • Wear the Northern Armor set.
  • Use a rime-blue moss clump, which reduces frost buildup and cures frostbite. The Shrine Handmaid in Firelink Shrine sells these after you bring her the Prisoner Chief's Ashes from Irithyll Dungeon.

Miscellaneous

  • Use alluring skulls to attract and distract enemies. Unbreakable Patches in Firelink Shrine sells them.

Try some pyromancies

Dark Souls 3's pyromancies are magic for the people. They tend to scale with both Intelligence (otherwise for sorceries) and Faith (otherwise for miracles). That means that if you have a character who can use sorceries or miracles, you can almost certainly use pyromancies, too.

The Painted World of Ariamis is a cold and hostile patch of land. It inhabitants don't take kindly to being doused in fire. A little bit of investment in pyromancies could go a long way toward keeping you alive. If you're into spending souls, visit the man pictured above, Cornyx of the Great Swamp, in Firelink Shrine (assuming you released him from his cage in Undead Settlement).

The best shields

As we recommended in our Dark Souls 3 beginner's guide, equip a shield with 100 percent damage reduction. Ashes of Ariandel's conceit is that enemies — human or otherwise — attack in coordinated groups. You're have to block a lot. When you do, you don't want every hit you take to cause damage. That'll happen if this is less than 100 percent.

Consider upgrading your shield with Blacksmith Andre in Firelink Shrine. Doing so tends to increase your shield's stability stat, which governs how much stamina drains every time an enemy hits your shield. More stability means more blocking. More blocking means taking less damage.

Dress and equip for poise

In previous Dark Souls games, poise increased your resistance to being staggered. In Dark Souls 3, that didn't quite seem to be the case. In fact, there's still plenty of debate about how poise works — or if it works at all. Just ahead of Ashes of Ariandel, Dark Souls 3's poise got an adjustment.

Given its history and the recent update — and knowing that you're almost certainly going block a lot — you should keep poise in mind. Equipping armor and weapons with high poise can't hurt. You can also equip items like the Wolf Ring to increase your poise even more.

Learn and love ranged weapons

Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel's enemies tend to attack in groups, and that's bad news for you. The good news? There's one great way to avoid fighting hordes at a time: Attack your enemies from a distance.

In short, if you have ranged weapons like bows and arrows and sorceries, use them.

The binocular trick

If you're using spells, binoculars should be your best friend. They let you extend the range of your spells. How? It's easy.

Equip your binoculars, peer into the distance, zoom in and fire your sorcery without locking on to your enemy. (Fire when your unaware enemy is in the middle of your zoomed-in screen. If you're having trouble eyeballing the middle, use the logo on your monitor or TV as a point of reference.)

Be quiet and sneaky

If you're quiet and sneaky, you can knock off enemies before they gang up and attack you. Coupled with our suggestion to use ranged weapons, this gives you big advantages.

Stealthiness is particularly helpful when fighting the wolves at the beginning of Ashes of Ariandel. Before they've spotted you, wolves are just sitting and lying around being lazy. After they've spotted you, one of the jerks will howl, alerting everyone in the area that you've arrived. Then they attack you as a group, and that's no fun.

If you run up to them and start whacking away, there's effectively no chance you'll kill them before one starts sounding the alarm. But if you creep up on them and use ranged attacks, you can take them down one-by-one without alerting even wolves right next to them.

Wolves aren't the only enemies susceptible to your sneakiness. There's a group of Followers up a hill just beyond the Snowfield bonfire, all of whom are facing away from the bonfire. If you're slow and quiet, you can sneak up on them, lock on from a distance and use ranged weapons to destroy them without alerting the others.

If you want to go full stealth, equip the Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring, which masks the sounds you make when you walk. This stealthiness can give you an edge throughout Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel.

Speaking of rings

Want to know more about Dark Souls 3's rings? Good! We explain them all in our guide.

Divide and conquer

As we mentioned earlier, a lot of the enemies in Ashes of Ariandel travel in groups. Charging into a fight hoping to hack and slash your way to victory is a path to frustration and death. In short, you don't want to alert your enemies of your presence because they'll launch a coordinated attack. Spoiler alert: It's much easier to fight one enemy at a time.

Throughout the expansion, try to approach your enemies in a way that ensures a one-on-one (or at least a sneak attack) encounter.

If you do wind up fighting multiple enemies, rely on your shield (and make sure it has 100 percent physical damage absorption and high fire resistance), blocking when you have to and attacking in the few precious moments when you see an opening.

In ether case, always know where you are in relation to the closest bonfire. If you die, at least it'll be easy to recover your souls.

Also, back away from your enemies along the path you cleared to get wherever you are. Running into uncharted territory is the same as inviting more enemies to attack you.

Know your enemies

At the beginning of Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel, you tend to fight groups of the same enemies. The area surrounding the first bonfire is full of human-like Followers and a single giant fly monster monstrosity. In the area just beyond that, you'll fight wolves and evil trees. After that, you'll face a single Millwood Knight.

As you travel deeper into Ashes of Ariandel, your enemies will mix and match to compound the danger. Wolves and Followers will congregate around trees. Millwood Knights travel with wolf companions.

At the beginning, take your time. Learn how Followers and wolves and Millwood Knights operate. Knowing your enemies' behavior puts you in a far better position to battle them when they team up.

Curious about enemies? Frustrated? Here are strategies for each enemy type.

Followers

In Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel, there are a few different kinds of Followers, distinguishable by their equipment. Here's how to defeat them all.

  • Javelin. Followers who attack from a distance, throwing a mighty wooden javelin. Lock onto them and move left and right, waiting for them to throw their weapons. If you're moving when they throw, you'll avoid getting hit. Then run toward them and hack away or backstab.
  • Sword and torch. These Followers eschew a shield in favor of a torch. They're at their most dangerous when they're breaking fire, but they're also at their most vulnerable. Stay back, wait for them to breathe fire, and move around to their backs, where you can hack away and backstab.
  • Spear and shield. Arguably the most difficult of the Follower flavors, these carry a shield that blocks your attacks. Your best bet for defeating them is to use a time-honored Dark Souls strategy: Allow them to attack, as you block and strafe around them. When their animation finishes, they're stuck for a moment, and you're primed to swing away and backstab.

Followers tend to leave themselves open for backstabs. If you're fighting them up close and personal, wait for them to enter an attacking animation that includes a pause at the end. The fire-breathing flavor, for example, is both the most dangerous and the most vulnerable at the same time. Run around his back, and execute a light attack to backstab him and cause massive damage.

Wolves

Ashes of Ariandel introduces three flavors of wolf. Two are common. One is not. All of them work together against you.

  • Leaders. When they don't know you're there, most wolves are sleeping. Many groups of three have one lone wolf who sits awake, scouting for danger. These should be your initial target. They're the most likely to howl and let their buddies know you're here.
  • Followers. When they don't know you're there, most wolves are sleeping. When they wake up, they'll snarl and keep their distance, happy to evade your ranged attacks and the swing of your weapon. Then they run or leap toward you to attack. Keep your shield up to protect against the initial attack, then swing away with your weapon when they're close.
  • Greatwolves. These enormous wolves appear a few times in Ashes of Ariandel, but they're tough beasts — at least in the sense that they're gigantic and have a bunch of health. The same basic strategies apply, with one caveat: Their size makes them somewhat less able to evade your ranged weapons. Fire away.

Bugs

Bugs are scattered throughout Ashes of Ariandel, and they don't pose much of a problem alone. They're generally easy to defeat. Still, there are some variations — and they're a lot more difficult to defeat in groups.

  • Purple breathers. Some bugs can breathe out a purple cloud that causes poison damage. The good news is that they'll only have a chance to do so if you dawdle. Killing bugs quickly is the name of the game.
  • Flyers. Some bugs fly through the air and attach to your head, like they're trying to lay an egg in your face. It causes a bunch of damage, and you'll be bleeding before you know it. If you see a bug flying, just assume that your head is the target. You have two options: Swing the heck out of your weapon in the hopes that you'll kill them mid-flight, or roll the heck away to avoid that attack.
  • Maggot pukers. Some puke maggots onto you. (Yeah, it's gross.) As you may remember from Cathedral of the Deep, these little grubs get everywhere and increase your bleed damage. If you find yourself infested, equip a torch and the maggots will flee.

Witchtrees

The Witchtrees of the Painted World (or at least that's what we're calling them, based on their apparent relation to the Witchtree branch weapon) have three basic types of attacks. Just to make it more difficult, Witchtrees can use one or more of these. Just because they're a hugger doens't mean that they won't also spray you with frozen breath.

Huggers

Huggers don't have ranged attacks, but they do have long arms, so they might as well have ranged attacks. They'll reach out and slam you from yards away. If you get close, they can pick you up and hug you to death. Ranged weapons and pyromancies are particularly effective. The only problem is that you have to get up close to lock on, which is where they're most dangerous. If you don't have ranged weapons, get in, hit them a few times and then get away before they can grab you.

Flaming leaf blowers

Some Witchtrees rear up and send dozens of tiny, flaming projectiles your way. This is annoying. Leafs aren't supposed to work like this. It's also potentially fatal, especially if you don't have much fire protection. The good news? You can run the heck away from the flaming leafs, and they'll burn themselves out. Just make sure that you're running into an area where you've already been. You don't want to run into a new area and alert new enemies to fight while evil leaves are trying to burn you to death.

Frost breathers

Some Witchtrees have bad breath, at least in the sense that it causes frost damage. It has a surprisingly long range, but you can still outrun it — and strafe side to side to avoid it, though the Witchtree will track your movement and try to murder you to death with halitosis. When they're breathing on you, it's best to just let him go and concentrate on avoiding the attack, which always has more range than we expect.

Millwood Knights

Ashes of Ariandel's beefiest enemies patrol the snowy wasteland in a few different configurations.

Millwood Knights are exceedingly difficult to fight on their own, and there are plenty of situations where you might wind up fighting more than one at a time. Avoid this at all costs. Fighting multiple Followers might be more annoying than deadly. Fighting multiple Millwood Knights is a recipe for death.

How do you avoid fighting them in groups? By keeping the fight where you want it. Don't charge in. Coax them to where you are. You already know that you've cleared the area behind you. Fight them where you stand, and back away if necessary.

Weapon and shield

The first Millwood Knight you'll face will carry a weapon and a shield. If you have a powerful ranged weapon, you can get off one hit while your enemy is at a distance. Once hit, though, he'll raise his shield, and your ranged weapon will become much less effective. When you're fighting up close, don't be aggressive. Wait for him to attack, blocking and rolling out of the way. When his animation ends, he's vulnerable to hits and backstabs. Worse, their shields regenerate health. It's a slow regeneration, but it's still going to undo some of the damage you've done. It's to your benefit to limit the fight to one at a time, so nobody gets to retreat and heal.

Hammer

These Millwood Knights carry a single, enormous hammer with both of their hands. It's incredibly powerful, but it also leaves them open to attacks they can't block with the effectiveness of a shield. Up close, treat them like their sword and shield-carrying counterparts and wait out their attacks to counterattack. If you've got ranged weapons like sorceries and pyromancies, fire away.

Wolf lovers

A few Millwood Knights patrol the tundra with wolves as their companions. Kill the wolves first. Then attack with the strategies above.

Archers

Millwood Knight archers are the worst. Not only do they carry huge and powerful bows and arrows, but those arrows pack an explosive punch that detonates a few seconds after the arrow lands. If you charge them, they may be inclined to drop their bows. That's fine if you're only fighting one at a time. If you try to charge a cabal of Millwood Knight archers, one of them is likely to keep his bow equipped and continue firing. Instead, use the trees in the Painted World to your advantage, chipping away at their health from a distance or running in, taking a few hits and running away using trees for cover.

Corvians

These pathetic creatures don't pose much of a threat. In fact, many will ignore you.

Sometimes, they like to hug the ground, rear up and breathe poison your way. Other times, they just kind of walk around hugging themselves, presumably muttering about how miserable it is to be a Corvian in Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel. And really, who could blame them?

Avoid them or kill them, but there's not much strategy involved, and you're not going to get rich from reaping the soul rewards. You might, if you're lucky, get some Stalk Dung Pie, though, which you can hurl at enemies to make them toxic (and also make you a little toxic, too).

There's a notable exception to the Corvian rule™: Some cast spells. You'll be in a good position to avoid them when you meet. And it's worth defeating them for the loot they're guarding.

Corvian Knights

Corvian Knights obsessively protect the Painted World of Ariandel. They are fast and deadly. You don't want to get near them, so use ranged weapons if you have them.

Crow Talons

This is the standard loadout for the Corvian Knight. Want some of that action? Go and get them.

Rapier

Corvian Knights wearing a ragged white cape carry an oversized rapier that's not particularly difficult to avoid.

PREPARE TO DIE LESS

Your journey doesn't end here. Be sure to check out the rest of Polygon's Dark Souls 3 guide, which offers everything from tips for beginners and returning masochists to detailed walkthroughs of every area — including all of the secret, bonus content.

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