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Dark Souls III: Everything You Need to Know

Even if you don't know Dark Souls, you may have heard the franchise's infamous tagline: "Prepare to die." The ultradifficult action/role-playing game series is about to receive its third installment, or its fifth, depending on how you're counting.

Whether you're a hardened veteran ready to die as many times as it takes or a newbie who wants to try something a little more difficult than the average game, Dark Souls III is as good a place as any to jump in to this series.

For first-timers, Dark Souls III may seem incredibly intimidating. What is the series all about? Is there an ongoing story? Where's the fun in playing a game that delights in killing you and stripping away your progress? If you're not quite prepared to die, read on and see if you're ready to kindle the fires of hope, or be lost in the Stygian embrace of darkness.

What is Dark Souls III?

Dark Souls III is an atmospheric action/RPG that focuses on difficulty, character-building, setting and contextual storytelling. You'll take control of a hero or heroine who sets off into a dying world and must best a variety of undead soldiers, misshapen ghouls, fire-breathing dragons and fearsome demons in order to become more powerful and bring a modicum of stability to a doomed world.

MORE: 'Dark Souls II': Read This Before Playing

What sets Dark Souls III apart from most other action/RPGs is its extreme difficulty curve. Enemies need only a few hits to lay you low, and the world is positively littered with traps, pitfalls and mazelike passages that can end you in seconds. You'll die, and you'll probably die very often. What's worse, your souls — which double as both experience points and currency, gained from defeating enemies — drop upon death. You have one chance to recover them before they disappear forever, which may feel punishing for new players.

What do I need to play?

The game will be available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on April 12 in the West (earlier in Japan), and will run you $60 for a standard edition and $130 for a collector's edition. The former is just the game, whereas the latter contains a strategy guide, a sound track, a metal case, an art book, a cloth map and a 10-inch statue of the game's Red Knight.

PC users will get the game one day earlier, on April 11. The main game will cost $60 alone, or $85 with a Season Pass for upcoming downloadable content (DLC). Users who pre-order the game on Steam will also receive a sound track and discounts, depending on how many of the previous games they own. To play on the PC, you'll need, at minimum:

OS: Windows 7 SP1 64-bit, Windows 8.1 64-bit, Windows 10 64-bit

Processor: Intel Core i5 2500k 3.1 GHz / AMD A8 3870 3.6 Ghz

Memory: 8 GB RAM

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 465 / ATI Radeon TM HD 6870

DirectX: Version 11

Network: Broadband Internet connection

Storage: 50GB available space

Sound Card: DirectX 11 sound device

Where does Dark Souls III fit in the series?

This is an excellent question, and we probably won't know for certain even after players finish the game. The Souls series has a notoriously vague, minimalist story line, and it's difficult (although not impossible) to draw direct connections among games. Generally speaking, though, Dark Souls III takes place sometime after Dark Souls andDark Souls II, and will likely echo some of the plot points in those titles.

From a real-world perspective, Dark Souls III is the fourth or fifth game in a series of loosely connected titles that began in 2009 with Demon's Souls. From there, Dark Souls followed in 2011, and Dark Souls II in 2014. (Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin was an expanded version of the latter title.) The next game (arguably) in the series was 2015'sBloodborne, which eschewed the medieval fantasy setting for more of a steampunk feel. There are some hints that Bloodborne is linked to the Souls series proper, although the game play and setting are just distinct enough that some players consider the title to be its own beast.

MORE: Bloodborne: Everything You Need to Know

While it wouldn't hurt to play the previous three or four games (and indeed, they are all excellent in their own rights), you can probably jump right into Dark Souls III without any previous experience. Just expect the first few levels to be tough until you get the hang of the game's general design.

How does the online component work?

The Dark Souls series is neither an MMO nor a pure single-player game. With an online connection, you can interact with other players in an indirect fashion. Players can leave notes for each other. Useful notes get upvoted and get to stay (and restore health for the player who wrote them!), while useless ones disappear. You can also see how other players died, and occasionally see traces of their avatars in your own world.

Players can also summon each other to assist with boss fights, or invade each other's worlds in order to fight each other for fun and profit. You can turn off the online features if you prefer to play alone, but notes and multiplayer encounters add a lot to the series.

Is Dark Souls fun?

Define "fun." Dark Souls doesn't let you blow through baddies and indulge in a power fantasy. At best, you'll feel outmatched; at worst, you'll feel that continuing is impossible. The game can be frustrating, even maddening at times. And yet, for all that, it's quite hard to put down.

Despite the game's marketing, it's not an endless gauntlet of death and destruction. With a little caution and skill, you'll spend the majority of your time fighting conquerable enemies and exploring gorgeous vistas in crumbling castles and eerie forests. Building up your character feels rewarding, as does breezing past enemies who once fought you to within an inch of your life. When you beat a boss, it's gratifying to know that your victory was due to your skill and not the game's leniency.

So, yes: Dark Souls is fun, when you're able to successfully conquer its challenges. And no: It's not fun, when you find yourself up against a wall. On balance, though, it's an exhilarating experience, and quite unlike most other games on the market.