To begin the game, players customize the sex and physical features of a character in addition to choosing a gift and starting class, which determines starting statistics and equipment. From a third-person perspective, players explore a continuous, open world, where they are confronted by a hostile environment with unrelenting enemies and bosses. As enemies are defeated, “souls” are accumulated, which can be used as either currency or experience points, with players upgrading various character attributes to reflect a certain style of play. If at any point in the game the player decides to change their style of play, these points can be reallocated with the use of a Soul Vessel.
The player moves through the world with little guidance or orientation, facing deadly opponents which generally increase in difficulty. The player can save their progress by lighting “bonfires,” at which they can also rest to renew their health and magic, as well as repairing damage to their weapons. Resting at a bonfire also resets enemies in the particular area where that bonfire is located. The player can instantaneously travel between discovered bonfires in order to make backtracking less tedious. When a player is defeated, they “die”, losing all the souls in their possession and returning to the last bonfire where they rested. When this happens, not only have they lost all their souls, but they are no longer human (called being “hollow”), and their maximum hit points have been decreased. The player can retrieve their lost souls at the location they died, but must do so before dying again, otherwise all souls accumulated up to that point will be permanently lost.