Dark Souls is something of an enigma around these parts, a cult classic born from Japanese developer From Software’s first entry in the ‘Souls’ series, the PS3-exclusive Demon’s Souls. Both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls (and its recent follow-up) are often spoken about in hushed conversations, referred to as ‘something for the hardcore’, with those yet to experience the series’ satisfying RPG gameplay, ultimately put off by the idea that it’s just too darned hard or unfair, and who wants to throw their hard-earned money at a title where the ‘You Died’ screen appears over and over (and over) again anyway?
The Souls series is the antithesis of modern gaming, where all too often we are led by hand through the majority of big AAA titles, herded in the correct direction and spoon fed from the word go. A Souls game will leave you a series of short messages at the beginning on how to move your character, attack and defend and that’s it – there’s no tutorial explaining how (and when) to level up, what the pros and cons of each weapon are or even how to use magic. You’re just literally plonked, prostrate in some cases, into the game with little or no idea of where to go, or why you should go there in the first place. And the games are huge, character customisation alone is probably a separate series of articles in itself, and don’t get us started on levelling up your equipment…it’s deep and it’s confusing, and it is just a little bit scary.
And therein lies the series’ beauty, a blank canvas of adventure you can write for yourself in a shockingly detailed and varied world, where danger and death lurks literally around every corner. Yes, the games are punishing, but each and every death is on your own head, and not to be taken lightly – and you will die. Dark Souls punishes the unwary and the unprepared, and as the old saying goes, only fools rush in.
So you can imagine our joy when we heard that Microsoft has added Dark Souls to its Games with Gold promotion this month, which means Xbox Live Gold members can now pick up the game for free until the June 15 (follow this link to do just that) – and so we thought that now would be the perfect time to compile a list of our top 10 tips for surviving your first few hours in the game.
1. Take your time
Dark Souls is a massive game, and the world of Lordran is just begging to be fully explored. Story is scarce and leaves a lot up to player interpretation, so take your time on your journey and try to look around as much as you can. New areas you investigate often open up previously unfound treasures if you retrace your steps, and some areas will need to be revisited altogether in order to grab valuable items you’ll rely on later in the game.
2. Try different routes
In conjunction with ‘Take your time’, trying different routes through the game is also advised – some areas just aren’t ready to be explored by a fledgling adventurer like yourself so, if you find yourself quickly overpowered by the same enemies and dying over and over again, wander off in the opposite direction after you respawn. You will always return to the last bonfire you rested at after every death, so make a mental note of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ places to visit on your travels – you can always attempt to tackle the ‘bad’ areas once you’ve levelled your character up somewhat, and you will quickly get to know areas that are good for farming souls. Early on in the game I found the first bonfire you get to in the Undead Burg a great base as there are plenty of enemies nearby equipped with a good range of weapons, allowing you to hone your combat skills and grab some easy souls.
3. Level up
This is one of the most important functions in the game, as it increases vital statistics like Health, Stamina and how many spells you can equip at any one time. Every time you kill an enemy you receive souls (the in-game currency), which are spent on increasing your stats while resting at bonfires, among other things. It’s worth having a plan in your head when you start the game as to what sort of character you want to build during your game, based on your playstyle. Are you more of a melee player who prefers to use their strength and stamina to wade in to every fight, or a magic-based player who likes to put a bit of distance between themselves and the undead hoard? Every level up is important, and should not be wasted – there is no point putting valuable souls in to a stat you will not use, and it’s worth noting that some stats (like Resistance) are completely useless and should not be invested in whatsoever, no matter which build you are going for. The cost of levelling up quickly increases, and before you know it you’ll be looking at spending 10,000+ souls to increase a stat by one point – so choose wisely every time.
4. Upgrade your weapons
Souls can also be spent on improving your weapons, providing you have the correct materials to do so. Titanite Shards will help you in the early stages of that process, but who’s going to carry out the upgrades for you? That’s right, Blacksmiths. These ornery lords and ladies are dotted throughout the world of Lordran, and will carry out the manual labour required to increase your weapon stats, for a price. The sheer amount of options available here are mind-boggling however, so we would advise you to upgrade your weapons in the same way you upgrade your character – carefully! Once you reach the peak of your weapon’s normal physical capabilities, you are able to ‘ascend’ them into super-powerful magic weapons, of which there are further upgrade paths available. There’s no shame in trial and error here, and you’ll find that sooner or later you’ll be able to purchase all the materials you need from merchants.
5. Manage your stamina
Stamina is your key to getting things done in Lordran, and without it you won’t be able to attack, defend, run or roll. Represented by the green bar in the top-left hand side of the screen, it depletes as you perform certain actions. It does refill automatically, but exponentially slower if you’re defending yourself with a weapon or shield (when pressing L1). So when you’re locked in combat with enemies, we’d advise you to only bring your shield up if you think you’re about to take a hit – this gives your stamina more chance to recharge quickly during an enemy encounter, which in turn gives you more of a chance to unleash hell on your unsuspecting foe.
6. Learn to backstab
The Backstab is one of the most useful attacks available to you from the very start of the game, it’s incredibly easy to pull off and a great way to do some serious damage to your enemies. All you need to do is position yourself behind your enemy and hit R1 (Light Attack) without your shield or weapon raised in defence – you’ll know you’ve pulled it off successfully as the move has its own animation and is unbreakable, so even if you’re surrounded by enemies you will not take damage once the backstab animation starts.
Humanity is a rare and precious resource in Dark Souls, and is collected in two ways. Some enemies will drop them as an item, which will stay in your inventory once collected, while others will give you Humanities automatically when you kill them. There’s no on-screen notification for the latter type, but keep an eye on the number next to your health and stamina bars – it starts at 00 and will increase as you accrue these auto-Humanities. However, if you die you will lose them along with your collected souls – so do bear that in mind when you find yourself with a large amount. If you do die and lose your souls and humanities, you are able to recover them at the spot you died – so tread extra carefully and try not to rush back to the same place if you have a large amount waiting for you. It’s also worth noting that some creatures (like Rats) are a good source of Humanity, so if you’re able to locate an area that has a lot of these creatures and a bonfire nearby then it would be worth spending some time there farming for this precious resource.
8. Revert to human form
You begin your adventure in Dark Souls as an undead, but you are able to bring yourself out of that state and back to your Human form as you progress. This is achieved by using a Humanity from your inventory, and then sacrificing that Humanity at a bonfire. The main benefit of being human is the ability to summon NPCs you’ve met along the way to help you in certain boss fights, although really they serve more as a way of distracting that boss while you concentrate on doling out the damage. Bear in mind that not every boss fight has a handy NPC summon nearby, so it’s worth searching around for the glowing white signs on the floor in an area you think may contain a boss (who are usually located behind a misty white gate). Be warned that while in your Human form you are vulnerable to invasion by other players online – Dark Souls is an ‘always online’ PvP game, and although there are lots of good players out there who will abide by the etiquette that comes with a PvP challenge, there are still a small minority who enjoy griefing Dark Souls newbies.
Which brings me to the next tip…
9. Respect the online community
So Dark Souls is always online, but not in the traditional multiplayer/co-op vein favoured by Call of Duty et al. As you progress you’ll see bloodstains on the floor that show you the last few seconds of another player’s life, perhaps hinting at possible traps or pitfalls you may not necessarily be aware of straight away. If you see a lot of bloodstains in one particular area you can bet your bottom dollar that a particularly tough battle is on the way. You’ll also see glowing messages dotted around that other players have left – think of this as like Dark Souls’ version of Twitter, as most people leave handy hints or words of encouragement in different locations. Do be wary of any that say ‘jump off here’ next to any potentially deadly cliffs, bridges or expanses of water though – some people do have a twisted sense of humour! For the most part though, the Dark Souls community are a helpful bunch, and you’ll find those that are passionate about the game are really passionate, and will be happy to help any new adventurers in Lordran, either with tips (like these) or in Co-op play. YouTube is a fantastic source of information, with guys like Rurikhan (who I’ve found particularly helpful), EpicNameBro and A German Spy hosting a large amount of Dark Souls videos and playthroughs, along with the Dark Souls Wikidot page.
10. Prepare to die
This is the single most important piece of advice you will receive before starting out in Dark Souls, and you’re going to see the ‘You Died’ screen an awful lot before your first playthrough is done. You will lose your souls and humanities upon death, but providing you can make your way back to where you died without dying again you will be able to recover all the souls and humanities you previously lost. To minimize the amount of pain you receive from losing a very large amount of souls you could always spend them on levelling up your character, repairing your equipment or stocking up on new items before tackling a new area, but as most people will tell you, Dark Souls is not a game that will punish you unfairly and as time goes on, you will start to learn where you went wrong previously, and you’ll never make the same mistake twice.
So there you have it, Xboxer.co.uk’s top ten tips for surviving Dark Souls. This is by no means a complete or definitive beginner’s guide, so we’d like to encourage you to leave your own hints and tips in the comments section below!
Big thanks to seasoned Dark Souls vet DocBrown 976 for the assistance in compiling this list!