I am a one game kind of guy. For whatever complex psychological reason I still, after all these years, prefer to only play one game at a time. I have recently had to break that rule when it comes to Dark Souls. Because yes, like most others, I find Dark Souls to be very, very hard and if I were to stick to my one game at a time rule, I would never get to play anything else. I have played video games nearly all my life and I don’t hesitate to admit that I am awful at Dark Souls. I die all the time. I swear. I curse. I throw things. I promise to the old gods and the new that I will never grace this game with another moment of my precious time.
I am now on my second playthrough on new game+ and have just bought a PS4 just so I can co-op Dark Souls 1 with a friend. I love it. It’s now 5 years old, but I can’t help but recommend it to as many people as I can. But, it’s horrifically difficult to actually ‘get into’, to look past that first couple hundred death screens and see the game for the complex, blood soaked beauty that it is. So Geekly is here to help with this handy guide to getting your toes wet in the first Dark Souls.
It almost seems like a cliché to say it at this point, but you will die a lot in Dark Souls. In fact, genuine research has shown that your actual number of deaths in any given game with exceed your expectations by a factor of at least 8.
Now, this is not a bad thing. No really, it isn’t. Death is the game’s way of keeping you humble, and there’s a good chance that if you died, it was entirely your own fault. Dark Souls is not in the habit of hand-holding, or even really holding on to any part of you. The game respects you and your choices as a functioning adult. And this is perhaps the core of the game, and potentially the biggest hurdle to truly enjoying it. There is a freedom to the game that others don’t particularly have. While you of course have the freedom to succeed however you like (and indeed can), you are also free to fail however you like. This freedom can be distressing, confusing even, and indeed can lead to many, many repeated deaths.
The key point is to remember that death is not a point of failure in Dark Souls, rather, it’s a key part of the experience. And that leads to the next point.
If you’re tackling Dark Souls and find yourself dying, it’s not because the game is a piece of bullshit and it hates you. It’s not even necessarily because you’re bad at the game. It may be because you’re on the wrong path, both strategically or quite literally. Thanks to the game’s aforementioned freedom, you have the full ability to go wherever you please and try whatever character strategies, weapons and spells you like. But just because you can do something does not make it a good idea.
While a certain amount of persistence is required, it is important to remember that alternative strategies are 100% viable and in some cases needed. While you may really enjoy that sword you’ve got that does poison damage, it’s just a fact that eventually something is going to have poison resistance. Equally, if you keep dying in the graveyard, maybe you’re just not ready for it.
Explore, try new things and of course…
Dark Souls is a video game. I’m not saying that in a philosophical ‘don’t worry go do something else’ sense, I’m saying Dark Souls is much more concerned with fun than anything else. When the time comes to make your choice in terms of class, it only matters for the first 20 minutes of the game. After that you’re free to do whatever you like. Started as a fighter with a big axe but now you’d like to be a mage? Spend souls on a few levels, up your intelligence and try it out. Worst comes to worst, just start a new game. The first asylum isn’t that hard, right?
Experimenting is great. But spreading your stats too thin can really screw you over later in the game. Or early in the game. In fact you can get screwed over at any point regardless of your stats. But I digress. It’s a good idea to, eventually, decide how you’d like to play the game. Like swinging those big swords? Up your strength, vitality and endurance and keep at it. Looking to parry some hoes with that sweet shield you picked up? Keep parrying, invest in strength. Want to bless the world with your miracles? Keep at it in faith, but don’t neglect your weapons. Whatever it is that you decide, stay strong with it, you can always play the game again.
Quite a lot oddly enough. Have a quick breakdown.
Well, none of them really. It all depends on how you want to play the game.
Okay, you got me. Maybe, maybe, some of them are more important than others. Hands down the simplest and easiest build is one centered around strength and endurance. Carrying a big sword, maybe some light armor, and focusing on getting those big hits in. But of course if you’re more about those spells, maybe you don’t want high strength? So, you bump your intelligence. But what else? Well, really, two of the biggest stats that you’ll need to keep an eye on are Vitality and Endurance. Vitality because, y’know, everyone needs more health. You can quickly find yourself being outstripped in terms of your total health and the damage that enemies now do when you move into a new area. So, while you’re cranking that strength or intelligence or dexterity, keep an eye on your vitality.
Perhaps more key to your continued success is your endurance. While of course a higher endurance lets you carry and equip more stuff, it has a deeper, far more useful function. It lets you roll. It lets you swing your sword, cast your spells and generally do more and more things. And you want to do more things. When your endurance hits zero, you’re stuck. And when you’re doing the pointy tango with a Black Knight, having just enough endurance to execute one more roll can literally mean the difference between life and death. So, while you may stop with the endurance when you can carry all your equipment, don’t be afraid to pop in a few more points.
And that leads to our next point
Dark Souls gives you a lot of freedom. If you disrespect that, it will punish you. If you run blindly into an area, expecting nothing but success and rainbows, you will find the opposite. It is incredibly important to remember to stay alert. Lordran is a dangerous world. Every single NPC you meet will express deep, profound surprise at you having lived through, well, anything. And there is a reason for that. The chief amongst those is that even a simple stone hallway can be dangerous to your health.
Check your health when its quiet. Make sure things are actually quiet. And when you fight, keep an eye on your surroundings and keep the other eye on your stamina bar. If it sounds like a tiny bit of work, that’s because it is. But succeeding in a difficult portion of the game due to almost entirely your own efforts and sheer skill? Undeniably satisfying.
Know what else is satisfying?
Dark Souls, at first glance, makes no sense. Heck, even at second glance it makes no sense. But underneath the difficulty, dark atmosphere and punishing game-play is an incredibly rich and interesting story. Lordran is a world with a long and varied history. None of which will ever be spoon-fed to you by the game. While it may be satisfying to execute a perfect roll and a parry, it’s equally as satisfying to discover some unknown portion of the world, or connect a seemingly random item you found to an enemy or an npc. There is a deep satisfaction to finding these hidden gems and, more so than any other game, I have found myself going ‘ah-hah!’ aloud to myself.
Stories abound about Dark Souls‘ difficulty and how merciless it is. But looking past all of that, there’s a great game waiting to be discovered. There’s so much more to it than crushing defeat and unending deaths. If, you’re willing to push though frustration and bouts of swearing you will be treated to one of the best gaming experiences currently available.
Anyone looking to engage in a little bit of jolly cooperation in Dark Souls (any of them), or looking for some advice, or even just a chat, hit me up on twitter! I’m @mrk_bennett and I’m always happy to share in your Black Knight conquests, or even just commiserate and sympathize about the Tauros Demon.