Tips and Tricks for Playing Dark Souls

Dark Souls 2 Bonfire

Welcome to a new section on the site that focuses on strategies for beating some challenging games. On this article you’ll find some tips and tricks for playing Dark Souls. Unlike most of the articles found on Games Retrospect, I won’t be posting a new entry on a regular basis, since I’ll be focusing on really specific games that are challenging (something quite rare these days) or titles I’m extremely passionate about. Please let me know what you think about this article, since I’d love to go back to some of my favorite games and work on a “Tips and Tricks” article about them.

For the first entry, I chose one of the most challenging games of the past few years and a game I really liked: Dark Souls. As most of you probably know, there’s a lot of information about the role-playing game out there, so instead of working on a boring guide, I decided to compile some hints that really helped me on my adventure. Personally, I believe that the least you read about this game, the better. Nevertheless, I wish I had read an article that loosely referred to the game’s structure to pay more attention to some specific parts.

Understand that death is an essential part of the game

In Dark Souls, death is less of a punishment and more of a learning experience, so use that to your advantage. When you start the game, try to make as many mistakes as you can, but learn from them. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where a single mistake (no matter how silly it may seem) will result in death and you’ll have to replay entire chunks all over again which can be frustrating.

Plan ahead

The game doesn’t have a pause, so before you start playing, make sure you don’t have any immediate responsibilities. It’s worth mentioning that there are ways of avoiding quitting the game while you’re playing if something comes up. For instance, you can always clear the room of enemies and leave the game on. Also, I think this is a great marathon game, so if you’re not going out this weekend, you can always stay inside playing Dark Souls.

If you’re getting too frustrated, anxious or impatience, take five minutes

Dark Souls - Death Screen

Seriously, this isn’t the kind of game you’d want to play angry. If you’re angry, you’ll make more mistakes and that will probably result in death and then a vicious circle of repetition ensues. You’ll die in this game, a lot and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because Dark Souls was designed with that in mind. Death has heft and whenever your character dies, that happens because you made a mistake and not because the game wasn’t working properly.

Do some research, but avoid detailed walkthroughs

As I mentioned above, there’s a lot of information about Dark Souls, including two fully fledged Wikis with a lot of information about the game. You’ll hit walls in Dark Souls constantly and while it’s tempting to watch people play the game to know exactly where to go or read a strategy to beat a boss, there’s nothing like discovering things on your own. The sense of satisfaction you get when you find out what you’re supposed to do in this game is something remarkable and few games have that, so avoid detailed information about Dark Souls and follow some general guidelines. The game doesn’t explain everything, so you need to find out some things on your own.

Don’t pay too much attention to you character class

Dark Souls - Taurus Demon

Believe it or not, the character class you choose at the beginning doesn’t impact the way in which you’ll play the game. And that’s because you can shape your character (regardless of the class you chose) however you want. That’s how flexible the RPG elements are in this game. If you want to build a tank, a fast assassin or a character that’s based around powerful spells, you can do that later on as you collect more souls and level up. Choose the character you like the most and move on.

Play the game online

Don’t make the same mistake I did and play as much online mode as possible. Playing offline isn’t bad, but an important aspect of playing Dark Souls is being part of the game’s sense of community. There will be characters that will invade your game and kill you in the most horrible ways possible. It happens. But there are also helpful notes that will make your journey easier and there are words of encouragement everywhere which is more than helpful when you’re frustrated about something in particular.

Avoid quitting the game

Dark Souls is not for everybody, I can see that. But before playing the game try to see what you’re getting yourself into. Do some basic research online, read some blogs or magazines and ask questions to people who have played the game and then decide if it’s for you. Once you’ve made a decision, start playing and do so for a couple of hours. If you’re thinking about quitting the game and moving to something else in your collection, you’re not alone. I almost made the mistake of quitting the game after the second boss, but once I surmounted that, I realized that Dark Souls is a special game and while it’s too early to tell, it might well become one of my personal favorites. Stick with it and learn from your mistakes. Once you do what minutes ago seemed impossible (like killing those fire-spitting gargoyles on top of a roof,) you’ll feel a sense of gratification that’s rare and unique.

Make your own story

Dark Souls - Victory

One of the problems with following other people’s guides is that you’re playing their version of Dark Souls. Regardless of what you choose, that will be your story and that’s the true beauty of this game. Some people say that the game doesn’t have a narrative and they are wrong, you’re the one who’s making the story. So try to make it as exciting as possible.

Don’t be intimidated

I was afraid about playing this game before I had even installed it on my hard drive. And it’s easy to see I know why. I have read and heard so many things about this game, that I had created picture in my mind about it and it wasn’t that pretty. I thought Dark Souls was extremely hard and punishing game and while that’s true to a certain extent, the game’s never unfair. It’s just a matter of dying over and over to learn important lessons and it’s a matter of trying over and over until you succeed. And when you do, there’s nothing quite like it.

Believe in yourself

It sounds cliché and silly, but an important part of making progress in this game is having confidence. At first, every boss encounter seems impossible, but make sure you recognize patterns, pay attention to the environment and that you learn from your mistakes. Encourage yourself to do it again and again until you success. Rinse, repeat and before you know it, you’ll overcome some of the hardest and most frustrating parts of the game.

Don’t be overconfident

Dark Souls - Taurus Demon

Dark Souls does a terrific job of forcing you to make mistakes. It’s remarkably easy to be in the middle of a boss fight and even though you know you have to hit the boss one time and then run, you’ll hit twice and that’s going to be the end of you. Which leads me to my best point…

Stick to a specific strategy

One of the best parts about Dark Souls is that you can play the game however you please. In fact, that’s why you see so many players doing naked runs on Twitch and YouTube. But as soon as you start playing, you need to make a few decisions and you need to stick with them and the same strategy applies to the rest of the game. If you want to develop a “tank” character, don’t change to a mage in the middle of your playthrough. If you think you can defeat a boss hitting him two times and then blocking, don’t attack him three times in a row.

Don’t compare yourself with other players

When I was having problems beating specific bosses, I checked some guides here and there and I ran into a lot of people who kept bragging about beating that boss on their first try. It’s easy to read comments like that and feel like and idiot who can’t play the game, but remember that a lot of people have mastered this game because they either played it several times or they spent hours and hours grinding and so on. Part of what makes Dark Souls so unique is that it allows different playstyles and players with different skill levels. So who cares it took you 60, 80 or 100 hours to beat this game?

Praise the Sun

Dark Souls (Xbox 360)