When I first started playing the game, on the Xbox 360, I wrote an article detailing some hints and tips for surviving the epic challenge that is Dark Souls. I’ll admit that I didn’t get overly far with the game, I never reached a Primal Bonfire and I defeated very few bosses – but I still felt that I could contribute something with my article. You can read that one here. This article is going to be slightly different, though, because I kind of feel like I’ve graduated from Dark Souls ‘Noob’ to ‘Beginner’. I would never call myself a pro, or anything near, but I feel like my time spent playing (and failing) at Dark Souls II has given me some helpful advice for fellow noobs and beginners to the series.
Your shield is your best bud
“This is my shield. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My shield is my best friend. It is my life”. Full Metal Jacket reference for you there. But, just like those recruits’ rifles were an extension of themselves, so too is your shield in Dark Souls II. Some might be confident enough to fight with magic, two handed weapons or a weapon in each hand, but for us Dark Souls noobs, you can’t go wrong with a sword and shield. At times, the combat might be painstaking, whilst you sit back to block and track an enemy’s attack. But, in the end, you’ll save some valuable HP and dispatch your enemy without too much fuss.
Stop. Drop. Roll.
Valuable words for anyone on fire, but also valuable for us Dark Souls noobs. Rolling can be seen as an extension of the blocking tactic. That’s because each successful block absorbs stamina and, on occasion, an enemy might have two more attacks in their arsenal, whilst you only have one block left. In those situations, you need to utilise your roll. Wait for the enemy to lunge and then roll out of the way of their attack – this too wild absorb stamina, but it should give you enough distance between you and the enemy to back off and recover.
Study your enemy and analyse their attacks
Using your shield and rolling at an opportune time is a decent tactic in combat – but it’s all a bit pointless if you can’t plan your foe’s next move. When I’m first greeted with a new enemy, I tend to block and back away whist they swing for me. This gives you the opportunity to work out their patterns of attack, and look for the gaps that you should be exploiting. The same goes for the bosses, too. If there’s enough room, I always work out their attacks before properly engaging. Sometimes I’ll even rush to a boss encounter, ensuring that I’m not carrying too many souls, just to have a quick battle with the boss to create a game plan. I’ll then die and properly take my time in reaching the boss, to make sure that I have enough HP and resources to take them on (safe in the knowledge that I have a game-plan for the fight). The last thing you want to do is attack a gap, hitting with two or three strikes, but then being pelted with a flurry of hits because you were greedy. Which brings me to…
Don’t be greedy!
Greed is definitely your enemy in Dark Souls II. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been greedy with my hits against even a simple enemy, only to be hit on the counter with a few hefty blows. Sometimes it might be tempting to get an extra hit in on an enemy, especially on a large enemy who takes their fair share of damage. But the sensible Dark Souls player will sit back and deal one or two hits after each attack. It might double the length of each encounter, but it will definitely pay dividends in the amount of life that you save. The greed aspect also transfers to souls, which you use to level up, buy items and upgrade equipment in the Dark Souls universe. For those that don’t know, when you die you lose your souls. However, you’re able to regain these souls by revisiting the spot at which you died – but if you die again on the way, those souls are lost forever. If you’ve got a few thousand souls (enough for a decent level up, or to buy some needed items), don’t be greedy and continue to kill enemies to gain more souls. You’re better off tracking back on yourself and using a bonfire to bank your souls. Which acts as a nice segue to…
Be smart when levelling up
It’s pretty tempting to funnel all of your souls into levelling up your Strength ability, but it’s important to be intelligent with where you spend your souls. Firstly, you should always check around with a few of the merchants, to see if they have any items that might be of use. Some of these are expensive, for example the cat merchant in Manjula sells a ring that limits falling damage (which costs around 13,000 souls). The ring will let you get into the sewer / cave system which runs underneath the town, and the ‘Gutter’ area which runs underneath that. So it’s sometimes worth purchasing those sorts of items before levelling up. But, once you’re confident that you’ve got everything you’ll need, make sure that you spend the souls in the right categories. Basically, you want to make sure that you level up according to how you play. If you take my advice (of blocking and rolling), you want to make sure that you invest in health, stamina and equipment load. But, at the same time, you want to add the odd points to some of the resistances – particularly fire, poison and bleeding. Always pay attention to where the points are going. You might think to yourself “I don’t use spells, so I won’t need to level up my Faith of Intelligence” – but don’t forget that both also contribute to your defence stats. So, whilst you might not use spells or charms, having a decent level of resistance to lightning, poison and fire attacks will definitely serve you well later in the game. Even the strongest shield can’t withstand a dragon’s fire-breathing, as I found out first hand when attempting to take down the dragon in Heide’s Tower of Flame.
For all of those Dark Souls noobs, I hope that these few tips were of use. Most of you will probably have worked much of this out whilst playing, but it’s definitely advice that I could have used when I first started out on Dark Souls II – it definitely would have made my introduction a hell of a lot smoother. If you have any other tips, pop them in the comments section below!