Dark Souls Newbie Guide
Dark Souls Newbie Guide by Thalnagath
I just recently got a friend hooked on Dark Souls, and I’ve started a new playthrough myself just because it’s a fun game. I remember having trouble when I first started, and so is she. And, given that there are still plenty of “wat do?” posts on the front page here, it seems to be something still in demand, so I thought I’d write a simple guide to explain basic concepts and mechanics to new players, and write it as spoiler-free as possible. This may get a little long.
Stats need a little bit of introduction, though for the most part they’re fairly self-explanatory. In general, no stat should be above 50 unless you have good reason to do otherwise; above 50, you get some pretty severe diminishing returns on each point, making it more effective to invest points elsewhere. Every time you increase a stat, your Soul Level (SL) increases by 1. Soul Level affects matchmaking, both for summoning friendly spirits and being invaded by hostile spirits. If you find that you enjoy PvP, the generally accepted target Soul Level is 125.
Vitality controls how much HP you have. More HP means you can survive more hits from monsters and players. It’s an important stat, especially when you’re new (more HP means you can screw up more often without dying.)
Attunement determines how many spell slots you have available. You get your first spell slot at 10, and will gain an additional slot for every two points until you hit 16 Attunement, at which point you get your next one at 19. Most players can get by with just one or two spell slots. Spell slots are used for all three types of magic – miracles, sorceries, and pyromancies.
Endurance increases your Stamina, your weight allowance, and Bleed resistance. It’s arguably your most important stat in the early portions of the game. More weight allowance lets you wear better armor while maintaining fast or medium rolling speed, and more stamina lets you swing your weapon more times and block more attacks without running out. Your Stamina stops increasing at 40 Endurance, where it caps at 160 Stamina.
Strength is one of two stats that affects your damage output with weapons, and is also required to wield heavy weapons and large shields. Weapon scaling will be discussed further on down. Keep in mind when you two-hand your weapon (“Y” by default), your Strength is increased by 50%, which can allow you to wield some heavy weapons with low Strength if you don’t mind not being able to use a shield or other off-hand item at the same time. Strength has its first soft cap at 40, and another at 50. 27 is considered the optimal amount of Strength for “quality” builds (more on build styles later); 27 * 1.5 = 40.5, or above the first soft cap.
Dexterity is the other stat that affects your damage output with weapons. It’s important for wielding light, finesse-oriented weapons like daggers and rapiers, as well as bows of all kinds. It also speeds up your casting speed for all types of spell. Dexterity has soft caps at 40, 45, and 50. Your Dexterity is not increased while two-handing a weapon.
Resistance is a stat that looks good on paper. It increases your Physical defense, Fire defense, and Poison resistance with each point. The problem is that increasing anystat boosts your defenses a little bit, and all stats share the same pool of diminishing returns. The net result is that Resistance is generally a stat you should never put any points into.
Intelligence is the stat associated with the use of Sorceries. You’ll need at least 10 Intelligence to be able to cast Sorceries and buy them from NPCs you can rescue, and your Intelligence affects your MagAdjust modifier on your equipped Catalyst (basically, how much punch your spells have.) It’s also used to determine which Catalysts you can equip, much like how Strength and Dexterity determine weapon use.
Faith is the stat associated with Miracles. You’ll need at least 12 Faith to cast your first Miracles, and Faith is also used to determine your MagAdjust (which determines how much damage your Miracles do, and how much they heal for) for Talismans and which Talismans you can equip. Increasing your Faith also provides a small bonus to your Magic defense.
Humanity is a wildcard stat that can only be increased by acquiring Humanity from monsters, players, or from using Humanity or Twin Humanities items. The counter next to your health and Stamina bars is your Humanity counter, and this kind of humanity is typically called “soft” humanity (with the actual Humanity/Twin Humanities items being referred to as “hard” humanity.) Each point up to 10 Humanity increases your chance of finding items after killing monsters, increases all of your defenses a bit, and dramatically increases your Curse resistance. Weapons which scale with your Humanity also see a damage boost up to 10 Humanity. Curse resistance will continue to increase all the way up to 30 Humanity. You can have up to 99 Humanity.
You can wield a wide variety of equipment in Dark Souls. Most characters will find themselves using a weapon of some sort along with a shield, and you can have up to two weapons, shields, or casting implements equipped to each item slot. Keep in mind that equipping any item to these slots adds it to your weight total, even if you don’t have it active at the moment. Pressing D-Pad right will swap your right-hand items, and D-Pad left will swap your left-hand items. For spells which apply an effect to a piece of equipment (such as Magic Weapon or Magic Shield), you will need to have the appropriate spell implement equipped in the opposite hand of the item you wish to enchant. If you want to apply Magic Weapon to your sword, for example, you’ll need to equip the catalyst in your left hand while the sword you want to enchant is active on your right hand.
All armor will increase your defenses by varying amounts, and some armor will also increase your resistances. Not all armor is created equal, so pay attention to the stat breakdowns! Most armor sets are good at a particular thing (Havel’s Set, for example, has more Poise than any other set), and sets do not have to be worn together, nor is there any special benefit for wearing a complete set. Mix and match for best results!Poise is an important stat tied to armor. Poise is the stat that determines when you’re staggered by taking a hit from an enemy. Heavier armor has more Poise, and more Poise means you can take bigger and meaner hits without staggering.
Similar to armor, shields also have their own stats to be aware of. In general, you’ll want to bring a shield appropriate to the job at hand. Physical resistance is always useful, but if you’re fighting an enemy using a lot of fire, you might want to focus on a shield with high Fire resistance. Fighting an enemy Sorceror? You might want to look for a shield with high Magic resistance! Stability is arguably the most important stat on any shield. Stability determines how much Stamina it costs to block with that shield, with the stat being a direct percentage reduction from the damage of the attack; so 70 Stability means the shield reduces the damage by 70% before applying it to your Stamina. High Stamina and a shield with high Stability is the key to being able to block everything your enemy throws at you.
Lastly, weapons bear special mention here, because all weapons (and spell implements) scale according to specific stats, which will be listed in the details for each item. If you find you like a weapon, you should focus on increasing the stats it scales with. Stat scaling ranges from E on the low end to S on the high end, and weapons can scale off of Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Faith. A Broadsword, for example, has C/C scaling, which means it benefits from Strength and Dexterity equally, while a Large Club’s A/- scaling means you could have 99 Dexterity and it still wouldn’t receive a single point of bonus damage for it.
Nearly all armor and weapons can be upgraded once you find an appropriate blacksmith. In general, upgrading your weapons and armor is considered preferable to increasing your stats in terms of reducing incoming damage and increasing the amount of damage you deal. Once you locate the first blacksmith, your priority should generally be to get your preferred weapon and shield to +5 status as soon as possible.
Basic gameplay mechanics
Combat in Dark Souls is simple to grasp, but takes a bit of practice. Understanding the underlying mechanics will help you move from blindly flailing at enemies to precisely timing attacks and parries to carve through entire groups of monsters without taking any damage.
Parrying is an incredibly useful and important skill you should try to figure out while you’re still getting kicked all over Undead Burg. When you press L2 with a shield equipped in your left hand, your character will swipe out with the shield, and if you connect with an enemy’s attack at the right moment, you’ll successfully parry their attack. If you then quickly follow up with an R1, you’ll perform a Riposte which deals a huge amount of damage, especially if you’re using a weapon like a rapier, dagger, or spear. Smaller shields are better at parrying than larger ones, and large shields like the Eagle Shield or Black Iron Shield can’t parry at all, instead performing a short-ranged shield bash attack instead. In general, try to time your parry so that your shield connects with your enemy’s hand as it comes towards you, but before the attack lands. Keep in mind some very large enemies cannot be affected by a Riposte.
Backstabbing is another useful skill that’s particularly useful against slower enemies. When you perform a backstab by pressing R1 while on an enemy’s flank (not directly behind them!), you and the enemy in question enter a brief animation (during which you’re invulnerable) and you’ll cause high damage and knock them to the floor. “Backstab fishing” refers to the practice of slowly circling an enemy with your shield up, and only pressing R1 when you’re on an enemy’s flank, to “fish” for a backstab. Against monsters, you’ll find this is typically most effective if you circle to the left, to the enemy’s shield hand. The Black Knight you can encounter in Undead Burg is excellent practice for this! Keep in mind that some very large enemies cannot be backstabbed.
Rolling is the third important skill for combat in Dark Souls. Timed properly, you’ll roll out of the way of an attack or spell that might otherwise flatten you, and may find yourself positioned for a backstab when you come out of the roll. In general, rolling is most effective the lighter your equipped items are; the fastest rolling speed is only available when wearing 25% or less of your maximum weight allowance, with “midrolling” up to 50%, and “fatrolling” above 50%. Fatrolling is typically seen as bad, but considering that you can wear a lot of very tough armor and use the biggest, most stable shields while fatrolling, you usually won’t even have much reason to roll away from something. On the other hand, “fastrolling” builds will usually be wearing paper armor and using tiny shields with poor Stability and resistances, so they should generally focus on rolling away from danger rather than trying to block it!
Lastly, all weapons have a simple, fast R1 attack, a heavier and slower R2 attack, as well as a rolling attack (press R1 as your roll is ending to perform a special attack) and a leaping attack (press forward+R2 at the same time.) Note that many weapons will have unique attacks, so it’s always worth equipping every weapon you can and playing around with them to see if it’s your new favorite! Some of the most popular (and generally effective) weapons include the Longsword, the Claymore, the Uchigatana, the Large Club, the Reinforced Club, and the Zweihander, but everyweapon can be considered “viable” for beating the game with, so find the one that suits your particular playstyle best. I personally love smashing things with a giant club or axe, but some players enjoy playing a lightly equipped ninja, rolling around and nipping at enemies with a fast, light weapon while still others prefer to blast things from a distance with spells or arrows!
Just a quick primer on the spell types and what kinds of spells you can expect to get out of each category.
Miracles are your typical Cleric-type spells. Healing magic and support magic is common, though there are a few attack spells as well (particularly through the Warrior of Sunlight covenant.) Miracles are based on your Faith stat and use Talismans as their spell tool.
Sorceries are your Mage-like spells and run the gamut from support magic like generating a source of light or cleansing poisons to blowing things up with magical arrows and buffing your shield or weapons. Sorceries operate off your Intelligence and use Catalysts as their spell tool.
Pyromancies are a wildcard that include some powerful buffs, as well as traditional fire-type stuff like throwing fireballs, blasting things with a puff of flames, or even poisoning your enemies. Pyromancies do not require any stat and do not operate off of any stat (though you’ll still need Attunement to unlock spell slots!) and instead use a unique Pyromancy Flame item you can receive for rescuing a particular NPC.
Covenants are little factions you can join by meeting the right NPCs and fulfilling certain requirements. Most Covenants are PvP-oriented, but a few are PvE-focused. The most notable Covenants include:
Way of White is the first Covenant most players will encounter, and the Knight and Cleric classes start with it. You can speak to Petrus of Thorolund if you’d like to join it. It doesn’t have any rewards, and the only effect it really has is making hostile spirit invasions a bit less common.
Warrior of Sunlight, commonly called the “sunbros”, is the most popular co-op Covenant and their summon signs show up in brilliant gold instead of the usual white, and are summoned as Gold Phantoms, rather than the usual White. Increasing your devotion to this Covenant grants access to the Lightning Spear line of Miracles and allows acquisition of Sunlight Medals for both the summoned sunbro and the player who summoned them.
Darkwraith, usually referred to as “dickwraiths”, is the primary PvP Covenant, allowing players to invade the world of other players as a Red Phantom, through the use of the Red Eye Orb. You may also purchase one-time-use Cracked Red Eye Orbs to invade as a Red Phantom with or without the Darkwraith covenant, and can occasionally find some in the world. Advancing within this Covenant grants you access to some pretty cool looking armor and a neat looking sword.
Blade of the Darkmoon is the other major PvP-oriented Covenant, focused on punishing players who have Sinned or have been Indicted by other players. Darkmoon players may invade the world of players as a Blue Phantom, with the objective of killing the player who has Sinned. If you find yourself getting invaded, you’ve Sinned! Find and speak to Oswald of Carim to have your sins pardoned… for a nominal fee, of course. But, then, some sins simply can’t be forgiven… Advancing within this Covenant grants access to the power Darkmoon Blade miracle, and further advancement increases the power of your Darkmoon Blade spell.