A General Guide to Survival in Dark Souls

I just beat Quelaag!
In honour of this momentous occasion, here’s a guide for general survival in Dark Souls. Oh, and Demon’s Souls; most of these points apply to both games.

Pay attention.

Most enemies are audible or visible before they attack you. They may not be obvious; the living pine trees blend in very well in the areas they’re encountered, for example, and sometimes enemies are around corners or on platforms above you and drop down. Enemies hiding directly around corners tend to be weak, or take a few moments to notice and attack, and why don’t you have that shield up anyway?
The game’s music only kicks in during boss battles and safe areas for a reason; you need to he able to hear when something’s walking up at you. And even then it can get confusing; part of the noise of my character jogging around in heavy armour sounds like a crossbow bolt hitting the ground near me.
It’s also distressingly easy to miss the status gauges until you’re afflicted, even though they’re placed just above the centre of the screen.
It’s the silent enemies that kill you; blowpipe-wielding toxic-inducing goblins.

Play cautiously.

I mean, do you expect to just be able to run in, take a sword to the face, and then be able to get up again? And ‘too good to be true’ situations, like a plainly-visible item surrounded by what are clearly only moss-covered clearly-defined stones, are… well, too good to be true. Enemies love lying in ambush for you, and the only cases of enemies moving on their own that I’ve encountered thus far are the mosquitos in the swamp, which just instantly aggro wherever you are and start moving in.
If you can hear something moving, it knows you’re there and it’s going to be trying to attack you. With one glitchy exception*, anything you see moving is going to be attacking you, too. Dark Souls is not a game where you’re expected to run straight in and win. You’re expected to attack enemies from behind, force them to miss you by dodging or blocking, and attack when they’re vulnerable. Enemies do it to you, after all.
In fact, on the subject of cautiousness, there’s a particular area in the game where the ground will unceremoniously crumble beneath you and dump you straight into a tough boss battle. But considering what happened the first time you were there, this makes complete sense.. and I avoided it anyway, reasoning that a hall with an open roof and ledges around the top is the perfect place for a sniper or two to sit, and that it’s probably safer to go around the edges of the room. Little did I know the trouble I’d… inadvertently dodged by not running straight in to the open area like an idiot. Didn’t even know it was there until I thought I’d cleared the area out and went to leave.
Whilst there are issues with enemy pathing in… certain areas, enemies on the whole are positioned and act sensibly. It’s much easier to kill an unaware opponent than one who knows exactly where you are. In short, if somewhere looks like the perfect spot for an ambush, it’s probably already in use.

* In the Undead Parish, one of the early skeletons, upon noticing you, occasionally just… turns around and runs straight through the portcullis to make a nuisance of itself later rather than sooner. I am not sure why. Funny, though, until you forget he’s over there and end up fighting both him and a knight at once.

Learn how to dodge by rolling, and other means.

Veterans of Monster Hunter should already know this; rolling will get you out of many bad situations. In Dark Souls you also have to deal with learning not to roll off cliffs, as an instant kill is usually worse than merely taking half your HP in damage, but the basics are the same; rolling helps you not take any damage at all, at a medium cost to stamina.
Sometimes it’s better to just recognise attacks and walk – or run – out of the way. You can also jump backwards by hitting O from a standing position.

Always carry a shield, and learn how to use it.

Yes, I know I told you to learn to roll. Some people will say that dodging attacks always trumps blocking attacks, and… I agree. Not getting hit in the first place is arguably better than getting hit and taking a hit to your stamina. But getting hit and taking a hit to your stamina, which regenerates, is certainly better than taking damage.
Some attacks can’t easily be dodged, due to having odd hitboxes or, say, taking up half of the arena. Rolling is also a bad idea in any area with a fatal drop: most of them. You can still get knocked around whilst carrying a shield, but there are plenty of easily-available shields with 100% physical defence. Upgrading a shield only realistically improves your Poise when using it, but this stops you from having your guard broken so frequently when soldiers kick at you or try to slam you with their shield.
That said, there are still attacks you’re not going to be able to block. Some enemies are strong enough to break your guard and kill you in a single direct hit. Like giant mushrooms.

You probably can’t block attacks involving weapons three times your size, and you probably can’t roll through lava without taking some damage.

Enough said. Some attacks really won’t let you dodge or block them, no matter what stats you have. Use some common sense, and learn the less hazardous things by experience.

Make use of anything else you pick up, too.

There’s no such thing as ‘too awesome to use’. You can get everything again, though granted some items are more difficult to replace or repair than others. I beat Taurus Demon with relatively little trouble by throwing 6 to 8 Firebombs of varying types at it. What’s worse; being poisoned, or using up that poison-cure item you have? When I first got poisoned, the status took four uses of the Heal miracle to fix. And the curing items are easy to get, past a certain point, though it’s still better not to get poisoned in the first place.
On a similar note, I always have at least two different means of attacking equipped so I can switch between them. After all, I have this nifty divine morningstar, and I also have a pyromancer’s flame and five slots to which I can attune stuff. That’s Physical/Magic/Divine/Bleeding damage on one thing, and !!damage!! on the other. Whilst this combination didn’t quite turn out to work on Quelaag at all well, I was still capable of dealing 52~ damage per hit with one of them.
I… eventually won.

Lock-on: when and when not to use it.

Lock-on is slightly altered from Demon’s Souls; you can’t personally switch targets any more. Generally the lock-on is intelligent enough to pick the closest target near the centre of the screen. Lock-on is invaluable for blocking or rolling around a single target, and somewhat helps accuracy with melee weapons too, but if you’re up too close to an enemy and kill it, will go slightly insane until you disengage or the enemy finishes dying. Lock-on is also practically-essential for using the magic (and firebombs) in a fight. You can manipulate the aim of those with the free camera, but you’re probably not going to be able to do that with precision in a fight.
Plus it just tends to drop impotently straight down to the ground whenever I attempt to throw fireballs or soul arrows like that, with my usual angle.

However, lock-on has a maximum range. If you’re using a longbow or a shortbow this maximum range is far inferior to the range of the bow. Well, for longbows, at least. If you hit L1 whilst wielding a bow, you go into first-person aiming mode instead. You can still walk around in this mode. Don’t walk off the side of the bridge due to getting the sticks mixed up. Or let things sneak up behind you.
Also, in certain boss battles with large, slower enemies, it’s less helpful as it points at one place on the body, whilst the boss may be able to take damage elsewhere, in a less risky fashion.

Kindle bonfires.

Five more Estus Flask uses go a very long way, and kindled bonfires are permanent; even if you die, they remain kindled, so the Humanity you burned in the process is never wasted, and can’t be lost when you die.
It’s worth it even if you go around in Hollowed form most of the time, like I do, though I do skip kindling inconsequential bonfires, like the one behind the drake at Undead Parish; the bonfires before and ahead of that one aren’t far, and by the time you manage or get around to killing the drake, you’re probably capable of easily reaching the further bonfire anyway.

Keep your fingers away from the weapon buttons around friendly NPCs.

Enough said. This game won’t screw you over quite so badly as Demon’s Souls can on this front, but if you had a sword in real life, you’d be really careful with it around yourself and other people, right?
I’d hope so, anyway. The people in this game quite sensibly take hitting them with a sword or catalyst as an attack with intent to kill, and they’re probably quite stronger than you, so just avoid that headache and don’t attack them unless you mean it and think you can take them.
Something else to be careful of: jumping on people from higher ledges. Goomba Stomps deal a very minor amount of damage in Dark Souls, but it’s still probably enough to piss them off.

Be nice and leave helpful messages. Read them, too.

If you’re playing online, leave a few useful messages around; you can extra Estus Flask uses and Humanity if people upvote your messages.
Similarly, pay attention to the messages people leave around. They will warn of imminent ambushes, problem areas, and hidden wonderful items. Also ‘gorgeous views’ and the sun, as if those needed highlighting. They may suggest tactics, or bolster your morale by mentioning there’s a bonfire nearby.
Or lead you straight off a cliff. Trolls are kind of obvious, though.

Don’t mourn lost souls.

You’re going to die. A thief is going to slit your throat or you’re going to get afflicted with the Bleeding ‘status’ or you’re going to walk off the ledge in Firelink Shrine right before the tree and the stairs and why do people keep doing that? Seriously. Do they want to get rid of their body? But that bonfire doesn’t need kindling…

 Anyway, you’re going to lose Souls and Humanity this way; you’re not going to lose any single piece of equipment you’re carrying, though. Whilst Souls and Humanity are reasonably important, you can gain them again, with reasonably-little fuss, but that set of armour you just picked up is going to be with you until the end of the game.
Souls and, to a lesser degree, Humanity are meant to be spent anyway; Souls on items and upgrades to character or equipment, and Humanity on maybe becoming human, and certainly kindling bonfires. They’re going to be expended, and unless you have a very good plan you probably shouldn’t be saving up for anything that costs more than it costs you to raise your stats. Generally, if you’re at or below the general soul level for an area, you’ll be able to get the required souls for another point in a stat without too much work or risk.

 


 

For those of you who pay attention to my comments elsewhere (all… one of you), I hope I added something new to this that wasn’t there.
For them and those who don’t, I hope this was helpful in some way.

…hm. I just remembered a few things. I admit to playing Etrian Odyssey and beating the bonus boss. Maybe I do have an unnatural thirst for difficult games, after all, and I recall something about the XBox360 version having slightly-worse graphics than the PS3 version due to issues involving fitting everything on one disc for that system. Maybe check out some videos from the PS3 version and see if you feel the same about it.

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Blog Stats and the ‘Search Engine Terms’ (AKA, Aunt Lio Answers…?)

I check my stats often. For this blog, I mean. I check a lot of stats normally, but they’re usually in whatever games I’m playing; my levels in Destruction, Restoration, Mercantile and Stealth, for instance.
Wordpress blog stats, anyway. How many people visited; usually an increase of some kind after writing a long, essay-length piece, like my last post (18 ‘today’, or yesterday by my clock, when I write this). Masses of people searching for impressions of Portal: Prelude on the 11th, most hitting my review/rant.
There’s also more constant traffic, rather than traffic depending on what’s currently popular, to play or talk about; usually at least one person daily looking for something about Blaze & Blade, who may or may not be someone I know. Likewise Etrian Odyssey, but no one’s commented on those posts, sadly. I love chattering about those games.
I’ll post more soon, promise. Etrian Odyssey 2 is on the top of my ‘must plaaaay’ list, and shall be returned to after I beat Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations. Which is much, much easier, but I don’t play that game for the difficulty.

I like it when something I’ve written gets seen; I think everyone feels at least a mild sense of achievement when they do something they like, other people witness, and no one disapproves without reason. Mostly, though, I check that page to see how people found this lair. Whether it’s something I wrote that they’ll be interested in, or they found it by mistake because some of my tags matched their terms.
Quite a few search terms seem to be more active queries, and I always get the urge to answer those. Which is really why I’m making this post. The five I got today range from random things to some of those actively questioning queries, and one recurring query – the one about Etrian Odyssey and its password – so you’ll see a nice selection.

To the adventurer who asked about ‘blaze and blade canyon path’…
I think it’s a bit of a tedious area, but that’s partially highlighted by that collapsing bridge right at the start. It looks like, for once, you’re going to get a quick path – you know they might take it away after the boss – but, no, you have to walk the long way both times. I wouldn’t mind it if, say, the long path led to something interesting, like an optional cave or somewhere with history, or… well… anything. But it doesn’t, and there opportunities have been lost.
What do you think of the place?

To the guildmaster pondering the mystery of the ‘etrian odyssey password’ – and, uh, everyone else turning up here since I first posted about the game…
I had the same problem, I think. Hit select when on the menu, after loading a save, and you’ll get the option screen with the password available. The one from the game’s main menu is a nasty red herring, and I’m surprised it was left in on that particular screen, considering how many people it’s confused.
I abstractly knew I should have checked the manual, but I didn’t, either. I thought I had to beat EVERYTHING to get the password, and thus all my headaches over fighting Primevil. Then again, it gave me something to do while my foot healed, so anyone finding this post from now on should know they’re not alone, and that I probably went through more thanks to my own idiocy anyway.

To the possible member of the Hunter’s Guild, Pioneer 2 Chapter, wondering about ‘the ruins 2’:
Ahh, sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for, if my guess on the above line is correct. Completely coincidentally… or not, as that game really does share a lot of qualities I love with Blaze & Blade, including a whole boss in Ep. 2… I’m rather fond of PSO, and I’m disappointed that PSU wasn’t quite as good, in my opinion, trading the whole ‘item collection’ thing for a ‘make your own’ mechanic that’s implemented in a worse manner than Monster Hunter’s.
Ahem. PSO, Ruins 2. Where enemies come in nigh-neverending waves, and a humble FOnewearl on her tod has to inhale most of her ‘fluids to deal with each room. Which is all well and good, since the value of the loot by that point tends to exceed the cost of the ‘fluids, but it does get a little ridiculous, thinking about it. Still, it’s a beautiful, if deeply frightening place.
‘Revolution to the origin PART 2’ is one of my favourite musical pieces in that Episode, discounting the boss themes, thanks to the strings right at the beginning. Manic strings. Glee.
This probably didn’t help you at all, whatever you were looking for, but if you did play Phantasy Star Online, I hope this provokes fond thoughts of Ruins 2, rather than nightmares.

To the gamer… um… hmm. I’m running out of synonyms for ‘aski-‘ okay, I’ve got it.
To the gamer seeking a ‘rpg fantasy first person’… which technically was what I was writing about in my last post, but probably wasn’t quite what you were interested in…
Oblivion’s good, seriously, even though I can find enough things to poke about it to write an article like that. Morrowind is also good if you don’t mind older graphics, and is available in a single box with both of its official expansions from, well, anywhere that sells games. Even Tesco.
I also mentioned the Ultima Underworld pair of games, spinoffs from the successful Ultima line of PC RPGs, which were good enough to keep me playing even though I sucked horribly at them. They’re proto-Oblivions, if you think Oblivion is a good game.
On the consoles, you might want to try finding the King’s Field series of games on the PSX and PS2; I never played them, aside from Eternal Ring, a sidestory. Which I never got far in, but was enjoyable like Ultima Underworld 2.
Um. Other than that, I tend to go for anything that isn’t first-person, I’m afraid. You’re asking the wrong person. Do you know of any good games I might want to try?

To the hunter wondering ‘how to kill a cephadrome with a bow’… and this was the second query in the list, but it’s long enough and detailed enough that it might be a bit much for someone not playing MHF(2) to skip past, so it’s here at the bottom.
Exactly how you kill a Cephalos with a bow, really. But just stopping there is a bit cheap. Cephadromes, like their smaller kin, are weak against Ice, so take your trusty Blango Fur Bow * for this trip, along with two less than as many Sonic Bombs as you can pack; Cephadrome really aren’t any trouble to take down with one or two Bombs, once you get the hang of it, but it’s always worth taking as many as you can the first time, whilst you learn when you can safely fire or not.
Presumably you know the range of your bows. If you don’t, take a trip to the Snowy Mountains and snipe some Popos; knowing how far you can stand from ANY Wyvern or Primatius boss is essential, and it’s even better when you know just how far away to stand and fire from to hit, say, a Yian Kut-ku’s ears. Knowledge of your weapons is essential; take some stones and practice throwing those if you’re not sure about Sonic Bombs, either.
That out of the way, actually taking down the Cephadrome. I recommend taking the Sonic Bombs from the supply box every time, as if you use only one of them, you’ve gotten a free Bomb in addition to saving the ones you made yourself. Take the rest of the stuff as you feel necessary, down a Cool or Hot Drink, whichever’s needed, and head out to the desert. Virtually every time I’ve taken this mission, the Cephadrome’s been on this screen; its fin is larger than those of the Cephalos, and if it IS there it tends to start trying to knock your feet out from under you almost immediately. Run to the centre, wait a little, and go search for it elsewhere if you don’t hear the ‘something big’s watching me’ piece.
Once you’ve found it… it’ll still be underground. What you’re aiming for when you toss each Sonic Bomb is its fin, and that usually means timing a throw to coincide with the fin missing you as it rushes past. The range of the soundburst a Sonic Bomb produces is about the size of a hunter, but if you get  it right on the fin the Cephadrome will react without fail. If you hang around long enough without doing that, whether because you keep missing or because you’re out of bombs, the Cephadrome’s fin will dip beneath the sand, and shortly afterwards it’ll arch its head out and spray sand at you. When the fin disappears, just make sure you’re moving, and this shouldn’t hit you; it’s a good opportunity to spike it in the head with a few arrows, or a better opportunity to throw a Sonic Bomb at it than as it goes past, as there’s less chance it’ll move out of the range before it goes off.
Having convinced the Cephadrome to please surface, it’ll flop around for a bit, just like Cephalos. Make sure you’re not standing in front of it, and throw off charged bowshots at it. Always fully charged shots unless you’re almost out of stamina, or have to dodge NOW, as uncharged shots do much less damage than fully charged ones.
Eventually it’ll stop thrashing, and get to its feet. This is very important; do not stay in front of the Wyvern. Never stand in front of any Wyvern without being in the middle of going to stand elsewhere; it may make hitting the head, or head and then straight through the body to the tail with a Piercing bow that much easier, but almost all Wyverns’ most devastating attacks can only be applied to a Hunter standing right in front of them. Hunters who stand still in front of Wyverns get spat, burnt, poisoned, bitten, stepped on, jumped on and shocked to failure. Not simultaneously unless there are some REALLY unfair missions out there, though. At this point in the game, you’re still able to easily heal the damage you’ll take there with Potions and other restorative items, but by the time you reach Red Khezu, you can get KO’d from full health instantly that way. Get out of that habit now and you won’t do stupid stuff like simultaneously wear Lightning-weak armour AND stand in front of Red Khezu later on.
Ahem. Ranting about my own stupidity aside, you can rather safely stand at a nice range from Cephadrome just slightly away from dead ahead; directly facing you is bad, facing 10 degrees away is pretty safe, as its sand breath, though it possesses a very long range ahead of the Wyvern, is much more a line than a cone or quarter. Work out what’s safe; it’s nasty, but it shouldn’t be deadly if you’ve picked decent armour. Bows are probably one of the best weapons to use against Cephadrome, as its weakness is its neck, and all its attacks save spitting sand fall much shorter than the comfortable range. Take your time aiming, try to make most of your shots fall against the Cephadrome’s long neck – preferrably whilst its spitting, as it should know better than to  leave itself open like that – and practice using rolling rather than running to dodge, if you feel like it. If you’re using any form of the Blango Fur Bow, the Cephadrome shouldn’t take long to fall, but just use a Sonic Bomb to convince it to surface properly again, or practice quickly aiming with the bow as it pops out of the sand; you’ll want to be good at that for a certain later Piscine Wyvern or two…
Oh, and remember to watch out for the Cephalos that may be lurking, depending on the area. They’re easy to dodge if you move every so often, but they’re an irritation, nethertheless.
I know that was long, but I don’t believe in knowingly being vague; Cephadrome was the first Wyvern I ever managed to take down, and I never managed it without a bow, so I never got further than the piscine livers quests in the original game.
As a very happy bow-using hunter, I hope this advice helps you… if you ever return here. Not likely, I know, but if you ever come by in future, tell me how it went!

That was fun. And I really don’t mind comments, even if it’s about how my opinions differ from yours. I don’t know everything, and I enjoy rambling and listening to people ramble about this stuff, so TALK, darnit. And post if these help!