Five Tips for Surviving Dark Souls 2
Starting Dark Souls 2 is daunting. For anyone who's played the previous games, you know that you're in for plenty of horrific deaths, morbid locations and a general feeling of insignificance as the "Tentacled Rat-Horror of Shurmuck" kills you with one hit. For the seventh time.
Of course, rush over to a forum for some guidance and you might just be met with laughter, as you run into some guy who's completed the game ten times over: "hah, n00b didn't you know that the Blue Smurf Sword of Infinite Smurfing OWNS all tentacle monsters. Go back to playing Pokémon".
So, to reduce any frustrations here's five (spoiler-free) tips for anyone looking to get to grips with Dark Souls 2. It's certainly not easy, but with a little patience you'll find yourself improving considerably.
1. Use a Shield
When people ask what class to start with, I see quite of lot recommending spellcasters. After all, if you can sit back and engage in ranged combat, chances are you'll last longer. I'd disagree with this however, primarily because it means that many new players don't understand the importance of a shield.
Simply having that humble block of wood or metal stuck to your arm will increase your life expectancy by at least a hundred percent. All of a sudden, that massive drop in your life bar has come out of your stamina pool instead, and you're now able to reposition and prepare to counter-attack an enemy.
More importantly, especially when you're navigating new areas, learn to keep you shield held up. It's no good equipping a shield if it's not even protecting you. Dark Souls 2 has reduced the physical damage reduction of many smaller shields (meaning that, on the whole, they're not as good as they used to be), but if anything this goes to show how darn important they are. If the developers had to go to some lengths to weaken their effectiveness then that says something.
2. Take Your Time
Patience, grasshopper. Rushing into a new areas, will get you killed. Most ordinary enemies are fairly easy to take down, it's when they turn up in hordes that problems start to arise. By taking things slowly you ensure that for the most part you only draw a few enemies towards you at a time.
Obviously, sometimes the game will spring a trap, and you'll simply need to react accordingly, but by being patient, studying your environment, (and using a shield!), you'll be able to survive a lot more encounters unscathed.
3. Understand the Upgrade System
For new players, Dark Souls' stat screen can looked horrendously complicated. The best way to get to grips is to hit that select button which will give you an overview of what each stat correlates to; whether it be damage reduction, resistances, or attack bonuses.
The other important aspect is the letter ranking that different weapons have. Each weapon in the game "scales" with different stats. For example, an ordinary sword will usually have either a D or C rank in both Strength and Dexterity, and relatively low stat requirements, representing the fact that it's easy to wield. This is about the usual base mark. After that it follows common sense; heavy weapons will draw more on strength, requiring a higher strength stat in order to wield it properly, but also scaling better, whilst Dexterity has a greater influence on the likes of Katanas, Spears, and other finesse weapons that are available.
Finally, magic weapons will usually also draw on either Faith or Intelligence. Typically, fire damage on a fire weapon for example, gets better with higher Intelligence, whilst the same is true for the Faith stat in regards to lightning weapons.
Once you get to grips with the system, you'll usually find that you have a better understanding of what would make an effective weapon for your character. In most cases, it doesn't take a flashy weapon to do well, most standard swords and axes will serve just fine, so long as your stats compliment them.
4. Read Boss Patterns
Another advantage of using a shield is that you're able to get a better understanding of how the bosses work. When you're not simply rolling and shooting but instead able to take a hit or two from the boss, you begin to understand that a lot of their attacks are heavily telegraphed, and follow fixed patterns.
For example, an early boss, let's call him Bob, has a shield and a halberd which grants him huge reach when he attacks. He's able to calve off a third of your life with one hit and his shield makes it impossible to attack back. The one weakness he has is that his attacks cause him to lunge forward, leaving his back exposed, hence the best course of action is to flank around behind him and attack there.
Now that's pretty obvious, but there's also plenty of other cues you can pick up just by watching a boss for second. Going back to Bob, he swings with his halberd in a roughly 180 degree arc but what's interesting is that, thanks his shield, he doesn't sweep as far to his left as he does the right, making that the ideal side to flank. Similarly, while the general response when injured is to back the hell away, thanks to the range of Bob's halberd, it's actually easy to heal when you're right next to him, on his left side, where the sweep of his weapon can't reach you.
All together, by checking the environment, and studying the move set of the enemy, you'll be able to work out when the best openings are for attacks and where to make them from. Some bosses are harder than others, and obviously your character build will also have some impact, but by taking your time and looking for clues things will get much easier.
5. Mind Your Stamina
The core element of the Souls game's combat has been the stamina system. It's what changes the pace of the combat from a hack-and-slash game, into something more thought-out and tactical. While the game's combat might not be absolutely perfect it's the stamina system that keeps it all in check and essentially what makes it feel different from most other games.
Practically everything in Dark Souls 2 uses the stamina meter. Run, swing your sword, block, cast a spell, roll. Everything. You take one action over another and you've lowered your pool of available stamina. If that doesn't stress enough how important the stamina meter is, the first thing I do upon equipping a new weapon is see how many swings I can get out of it before my entire meter is depleted.
So, keep an eye on it. Watch it like a hawk. It's not uncommon if you miscalculate your stamina reserves to find yourself unable to react to an enemy attack. All of a sudden you can't roll, sprint out of the way, or block. Instead, you have to take it.
This means that boosting your Endurance stat should always be something that you should consider. When I first played the original Dark Souls, once I began focusing on my stamina more, I found myself dying a hell of a lot less. If that's not enough, Dark Souls 2 sees the change in how the Endurance stat works, which goes to show how important it is. Now, you have a separate stat, Vitality, which governs your equipment load...a sign that boosting your stamina was something that needed nerfing.
Dark Souls 2, much like its predecessors, is simply about paying attention and being aware of what you're doing. In short, play smart, have fun and for god's sake make sure you have a shield.