The barrier of entry to Dark Souls is high. So high, in fact, that many pick the game up, spend five minutes in sheer rage, and drop it. They return to their genres of choice or look for greener pastures that won’t be soon covered in their own blood. I myself am at that particular horizon, caught between a desire to see the world From Software created and a need to not cause myself undo amounts of anger.
While I ponder that most important of choices, here are my tips to those with the fortitude to make it past a thousand deaths. To the second dungeon.
Firstly, I’m glad that the Undead Prison isn’t as much a killing field as Firelink Shrine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging. You initial time should be spent reading the various messages on the ground and, when you find him, actually listen to the dying knight who gives you the Estus Flask. As you wander the darkened hallways and parapets, familiarize yourself with the control scheme. I’m going to single the next sentence out, and you (and me) would do well to remember it.
Your command of the controls must be perfect, and your timing all but superhuman.
That is, of course, if you want Dark Souls to be slightly less messy affair. Regardless of your actual reflexes and control precision, however, you’ll be on the bad end of a character movement more times that you like to count. My current nemesis is the parry. The line between missing and deflecting is razor thin, and the reward is worth mastering the skill. So long as you parry successfully within a certain time, you get an impaling attack that does several times normal damage. Miss and you are wide open for an enemy counterattack. And don’t think they won’t take full advantage of your vulnerability. Don’t think either that they can’t parry themselves is they’re equipped correctly, and a super-strike from anything is a death sentence, especially if there’s more than one enemy in front/behind you.
The initial dungeon is great for testing what you are and aren’t good at, seeing as the enemies are few, their attacks weak, and the penalty for failure somewhat less that once you “graduate” to Firelink. Bear in mind that I haven’t gotten too far in the Temple proper, but that’s less to do with a lack of skill than a lack of time. The skill thing plays a role though.
The first thing I suggest you do in the Prison is die a few times, on purpose. See what it does and how you can bounce back. Take note that all enemies respawn once you die or rest at a fire. Use this to your advantage. You won’t get average at the controls your first jaunt through the few enemies present in the tutorial area. And you certainly can’t take down the giant pig-demon-thing without taking a few lumps from some lowly skeletons. After a few upgrades, Mr. Pig isn’t all that fearsome, but without a slightly slippery grasp of the more advanced maneuvers, he’ll smash you to pulp every time. Of course, he won’t be the last, not by a long shot, nor will he be the biggest. But they need to break you in somehow, and Mr. Pig is the least of your worries once you leave the Prison.
The trials of Firelink Temple still taunt me, but my many deaths have taught me something. Many things actually. The most important is: the wrong path will lead to endless frustration, but it will make you stronger. Specifically, I’m talking about the most obvious choice you’ll assume to make after waking up.
There’s a small ruined chapel to your left, with water covering the floor and a faded stone monument in the back. A door on the side of the room leads to a precipice graveyard littered with bones. Bones that come to life, mind. And these guys are tough. They are probably no less than 10 levels higher that you are at this point in the game, and they come in pairs. Worst of all, they are fearsome bladesmen with a compunction for puncturing you. At face value, you’d think fighting them, retreating to recover, and continuing on the properly leveled quests would be the best thing to do. I’m here to tell you it isn’t.
Here’s why. To this point in the game, up to and including Mr. Pig, you’ve faced enemyes that die in two swipes and can’t deal enough damage in one hit to send you crying home to mama. These guys do and they do it fast. This is, however, the first and probably best chance you have for a crash course in Dark Souls Combat 101, under Dr.’s Skeleton and Skeleton. Because they’re so quick and good with a sword, you as a player need to learn and learn fast how to deal with monsters stronger, faster, and deadlier than you. Using terrain to your advantage, dodging, flanking, lines of sight, locking on, re-locking as primary targets shift, learning animation timing, practicing parrying; our bony teach all of this and more at the point of a very sharp sword.
My advice, then, is simple. Go up against these guys as much as you can take. You will be angry, furious even. Push yourself to that limit between rage and wanting to break something. You will get careless, you will die, come back and do it again and again. Once you simply can’t take it anymore, turn the game off. Go do something pleasurable, be it playing a safe game like an easy shooter or forgiving RPG or going outside (heaven forbid). When you have it in you to come back to the killing fields, you will invariably be a quicker and more efficient combatant.
You will also go to the right of Firelink into the Undead Burg and discover that the enemies there are pansies compared to Dr. Skeleton and Friends. There’s a lot of them to make up for their weakness, and a lot more cheap tricks to keep you angry, but your skills won’t be so strained. You will, however, be better equipped to handle the swarms of weak foes that lead up to Mr. Pig’s Second Cousin, who has to this point killed me about ten times and caused me to take a pause from Dark Souls.
Long enough, at least, to write this article.