Having forsaken most of life’s wonders in favor of Dark Souls, I can claim today to be far better at the game than I was when I wrote my first strategy article. I’ve beaten the game three times with three very different builds, begun the grind through New Game Plus (NG+), and even started the endless spiral (fun though it is) into the Dark Souls subreddit. To that end, I’d ask that you disregard most of the tips stated in the earlier guide. Some of them are useful, but not as organic or straightforward as what’s to follow.
Use the Asylum, don’t overuse it
Dark Souls’s tutorial is a simple one, but it relies heavily on player interaction with developer assistance. It would behoove you to read every ground-based message, as in the Undead Asylum, 95% of them are there to teach you. Provided you have a PS3 or Xbox 360 controller, or the mod that changes the key images, pay special attention to each and every instructional glyph. None take more than a couple seconds to read, and you’d also do well to practice the action stated once or twice before continuing.
For their own part, no enemy in the Asylum is even a tenth the threat posed by enemies in Lordran proper. Even the zombie things (called Hollows) are chumps compared to their later cousins. Use them as quick combat practice, but don’t dwell on them. If you pass the white fog and go towards the second locked door, you’ll find a guy with a shield. Killing him is unnecessary and will serve only to pad your time outside the main world. He can be a useful tool in how to begin challenging tougher enemies, but the Asylum Demon beyond the fog gate is a far better teacher.
As you’ll enter the boss area above him, use the opportunity to learn/practice your plunging attack. With a controller, you’ll press forward on the right stick and hit your strong attack button, R2 by default. The timing isn’t as precise as a parry, and the big green piggy will be brought to half-health if not less. From there, watch his attacks and use them to learn how big enemies broadcast their attacks. A few two handed attacks to the backside and you’ll be on your way to Lordran, where the real challenges wait.
Firelink Shrine, your home and haven
There’s much to be learned in just Firelink Shrine, before you even think of venturing out to the Burg or Blighttown. Indeed, you’ll learn of these places from the not-so-friendly but oh-so-useful Crestfallen Warrior sitting near the Shrine bonfire. While he’s not the most upbeat person you’ll meet in Dark Souls, he’s a font of useful information that you’d otherwise not know. Even as you progress through the game, come back to this poor, chainmail wearing fellow and talk until he won’t talk anymore. You’ll undoubtedly learn something, and maybe get a chuckle out of his completely-justified cynicism. Oh, and don’t try to kill him right away, if only because he’s a powerful foe, and low level characters will die in one or two hits. Plus, the Shrine bonfire will be unusable, as he’ll be “guarding” it with anger.
Talk also to Petrus of Thorolund, just a little ways up the hill from the bonfire, but not the way to the Hollows. A little more left of that. If you want to focus on a paladin build, he’s a good place to get going with your Miracles, and he gives you a Copper Coin, which comes in handy later. For those with sorcery (or more traditional magic) in mind, take a left past the Crestfallen Warrior, then a quick right down another set of stairs. You’ll come to an elevator, which will take you to the New Londo Ruins. Don’t worry about them, but keep right until you see a staircase leading down. Talk to Rickert of Vinheim and get yourself some sorcery.
Lastly, take some time at the bonfire to glance over your stats. Open up the Explanation menu (the Select button on a controller) and try to learn what each stat means. Some of it won’t mean much now, but having a good idea of which stat affects what and how, even without full understanding, is a valuable tool. Ideally too you should have enough souls to level up, and if you want to take down your opponents with a sword and shield, go for Strength or Dexterity (the former for powerful weapons, the latter for graceful ones). Traditional casters need Attunement and Intelligence. Don’t neglect Vitality and Endurance, but don’t pour your heart and souls into them. A man of steel with no way to attack is only a useless hunk of rusting metal.
Explore the Burg at your own pace, and do not fear the reaper
The Undead Burg, that Hollow-infested town above Firelink Shrine, will be your first true test. As with everything in Dark Souls, the difficultly curve is steep, but begins slowly. Be wary of firebombs, and if you aren’t averse to a little grinding, there’s a handy bonfire right in the middle of it all. Kindle that sucker with some humanity and trot in and out, slowly levelling until you feel confident enough to move on. You’ll meet more regular Hollows, sword and wielding Hollows, and maybe find that pesky Undead Merchant. Soon enough you’ll see another fog door, this one tantalizingly small.
I won’t spoil the boss fight beyond it, but understand that the Asylum Demon was just an entrance exam. By this point in the game, be aware that you will be punished for arrogance and carelessness. No enemy attack is too weak to end you, no mistake to small to send you rising from the bonfire once again. The main thing to remember at this early point is: the enemies are slow and your means of destruction few. Even as you face the next few bosses, you’ll be surprised how slothlike your enemies’ attacks are. They’re powerful, yes, but slow. The Burg, like the Parish that follows it, is all about warming up to the inevitablility of a hundred deaths. As unfair as some fights may seem, they’re all more than beatable. And if you’re that type, half the fights aren’t even necessary to the game’s completion.
That, of course, is an article for another day.