I've played some 80 hours worth of Dark Souls on the PlayStation 3, but I still haven't come to the end of this wonderfully bleak, beautiful and brutal game. There is much for me to uncover before I'm done—and when I play Dark Souls through for a second time.
And while I've received an immersive education in the ways of Dark Souls over those 80 hours, there were moments during the first 10 and 20 in which I wish I'd been more learned about its rules. I didn't have a strategy guide or advanced wiki to aid me, as I did during my first playthroughs of Demon's Souls. So, Dark Souls players, if you're looking for a little advice, I have some to dispense.
Before we get into it, it's worth noting that one of the facets of Demon's Souls and Dark Souls that makes these games so fascinating is not knowing its obtuse and opaque rules so familiarly. Experimentation, research and patience result in great pay-offs in Dark Souls. To even explain some of the game's deeper mechanics may be considered spoilers by some.
But for the new player, the person taking their first steps into the world of Dark Souls, take heed of the following.
There's no need to stress about your character class
Demon's Souls players know this, but for the most part, the character class players choose at the beginning of their game—from Dark Souls' selection of ten—will have little impact on how they play after the first few hours. Class choice in Dark Souls is largely just a matter of starting equipment (weapons, armor, rings, disposable items) and the distribution of character stats. Over time, you'll tailor your character to your style of play. Are you a long-range magic user? Do you prefer to fight hand-to-hand? Is speed more important to you than strength and poise?
Do sweat a bit more over your gift choice. Most of the items you'll have the option to start with—firebombs, a pair of binoculars—you'll have the ability to find early on in the game anyway. The Master Key will grant access to some locked doors earlier, some of which you may not want to open just yet. Two choices, the Pendant and Ring of the Witch, have unclear uses. Another, the Ring of Tiny Being, does not work as advertised, so skip it.
Go up, not down
When you reach your first bonfire, the closest thing Dark Souls has to a hub, consider going up one of the set of stairs you see, not down two other sets. There's a character nearby who might say the same thing, but I'll underscore his advice. While it's worth exploring the opening area fully, because it's good to know just how mismatched you are against a quartet of scimitar-wielding skeletons, you'll find the Undead Burg above your camp a good starting point for your adventure.
Don't throw anything away
Even that pile of warm rubbish you'll pick up at some point will be worth something. Unlike Demon's Souls, there's no real limit to the number of weapons, helms, rings, arrows and shields your character can carry. You'll even find a Bottomless Box at some point that will store all that excess stuff. And unlike Demon's Souls, the junk swords, spears and armor you don't want might just make you richer at some point...
The meaning of Humanity
Humanity in Dark Souls is not an obvious thing. It's a consumable item, for one. It can be found on corpses, purchased from a vendor and acquired somewhat randomly. You can also steal it from the people you kill playing Dark Souls' online mode. You'll consume Humanity to revive your character from Hollow form—your undead state—to human form. It's only in human form that players can invite other online players into their world, invade other player's worlds as an evil phantom and perform actions like kindling.
You'll need Humanity to kindle bonfires, the act of strengthening those life-giving checkpoints that benefits you and the players you interact with online. Humanity is also an attribute that boosts your character's stats and, later, has an impact on the power of certain weapons. Conserve it and use your Humanity wisely, for it has great value.
Hold onto your Fire Keeper Souls for the right moment
Don't make the same mistake I did. If you find a Fire Keeper Soul, take it to the woman who knows how to use it properly. Your Estus Flask, the life-restoring potion bottle you'll earn early on, will be richer for not wasting it.
Bonfires are checkpoints, but they can be dangerous
Visiting a bonfire will restore your life, replenish your magic and cure you of afflictions like poisoning. But it will also reset the game world in a sense, respawning most of the enemies you might have killed getting there (with the exception of major demons and some larger enemies). Know that the only place to respawn is at your previously rested at bonfire. That can put the player in an unpleasant spot at times. Take, for example, the time I found myself respawning again and again at a bonfire near a poisonous swamp, my weapons broken, low on poison curing items and with a very difficult walk back to a much safer camp. Players may feel trapped at certain bonfires, so choose your respawn point wisely.
Buy a repairbox
Save up. Buy a repairbox for those moments when visiting the blacksmith is out of the question. And it will be out of the question at times. Your broken weapons will thank you.
Don't play angry
Stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of dying, dying and dying again? Some battles will rightly test your patience and willpower. Don't continue to bash your head against a wall. Take a break, walk away and come back to the fight refreshed and relaxed. The poisonous residents of Blighttown will still be there when you come back.
Nothing is off the table
From invisible enemies to pitch black caves in which giant skeletons can only be seen until they're within inches of the player, nothing is considered too cruel to throw at the player. Your weapons will simply pass through some otherworldly enemies. Others will easily take your life with a single attack, no matter how strong you are. You will be asked to walk on lava, see your life bar halved by curses and have your poor warrior surrounded by giant beasts who will attack relentlessly. But you can defeat them all, I promise.
Just learn from your mistakes. And mine.