If you were playing a brutally difficult game and someone gave you a powerful sword, you’d pick it up and use it, right? If you do that in Dark Souls 2, however, that might corrupt your save and get you banned. Hackers have been doing this for years, and there’s little you can do about it.

Dark Souls 2 is hardly the only game with cheaters running around trying to ruin the fun for everyone else. In fact, the Souls games have always encouraged friendly trolling by allowing players to “invade” the worlds of other players. (You can avoid this entirely by playing offline.)

The hacking of items was a problem when Dark Souls 2 was originally released in 2014, and remains an issue with the updated Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin re-release from earlier this year. As far as I can tell, console players are in the clear. This concerns folks on the PC.

What’s insidious is how hackers have subverted one of the few ways strangers can be friendly, making it so most Dark Souls 2 players no longer exchange items with people they don’t know.

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It’s absurdly easy to download a tool for editing weapons, equipment, and items in Dark Souls 2. With a few key strokes, anything in Dark Souls 2 can become far stronger than what the game actually allows through upgrades. Picking up a hacked item won’t usually do anything, but if you equip and use it, there are typically disastrous consequences for the player in question.

In the original Dark Souls, overpowered cheaters were annoying but manageable. The worst case scenario was dying and waiting for them to go away. It’s far different in Dark Souls 2.

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Hacked items can mess with your game in a few ways:

  • The multiplayer servers will realize this item doesn’t exist and softban your account. A softban means you can still be online, but can only join up with with other banned players.
  • Your save will become corrupt, the game will crash, and the only solution is to mess with game files to remove hacked items without accidentally messing with anything else.

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(Softbans cannot be reversed by starting a new character. It’s attached to your Steam profile, so you have to literally buy the game again on a new Steam account or hope Namco Bandai lifts it.)

It only takes a quick Google search to find naive players recounting their stories of torment:

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In both cases, it seems like the players were pointed in the right direction by fans, but far more tragic stories exist. Take this one, for example:

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This player did something completely reasonable: they trusted the game. When a player offered an item, they picked it up and tried to use it. The person in the wrong was the hacker, yet Natsuyaki Rinko was the one who was punished.

Namco Bandai did not respond to my request for comment, but they did issue a statement to fans when this problem first cropped up after Dark Souls 2 was released last year:

It has come to our attention that some players may be receiving items/weapons/equipment from players that are hacking/modding and that the items dropped could be modified/hacked versions of a weapon/item/equipment that could potentially cause the Dark Souls 2 server team to flag your account as violating the EULA (it turns out that the Dark Souls II server team is not placing restrictions/limitations due to such hacked/modded items, but will be monitoring any accounts found in possession of such items more closely for any other further violations of the EULA). Our recommendation would be to avoid picking up any items that other players drop for you unless you know/trust the person dropping them (or to remove any such items from your inventory, or simply deleting the character if you are unable to remove/discard them by normal means). Please note that as long as the weapon/item is not picked up and added to your inventory it will not be flagged by the Dark Souls 2 server team as a violation of the EULA (since you have not accepted the item into your character’s inventory) and the item should disappear over time (or by reaching another playthrough). PS: Don’t take candy from strangers...

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That’s insulting. “Don’t take candy from strangers” and “delete your character” are not reasonable pieces of advice for people being maliciously manipulated by a game they paid $60 for. Namco Bandai’s response should be “we’re looking into how to patch this so you can have a more enjoyable experience with Dark Souls 2,” not pointing the finger at innocent players.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anything’s going to change. Like I said, it’s been a problem for more than a year now, despite the game being re-released and upgraded just months ago. If From Software is going to address this at all, it won’t happen until Dark Souls 3 early next year.

The solution? Don’t take candy from strangers, I guess.

You can reach the author of this post at patrick.klepek@kotaku.com or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.