How to Survive Dark Souls 2 – Tips and Strategies to Become Better – Learn to Beat the Toughest Bosses
Hundreds of hours of Dark Souls play time has taught me there are a few general yet essential strategies to employ to start you on the path to victory. Much of this will be aimed at players on their first playthrough of Dark Souls 2, but can certainly be a good to think about for even advanced players. It is also focused on the single player PvE aspect of the game, rather than multiplayer PvP.
Have other tips or completely disagree with something recommended here? See the comments section, discussion is very welcome and there will certainly be new things learned as the Dark Souls II community plays the game.
Most importantly, this article is SPOILER FREE! No story or boss fight secrets here to ruin any secrets or surprises of the game. (Another article containing those kind of tips will be up soon)
1. Vigor / HP
This was my biggest oversight when I first started playing the Dark Souls / Demon Souls games. When you level up be sure to put points into Vigor (which basically does what Vitality used to do in previous games — it simply increases your hit points). The difference between surviving and being one or two shot by enemies and bosses is huge. With a solid amount of Vigor the game goes from being completely unforgiving to just being pretty harsh. If you find bosses are killing you in one hit (or one unbreakable combo of hits like a double-swipe), its time to spend some souls on your Vigor stat.
Along this same line if you find yourself at reduced HP due to repeated deaths, use a Human Effigy to restore yourself to your maximum HP cap. However, use the Human Effigies sparingly because they will be hard to come by. A good rule of thumb is to plan to die a few times in each new area, then when you are confident you can make progress use an Effigy to boost your progress.
2. Learn Enemy Attack Animations!
Much of Dark Souls has to do with reacting in the right way to the enemy attack animations. For example if a certain knight enemy leans back and raises his right arm you might know he will soon be doing a heavy jumping attack. These animation indicators are always consistent and each enemy only has a limited number of different attacks (3-4 for regular enemies and around 8-10 for bosses). You can use this knowledge to avoid all attacks as long as you keep yourself from being surrounded and you don’t mess up on executing your block or roll. When you first face new enemies, especially new bosses, take some time playing defensive and just watch their animations. Look for the following things especially:
- Start of the animation – Look for easily recognizable movements. Which arm is reaching back, where is the enemy weapon, etc
- Audio cues – often you will hear a specific roar or a grunt as a big attack starts
- Watch for the range of the attack
- Is the attack a vertical or horizontal swing, or perhaps an area attack?
- What is the proper response once the attack has been identified? Run away, roll, block, or simply move to the side? Most attacks can be dodged with a properly timed roll, but some must be run away from.
- What is the timing of the attack? In order to make things a little more difficult, some attacks have extra long or extra short “wind-up” animations. This can cause players to dodge too early or too late until they are identified.
- How long after each specific enemy attack is a “safe” time? (To heal or get in an attack of your own)? Usually you will have just enough time to get in one attack after the enemy completes theirs, however this is not always true so pay attention to which attacks leave them wide open.
3. Use a Large Shield or Greatshield with High Stability
Along with high Vigor stat, using a shield is going to make the game a lot more forgiving. When you face new bosses and enemies, you simply can’t know what their attacks will be. Using a shield and playing defensively for a while against these new enemies gives you the time you need to learn the attacks. Watch for the above mentioned enemy attack animation indicators (point #2) while holding up your shield and soon you’ll have the timing down.
The difference between a small shield and a greatshield in blocking prowess is huge. For only about 2000 souls you can buy your first greatshield from one of the NPC’s easily in the beginning hub area called Majula (the coastal beach/cliff area). This specific greatshield requires a Strengh stat of 20. A greatshield will be able to block even boss heavy attacks without breaking your guard or damaging you, especially if you spend some skill points leveling up stamina.
Also a lesser-known tip is that you can two-hand your shield as a weapon to increase your blocking effectiveness. (Attacks you block will take less stamina away which means you are less likely to be knocked down or take damage). In order to use the best shields with the highest stability and resistances, you will need to invest points into strength. Along that line you will also need a decent amount of points in Endurance have the stamina to take advantage of your shields. Perhaps you can see where this is going, on to the next point….
4. Plan your Character’s Stats Ahead of Time
Survivability was key to beating Dark Souls and Demon Souls the first time and Dark Souls II is no different. For reasons mentioned above, Vigor and Endurance are your key stats to achieve this in DS2. A new stat in Dark Souls 2 called Adaptability combined Resistance and Agility and affects your movement speed (run speed, roll speed, etc) and resistances to poisons, bleeds, etc. This makes Adaptability an important consideration. This is by no means the only way to play, to be crystal clear you will find experienced players go for many different stat builds. However, for your first playthrough as a general recommendation you will likely want to focus on just 2 to 4 stats rather than spreading them out. Decide what class of weapons you want to use at the very least, for example will you use small fast swords? If so, look at the stats those weapons scale off of (likely DEX / Dexterity).
Large or Great Shields may require high strength to wield, so if you want to go that route you may look at using heavier weapons that scale off of strength. However another option is to find a medium sized high stability shield with a low strength requirement, but the shield will not be quite as good as a heavy shield that needs a high STR. You could also look into enchanted weapons to increase your damage instead of using strength based weapons. A fire longsword is available within the first few hours of the game if you want to go that route.
A final option is to use magic. By investing into sorcery (Intelligence) you can do a lot of damage from a distance, however you may miss out on learning the fundamentals of melee fighting if you do this. You will probably not always be able to rely on spells to deal with all of the enemies and especially bosses.
5. Circling, strafing and staying close to enemies
It may be your initial response to run away and keep your distance from new enemies. However, especially with the above mentioned shield strategy, it is often a better choice to keep close to your enemies and “circle strafe” around them. This is an easy thing to do, just lock on to the enemy, get very close to them, and walk sideways in a circle around them. Often times the enemy will attack, but since you are already circling them the attack will miss and you will find yourself with plenty of time to get in a safe attack or a backstab. This is especially true if the enemy tries a vertical attack or heavy attack.
6. Learn to Backstab!
Against humanoid enemies backstabbing can be the safest and quickest way to fight. Here are a few quick tips to learn how to back stab consistently and safely: Use the above mentioned circling strategy, lock on to the enemy, wait for the enemy to attack, circle quickly behind them, then perform a weak / light attack at their back while you are standing still. This will cause you to back stab the enemy. A few things to note: its important to remember you have to stand still for a split second before pressing the weak attack button or the backstab will not trigger. If you are still moving you will just perform a regular attack. Also keep in mind large or non-humanoid enemies often can’t be backstabbed. Once you get proficient at backstabbing, try quickly switching to two-handing your weapon right before you attack. This will cause increased damage.
7. Don’t get surrounded
This is a simple one, but avoid being surrounded. Most enemies in Dark Souls 2 can surround you and all attack at once without hitting each other. The constant attacks will become impossible to dodge or block and eventually you will be overwhelmed. Try to lure out one enemy at a time with careful, slow positioning, or by using ranged attacks. The longbow or shortbow works the best for this. Also look for choke points such as hallways where only one enemy can reach you at a time and don’t back yourself into a corner.
8. Weapon choice – Learn about the weapon movesets
Try a bunch of different weapons! Look at the differences in the attack animations for each weapon. Some weapons will have a wide arc attack, some will have an overhead slam attack. If you are running or rolling before attacking often there will be a different attack animation for each weapon. Try them all and see what you like best. I have found a fast overhead running attack to be good for cutting the tails off of bosses. For dealing with large groups of weak enemies, a wide and fast swing is ideal. For facing one enemy a strong and slow weapon may be the most efficient. Also helpful are “poke” weapons which allow you to attack with your shield still up. The spear, estoc, and rapier are examples of poke weapons.
Putting points into both Dexterity and Strength will allow you to try out almost all of the weapons, but unless you end up sticking with a “Quality” weapon (a weapon that scales well off both strength and dexterity), some of those skill points will go to waste. Personally I think this is worth doing for your first playthrough so you don’t miss out on a weapon you might love.
9. Learn about weapon scaling
Different weapons will have increased damage based off of your stats. Go to your weapon inventory and look at the stats of the weapon. Look for the stat there–if Strength scaling is listed at S or A, that means it is scales extremely well off of that stat and will do more damage as you increase your strength stat. Sometimes the scaling will be split between the different stats. Use this knowledge along with your preferred weapon to plan how you will invest your character’s level up points.
The weapon scaling goes in this order of highest scaling (good) to lowest scaling: S, A, B, C, D or just a dash, which means no scaling based off that stat.
10. Armor, Equip Weight, Rolling, Dodging & Run Speed
Keep an eye on your equip weight (the sum of all of your equipped armor and weapons). This will affect how fast you run and how far and fast you are able to roll. For dodging attacks you will want a lower equip weight, giving you faster run speed and more effective roll-dodges. On the other hand if you plan to be eating occasional attacks, heavy armor will allow you to take more powerful hits before you are staggered. However heavy armor can reduce how fast your stamina regenerates.
11. Don’t spam buttons!
This is going to be a bad habit that most people, including myself, start out with. However it is very important to take notice when you are spamming buttons and force yourself to stop. You only need to hit the attack button once for example. If that attack hits successfully and there appears to still be time for a second attack you have plenty of time to press the button again and your attack animation will continue the combo seamlessly. More likely you will attack once and see that there is NOT time for a second attack, and you should instead be readying to block or roll. If the enemy happens to get “staggered” (usually this will only happen if you are using a heavier weapon) then you may be able to keep attacking until you’re out of stamina. However again, press the attack button only once for each attack–it will string the combo just as well.
This same tip goes for dodging. Make sure to time your rolls. If you get knocked down and the enemy is swinging for a second attack while you are still getting up, don’t spam the roll button. It won’t make you get up any faster and often times this will make you roll earlier than you want. Then the enemy’s attack will hit once the roll ends. Be patient and time the dodge right before the attack will hit.
12. Attack only after an enemy swings.
As a general rule, attack enemies only right after they swing and miss. Otherwise you will often be mid swing when they decide to attack and you are then locked into your attack animation with no way to dodge. You can step in close to the enemies with your shield up and circle them while locked on in order to bait an attack out. The same goes with healing. Heal only after the enemy has attacked and missed or the AI will charge in and attack right away.
13. You don’t need to lock on all the time!
Not using the lock on targeting at least some of the time is actually a help against many bosses (and is required to cut off the tails of some bosses). Because many bosses are so big it can help to remove lock-on to position yourself behind, under, or to the side.
Also, not being locked on allows you to dodge attacks by strafing sideways. Be sure to always keep the camera pointed toward the enemy to keep an eye on them. When not locked on you can also take advantage of running charge attacks (run then press light attack), which are great for quick one hits with great range. However, locking on is still very helpful at times, especially to block attacks, so use a combination of both methods.
Thats it for now! More information will be updated as we play Dark Souls 2 and learn more of the ins and outs of its secrets. Feel free to discuss your own thoughts in the comments section below. There are many ways to play and no single opinion is the correct one.
If you’re interested in supporting this site or purchasing Dark Souls II at the lowest price (and without sales tax!) for yourself, the best way to do it is place an order at Amazon. Click here to go to Amazon.com!