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Dark Souls: A Soul Level 1 (SL1) run

Posted by joeabbott on May 29, 2016

I started this write-up a long while ago. I first wanted to document all the things about the Dark Souls video game that bothered me: the bosses or areas that did seem fair, mechanics that didn’t work well (I’m looking at you “lock on”), or the wonky camera tracking or unfair invasion aspects. But then I turned my mind to a Soul Level 1 play-thru and all that took a back seat.

After enjoying the challenge of not upgrading the lowest level character in the game, I got stuck on a boss and started another post about my progress to date: the weapons I picked up, the attributes I was honing, and my approach to the game. But then I got unstuck and finished the play-thru, and here I am, wondering how to proceed: write up a guide on playing through a SL1 character? providing a description of my journey? Or just sum things up?

Given the time and attention I should be spending elsewhere, you get a “quick” summary but let me say this: the SL1 bid was glorious. Frustrating lows and all the problems I note in the first paragraph, but glorious highs at beating a challenging game with the equivalent of one arm tied behind my back. There are other, harder challenges … but this was mine and one that I loved.

Soul Level 1

In order to play the game through at SL1, you need to play as a pyromancer character; he’s the only “pre-rolled” character who starts at Level 1 … and that’s a good thing. It’s good because, at Level 1, the pyromancer starts with decent (not great) strength, a reasonably good starting weapon, and two attunement slots (and the ability to cast pyromancies) from the start. While the starting weapon and two attunement slots are nice, neither are critical but the balance of strength, dexterity, and endurance make this starting character a good base to work from.

imageThe SL1 Secret

I’ll get this out of the way right now: the main thing you have to do to make getting through the game on SL1 (without super-human mechanical skills) is to upgrade the snot out of whatever it is you’re using. You have the option of a couple weapons that are viable at SL1 and an assortment of gear (for protection) and it’s critical that those pieces are upgraded as much as possible.

That’s it.

You’ll still need to work a long time on hard bosses, you’ll still die a bunch, but, in the end, with gear that’s maxed out, even a casual (albeit dedicated) player should be able to make it through the game.

For my play-thru I focused on the reinforced club as my main weapon. I had several of these: each upgraded to the max in its area. I had chaos flame, fire, and lightning varieties, each for the various baddies I’d bump into and would use, depending on their strengths and resistances.

For armor, I chose the following: the Crown of Dusk, black leather armor, sorcerer gloves, and brigand trousers. Some people choose items that look good; I chose the Crown because it amped my pyromancy flame, the armor and trousers because they gave me the best defense for the weight, and the gloves because they were light and provided just that bit more of protection. All of these items were chosen to keep my weight to a minimum so my character could still manage a fast roll.

While it’s nice to have strong armor in case you get hit, with a SL1 character, your best defense is to avoid being hit altogether. And when you will be hit, you need a good shield: the Balder shield. At four pounds it’s heavier than other mid-weight, 100% blocking shields, but this should be your choice for one reason: stability. Stability is the ability to take a hit and not be rocked backwards and this shield delivers the best stats in this category for the weight.

The last items I wear are rings: I chose the Ring of Favor and Protection, as it gave extra boost to my health, equip load, and stamina, and then switched out the other ring. Sometimes I’d travel in water, so the Rusted Ring was best; sometimes I’d need to use a lot of stamina so a Cloranthy Ring was the ticket; farming for items? I’d pop on the Covetous Gold Serpent Ring; and the final ring of choice was the Dark Wood Grain Ring … that glorious accoutrement that gave me extra mobility and invincibility frames. There were others (Charred Orange ring in lava zones, the Abyss Walker ring for the Four Kings fight), but my usual ring was the Dark Wood Grain Ring unless I had need of another.

You’re a Pyromancer … so use it

While a SL1 character has a lot of disadvantages, the main weapon you’ll learn to use is your pyronmancies. A character starting as a pyromancer has no special skills or advantages with these powers but because these spells (unlike miracles or wizardry spells) do not level with any particular attribute, so just having an improved pyromancy glove will make you super-powerful for these spells.

By mid-game, without the need to spend souls on leveling, you’ll have plenty of extra souls … so many that using them to level up your pyromancy glove will be a no-brainer. Do it and continue leveling to the max; yes, it’ll cost 100s of thousands of souls … and be worth it. In late game, few monsters (aside from bosses) could stand up to two Great Combustion blasts from my fully upgraded glove.

My general approach

It really boils down to three things: keep moving, avoid being hit, and take advantage of the enemy moves to deal your own damage.

Keeping moving and avoiding hits are probably the same thing, which is good because I just really need to remember two things: move and hit. It is essential that you find your timing and know when to get out and when to take advantage of a lull. In one fight against a new enemy I was trying to learn his moves and when I should dodge; I continually was punished and was left looking at my controller thinking, “didn’t I hit the roll button just then?” Keep at it, learn, and remember what you learned. In this fight I’d see what I was doing wrong but then enter the fray and commit the same mistake. Ugh.

The same goes for dealing damage. All enemies in Dark Souls have multiple attacks., of which at least one is a heavy attack that takes your foe an extra second or two to recover. Those are the ones you can best take advantage of. I stay just inside the attack zone and “bait” the heavy attack, get out of the way when I see it coming, and then rush in to lay in a hit of my own when he’s recovering.

In addition, parries and backstabs are great tactics to have comfortably under your belt.

One last thing: use help when you need it. I never called in a non-NPC summon for help (just didn’t have the chance), but I did call in plenty of others. Man-Eater Mildred did most of the heavy lifting against Quelaag, Solaire was indispensible several times (including the final fight with Gwyn), and Iron Tarkus pretty much solo-ed the Iron Golem. Purists can claim I took the easy way out, but just like dealing with invasions and that tight corridor you first fight the Capra Demon in are part of the game, so are summons for help. And my strategy was to use them.

The easy and hard

It’s difficult to say what’s easy based on my current approach and tease it away from the fact that I’d beat the game three times before my SL1 run.

As an example, the Taurus Demon went down in a handful of hits. No new strategy but I was used to the fight and didn’t panic like most new players do when presented with an aggressive foe who is 2-3 times bigger than my character. But, I’ll chalk that up to familiarity and not an extra special skills.

On the other hand, both Sif and the Darkroot Basin hydra were overmatched by my highly-leveled gear. I don’t believe I took any damage from Sif and once I got a couple hydra heads knocked off (and wasn’t bowled over each time it struck), it was just a matter of pruning the other heads.

On the other hand, I entered Oolacile and was bested by Artorias so many times, I had to give up and go to bed without figuring him out. He’s exceptionally aggressive, hits like a Mack truck, and has very few openings. I like the fight (not so much the long run back to his arena) but he was actually the first boss who took me days to figure out. He died in the end, but it took three sessions to best him.

Another enemy that gave me trouble was the Four Kings. Even wearing Havel’s armor and extra defense afforded by the pyromancy spell Iron Flesh, it took me probably 8 attempts. But, I always seemed to be on the cusp of success … the Kings just had a bit more luck than I did. Well, there was the time when I entered the arena, the Kings shot me with a staggering magic bolt, and then chopped me immediately thereafter without me having a chance to do anything. That felt less like luck and just plain old unfair.

Did you really beat the game on SL1?

Well, below is the evidence. The image shows my character with “Level = 1” on the right side and the Soul of Gwyn, Lord of Cinder on the left. Click the image to go to YouTube for a clip of Gywn getting it taken to him by me character and Solaire.


What’s next?

Well, if I were sensible I’d just go back to my other games but Dark Souls really has me. My SL1 character just felt too insignificant to take on the DLC later bosses (Kalameet and Manus) but I’d like to give them a try … so, I’m beefing up a strength-based character and will take him into the Abyss to fight these bosses on their turf. But even I’m getting a bit tired of the game (<gasp!>) so I may lose steam on this one … I’ll give it a try.

I’m certainly enjoying the journey

Thanks for dropping in and talking games, talking Dark Souls. Don’t go hollow!


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