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When I received a cardigan for Christmas, I felt old.
Placing it next to the pair of slippers, pre-cut tennis balls for a walker, and the Harkonnen suspensor-harness for my girth (or second sovereign self, as I call him), I knew it was true. That’s alright; I recently set a new personal best time in Onimusha: Warlords and can still beat the North American release of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse on an NES, so I may be old – but plenty spry.
To assuage this youthful vigor, I searched deep within to find the courage and ask the question I dare not answer: do I still have what it takes to beat Dark Souls at Level 1? And as I summoned my war council for advice (which still consists of a cat, two friends, and The Guy in the Mirror), I thought of a more intriguing proposition: do you?
In preparation, let’s take a gander at the character creator and see what we have to work with. While there’s only one possible choice of starting class for an SL1 run, it has a number of advantages to take into consideration that may not be readily apparent to those who aren’t looking for them. This isn’t necessarily a walkthrough; try and think of it as a combat manual or reference guide. It won’t be optimal by any means, but the recommendations made will get the job done.
Despite being the lowest possible level, Pyromancers have incredible stat distribution. A base Strength of 12 allows for the use of several 100% physical resistance shields, and 10 Dexterity brings clubs and longswords into our weapon pool. With 12 Attunement we have access to the first couple of pages of our spellbook, while 10 Intelligence is the minimum needed to access Grigg’s wares. Finally, having the highest base Resistance (usually considered useless) actually works in our favor for once! It’s all about trying to find the positives in life, which is how I earned the moniker: ‘Brightside Baphomet’.
Unlocking the cell door, my thoughts turn not towards the task before me, but rather the irony of it all. Does anyone else recognize the parallels between Arthurian literature and Dark Souls? Similar to King Arthur inadvertently saving Mordred by attempting to have him killed (causing the very downfall of Camelot he sought to prevent), in creating the Undead Asylum to deny the Herald of Dark, Gwyn seals his fate by ensuring the Chosen Undead’s existence. Maybe the best way to handle fate is to stay as far away from it as possible.
Aside from the Humanities and Homeward Bones laying around Firelink Shrine, your main acquisition should be the Dragon Crest Shield found near the entrance to the Valley of Drakes. With 100% physical and 85% fire resistance (perfect for the final boss), this is one of the first shields we’ll come across and arguably the most reliable. Investing Twinkling Titanite into it is highly recommended.
One of the command decisions you’ll have to make involves Fire Keeper Souls and their relation to the Red Tearstone Ring (also in the Valley of Drakes). If you’re looking to take advantage of its 50% damage-boosting capabilities, it might be better not to upgrade your Estus Flask, so as to better manipulate your health pool. Personally, I disregard any Red Tearstone shenanigans; damage will eventually be of no concern, and it’s best to have every drop of healing that can be accrued.
As we make our way through the Undead Burg, let’s put together a shopping list for the local merchant: the Residence Key, as many arrows as we can afford, and my old friend – Mr. Reinforced Club. Keep Firebombs in the back of your mind; they’re cheap, versatile, and indispensable when preparing for the New Londo Ruins.
At this early stage of the game, there’s not much deviation from the standard path. Havel (whose ring you’ll eventually want) is susceptible to Fireball, while the nearby Lightning Pine Resin is equally effective against the Taurus Demon (don’t forget the Twinkling Titanite beforehand!). Aside from accepting Solaire’s help and activating the shortcut to the Sunlight Altar, there’s not much to do but move forward.
Upon entering the Undead Parish, your first goal should be to take a trip over to Blacksmith Andre and upgrade your armaments (Reinforced Club+5 and Dragon Crest Shield+2). The Elite Knight’s Set and Wolf Ring in the Darkroot Garden are absurdly easy to acquire for how useful they are, and when combined with Havel’s Ring they offer a strong balance of defense to weight ratio.
The Basement Key near the church portcullis is vital to our plans (unless you know the skip, which I won’t assume), so be sure to grab it. A Fire Keeper Soul on the altar can be taken down the shortcut to upgrade your Estus if need be. Outside of killing the Channeler, free Lautrec and get on his good side (there’s a Humanity nearby that can be used for the upcoming boss fight). As far as the Bell Gargoyles are concerned, Solaire’s Lightning Spears and Pine Resin are highly damaging if enough time can be found to set them up. Firebombs are also an option, and quite a bit faster than Fireball.
After ringing the First Bell of Awakening, immediately return to Firelink Shrine; the Sunlight Medal Lautrec offers in gratitude is useless and he’s more valuable to us dead than alive – so kill him! Reloading the area nets 5 Humanity and one of the most notorious items in Dark Souls: the Ring of Favor and Protection.
The difference between good and great players is their attitude concerning this particular band. Truth be told, the ring is a crutch that will eventually hamstring a character’s potential. I’ve beaten Dark Souls at Level 1 twice (once using the ring and once without) and I’ll tell you from experience that choosing whether or not to equip it was the single greatest factor in determining the success of both runs. I’d ignore it entirely (or possibly save it for Gwyn), as you’re only going to be making the easiest parts of the game easier at the cost of making the hardest part harder by using it. The Four Kings rob you of one jewelry slot as it is, and when that happens the last thing you’re going to want is to be locked out of the other.
The Lower Undead Burg offers two points of interest: Griggs of Vinheim and the Capra Demon. After freeing the sorcerer, I would immediately unlock the second shortcut and backtrack to Firelink Shrine. This next part isn’t exactly ugly, but it’s sure not going to be pretty. Purchasing the Bellowing Dragoncrest Ring from Griggs (which provides a 20% damage boost to Pyromancy) is a good idea if you have the capital, because there’s a fair chance you might lose it coming up.
The key to defeating the Capra Demon lies in your ability to anticipate its opening attack. I close the distance between us as quickly as possible and try to bait out its leaping strike, before rolling towards the staircase. The dogs in the arena exacerbate things without high levels of Poise, but the idea is to get up the stairs and pick off whoever you can, drop down to the lower level and repeat the process. Again, Firebombs and Fireball offer ranged options if you find an opening. Once you attain the Sewer Key, the path to power will finally be unlocked.
This next section is somewhat optional, but you’ll more than likely be spending some time here down the line, so there’s little reason not to pursue it. Aside from grabbing the Large Ember and rescuing Laurentius (which are directly across from each other), the main attraction of the Sewers is to farm Humanity. Fighting the Gaping Dragon (and Darkthorn Kirk) provides a nice boost to your soul count. I’d go back to Firelink Shrine for upgrades and Combustion, as it’ll become the primary source of damage for the remainder of the run. I would also wait until you get the Covetous Serpent Ring before grinding out rats; but before we go any further, I should probably explain why it’s so beneficial in the first place.
Apart from opening a shortcut we’ll utilize later on, the main reason why Humanity is so important is that it raises your resistances when consumed. I haven’t ran the figures since the Obama administration, but if memory serves, having 99 ‘raw’ Humanity provides a physical defense boost (roughly) equivalent to the Elite Knight’s Armor. Added to what you have equipped (and any reinforcements made), you’d be surprised how sturdy even the weakest character can become. Humanity also influences the rate at which enemies drop items (up to a maximum of 10), so when it comes time to seek Titanite Chunks or more elusive items, the process will be expedited. Don’t hesitate to use Humanity, but be prepared to accept that you might lose it if you’re not careful.
The Gaping Dragon has a high health pool, but telegraphs most of its attacks. Help can be summoned before the entrance, and while Lightning Spear is certainly effective, Solaire is weak to the boss’ erratic movement. If Pyromancy Flame is +5 or greater, reciting the contents of your spellbook is highly effective. Be sure to adjust the timing of your rolls when the dragon takes to the air; judging when it’ll land is difficult when you’re up close and in the fray.
We head for Blighttown from here, but rather than unlocking the front entrance using the key we just found, instead go back towards Firelink Shrine and the Valley of Drakes and take the alternate route. Outside of some souls and ‘befriending’ Maneater Mildred, the main interest in Blighttown is to make contact with Quelana. A Pyromancy Flame +10 is required to trigger her appearance, so don’t worry about it if you don’t see her yet. Besides, fire isn’t much use for the next two encounters, anyways.
Be warned: this is the flash point where the entire run can be compromised. Failure in the subsequent battles will more than likely end all progress when your character is at their most vulnerable. Cloud saving and higher framerates give modern players some advantages that didn’t used to exist, so take advantage of them if possible.
With an underdeveloped weapon as your lone offensive tool and inconsistent NPC ally, the battle with Queelag is a war of attrition that can end at the drop of a hat. Though several of her moves are far easier to avoid in Remastered, her AOE lava puddles will almost instantly kill at SL1 if contact is made. When she starts to overwhelm the environment, de-target Queelag and quickly scan the surroundings to see if you’re hemmed in. Maneater Mildred deals solid damage if she manages to navigate through the contamination. Be mindful of Queelag’s leaping attack if you get too far away from her; it’s difficult to dodge consistently and can easily kill characters thirty levels higher than we are!
After ringing the Second Bell of Awakening (and gaining an audience with the Daughter of Chaos) comes Ceaseless Discharge. This battle has a scripted outcome as long as you know how to block and direct the scene. Barring save-scumming, there’s only going to be one shot at doing this correctly; should it go wrong, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s really simple if you don’t mess it up – just don’t mess up! An equipment load of 25% or less is needed to achieve the fastest movement speed; be sure to distribute your gear accordingly. The stamina-recovering effects of the Grass Crest Shield and Cloranthy Ring are helpful, but not necessary. Unfortunately, there’s little strategy to go over, but know that a moment’s courage is all that’s needed to stand before the gates of possibility.
On paper, this is a standard smash-and-grab operation: all you’re doing is heading to the end of the level, picking up the Gold-Hemmed Charred Garb (some of the finest armor in Lordran), then running back to the beginning. In practice, the only hiccup comes from Ceaseless Discharge’s initial lava-spew after he wakes up. Avoid it and simply beat cheeks towards the entrance as fast as possible; he’ll attack twice (neither of which you’ll see if you’re doing it right) before giving chase. From there, a mere 5-6 strikes to his outstretched arm are all it takes to win. A couple of Large Souls of Proud Knight can be found in the lower levels of the Demon Ruins, but the priority should be meeting Quelana to snag Great Combustion, a second copy of Combustion, and whatever else catches your fancy. Always keep the Pyromancer’s creed close to heart: no glove, no love.
For experienced players, Sen’s Fortress and the ~8 enemies standing between them and the boss aren’t anything to write home about. Basic enemies should be going down in 1-2 castings of Combustion/Great Combustion, and aside from the Covetous Serpent Ring, Cage Key, and a few souls of varying quality, there’s not much to mention. Guard with your shield near the pendulums to help gauge their threat ranges. If you’re having trouble upgrading your glove, a Symbol of Avarice can be farmed from the Mimic in the basement by putting it to sleep via Lloyd’s Talismans (sold by the Undead Merchant). Don’t forget to take out the Giant at the top of the final tower, lest you want the upcoming fight to resemble a challenge.
If you have the Humanity to summon Tarkus for the Iron Golem, sit back and let him do the lion’s share of the work. If not, any Pyromancy or melee weapon will suffice. Of minor concern is the Golem’s elemental attack (the range of which is difficult to gauge), but other than that, this fight is what we refer to as a ‘freebie’.
Before heading to Anor Londo, we have some unfinished business in the Darkroot Garden: the Hydra, Moonlight Butterfly, and Sif. We’re looking to acquire Dusk’s Crown (which grants a 25% damage boost to Pyromancy), guarantee Witch Beatrice’s appearance for the Four Kings, and upgrading our glove between Flame +12-Ascended +2 (the higher the better). Accomplish these and you’ll be sitting pretty for the post-Lordvessel portion of the game.
It’s hard to argue against more damage, so I prefer going for the Hydra. Generally, there are two approaches: to clear out the Blue Golems while attempting to evade the geysers of water, or put the pedal to the metal and lead them towards the Hydra and have it help you. I’m in favor of the latter; weeding out the Golems is no assurance of success, and considering how lethal the Hydra’s ranged attacks are, getting in as soon as possible helps convince it to transition into melee. You can either drain its health bar completely or remove all the heads, but the name of the game is to flirt with the coastline, burning appendages as they interrupt the incoming Golems. You’ll more than likely have to divide your attention between the two groups, just take heed when the Hydra pauses and starts to back up: a well-placed projectile can potentially blast your character into the depths of the lake.
At the back of the cave is a Crystal Golem containing Dusk. Pyromancy is effective as ever, but be cautious of lingering AOE effects, as they can kill her if you’re careless. Accepting Dusk’s assistance, summoning her near the shore, and reloading the area will spawn her set where you were introduced – the headpiece of which you’ll rarely remove. Every monarch needs a crown, after all.
Next is the Moonlight Butterfly. The most important aspect isn’t the boss itself (which is a joke), but rather Witch Beatrice. Hidden inside of a shrub near the stairs leading up to the Butterfly, Beatrice is an insurance policy for the most difficult fight of Dark Souls. And while it’s certainly possible to take out the Four Kings at SL1 without help (I find it easier in some respects), there’s no reason not to give yourself the potential to summon her. As for the area boss, it has 4-5 attacks and with a pair of spellcasters should pose no problem. The Divine Ember at the end of the level is important, so remember to scoop it up.
Tackling Sif at this point is entirely up to you, but unlocking the path to him opens up a grindspot useful for upgrading equipment. The Stone Armor (near Alvana) and Hornet’s Ring (inside the boss arena) have token applications you may also want to utilize. Putting Sif down like Old Yeller is mandatory, so we might as well get to it.
Sif is tall, has a limited moveset, and is made out of fur. Translation: light him up! You should have the stamina to block at least one of Sif’s attacks before needing to reposition yourself. His running slash is dangerous but leaves him open to devastating retorts if you manage to roll through it. Should Sif vault himself on top of your character (which strangely does little to no damage), don’t fret: this is the best possible outcome! In close-quarters it’s better not to lock onto Sif, as his speed does more to interfere with your aim than help. It might seem unorthodox to fight our canine friend so early on, but after seeing how many souls can be gained for such a minimal effort, you’ll start doing it every run.
The last major preparation is grabbing the Darkmoon Seance Ring in the Catacombs. After turning the first bridge, you’ll see several skeletons guarding a Necromancer inside of a building. Instead of entering, approach the ledge to the right of the doorway and line yourself up with the corresponding lip on the floor below – and roll! After dealing with the exploding skulls and additional skeletons (which can be coaxed into the ravine), follow the path up towards the nearest entrance; a breakable wall leads to a hidden area where the ring awaits. It’s physically impossible to get back to Firelink Shrine from here, so use a Homeward Bone (or kill yourself), head to Sen’s Fortress, and proceed forward.
Unless you want another Fire Keeper Soul, I can’t think of anything you need at the beginning of Anor Londo. The Wolf Ring and Stone Armor are useful for traversing the cathedral’s catwalk (where mobility is moot), but you’ll want the fastest movement speed possible for the infamous ‘archers’ section, which I’ll endeavor to explain.
What’s most important is to maintain forward momentum. Most – but not all – of the leftmost archer’s arrows will be absorbed by the surrounding architecture – it’s the guy on the right that’s the problem. By closing in on him, usually one of three things will happen: he’ll continue shooting (roll towards him), draw a sword and shield (look for a parry opportunity), or charge himself off the ledge. You still might be hit from behind trying to bait out an action; it’s not a foolproof strategy, but should (eventually) get you to your destination.
The Giant Blacksmith will improve your equipment significantly; Twinkling Titanite can max out your Dragon Crest Shield, while Large Titanite improves useful armor like the Elite Knight’s Set. At minimum, I’d ascend to a Lightning Reinforced Club and max out the Stability of your shield – both might be necessary if the upcoming situation gets away from you.
Soliare will be more of a distraction than anything for the next boss fight, though getting him there intact takes some effort. If you have 32 castings of Combustion and 8 Great Combustion, apply them freely to the Giant Knights (a great grindspot for souls and Titanite Chunks). A victory here will serve as a strong portent for the future.
Smough and Ornstein were no doubt a nightmare back in the day, though time and enhanced framerates have dulled much of their former impact. Your aim is to peel the two away from each other using Soliare or the pillars distributed throughout the arena. Ornstein is extremely vulnerable to fire and easily succumbs to 5-6 Great Combustions. This is where I buck convention: though Smough is weak to lightning (as in Soliare and the club), continue using Pyromancy. Depending on its level, ~3 castings of Combustion/Great Combustion should drain his stamina entirely, granting time to land even more hits. If Solaire plays ball, it’s possible to keep Smough in stunlock for much of the remaining battle. Lightning Reinforced Club does solid damage, but its slow, stubby range forces players to constantly put themselves at risk. Trust me and stick with the glove: you won’t regret it.
If you’ve reached this point, congratulations! With the Lordvessel in your possession, no region of Lordran is forbidden to you. Use the opportunity to augment any remaining gear – stack up on Green Titanite Shards and take stock of anything you might need: a bow and arrows, Divine Reinforced Club+5, 30 Humanity, Firebombs, Homeward Bone, and Transient Curses will be invaluable. The backhalf of Dark Souls is significantly easier for an SL1 character (if you can believe that), but there’s still some bad road to walk down before the end. As I dismiss my war council, the only remaining advice I have for now is to take it slow and demonstrate patience.
We’ll reconvene soon; until then, remember that you’re only in competition with yourself on this challenge. Gwyn is waiting; for a king may look like a fool when he’s answering nature’s call, but even more so when they fade to ash, lamenting ‘Vereor Nox’.