The Darkest of Souls


I am playing Dark Souls for the third time and I’m making this playthrough much harder than it needs to be. Dark Souls is a notoriously difficult action RPG. It finds all sorts of creative ways to hurt the player. It’s full of traps, ambushes and rooms of deadly enemies. It’s a game that’s tough but rarely unfair. It’s a game that requires a sort of slow, methodical approach. You must be wary at all times. Let your guard down for a second, and you’ll probably end up dead.

This time around, I’m making the game harder: I’m not leveling up my character. In any RPG, leveling up is one of the pillars of player progression. More levels means the player is stronger and better able to handle the enemies they must fight later in the game. In most RPGs, it’s impossible to progress without leveling up. In Dark Souls, a game much harder than many contemporary RPGs, it’s possible, but it does make the game much harder.

Players from the Dark Souls community have been doing this for a while and they call it a soul level one run. The only rule is that you have to stay at your starting level: soul level one. Some players add extra constraints, like not using certain tools, weapons or magics, but I’m going to use every possible thing I can to my advantage.

I think the spirit of this run is that it forces you to rely on certain things you might not use otherwise. For instance, in the first 30 minutes of my run, I use an alluring skull to attract an enemy into a fire and kill him. That kind of use of the environment and tools is what I see as the heart of the soul level one playthrough.

Also, because it’s an action RPG, skill at playing the game is a bigger factor in this run. Certain moves like riposting (deflecting an enemy’s attack and delivering a decisive blow) and backstabbing do significant damage, but take skill to pull off consistently. In a soul level 1 run, these moves become essential to making up the difference in damage you lack because you aren’t leveling up your character.

I’ll be streaming the run as I play it. I’m not going to be consistent about when I do this, It’ll be either evenings or weekends. I will tweet it when I do it, so you can follow me here. Here’s also the link to my stream. If you miss me streaming it live, I’m archiving it all on my Twitch Chanel

You can see a divergence of style in the few opening hours. I started out playing solo, talking to myself and I was in an uncharacteristically talky mood that day and proceeded to mention a lot of what makes the game compelling to me. I realized I did a terrible job of explaining what I’m actually doing, which is part of the reason for this post.

The second chunk, I actually got Nick/Mornair to come on via a Skype call. He’s also streaming his run, so check out his stream. We’re doing soul level one runs in conjunction and it’s fun to talk to him about what we plan to do it as we do it. This part is full of talk that will only make sense to someone who has played through Dark Souls before as we reference all kinds of tiny elements in the game. It felt a lot more dynamic that just me trying to come up with commentary and it’s fun to swap the ways we plan to play differently. That bellow 25% encumbrance is for chumps, Nick. I’ll show you!

© 2014 James Blake Ewing