The best way to beat Dark Souls is with a crowd

Dark Souls - Ornstein & Smough bosses in their golden armor and holding weapons in a cutscene defore their boss fight.
(Image credit: Bandai Namco, FromSoftware)

It’s difficult for me to finish any game these days. In this line of work writers often have to flit between what’s cool and popular to keep up with the trends, and that means some games sadly get left behind. But if there is one title that haunts your list of games to play, it’s Dark Souls isn’t it? It’s only the ‘Ultimate Game of All Time’ after all.

I originally started Dark Souls back in 2020. I had joked about playing it on stream and my viewers had collectively egged me on to give it a go. And because it’s one of gaming’s staples I agreed. I loaded it up, hit live, and… despised it.

Calling Dark Souls ‘hard’ hasn’t helped its reputation. Sure, it’s unforgiving, but for the most part I consider the game fair. Almost every time I died I could calmly accept that it was my fault (Capra Demon excluded). The world has specific rules and as long as you follow them, you win the game. However, learning those rules in the first place sucks, and it takes 20 hours before you feel like you’re actually playing the game and the game isn’t playing you.

The Chosen Undead lighting the bonfire at Firelink Shrine

(Image credit: Bandai Namco / FromSoftware)

I trudged through as best I could, running away from ghosts with scythes for hands, getting jumpscared by undead around corners, and, of course, dying a lot. All enthusiasm for the game hollowed as I reached the halfway point of the infamously gruelling Blighttown, and it's there that I called time on my adventures in Dark Souls. I had seen enough. I got it, it’s dark and gross and everything wants to kill me. I couldn't put myself through any more of its special brand of misery. I closed the game and put it on my virtual Steam shelf, though never daring to uninstall it.

But last November, a year after putting it down, something called to me. I needed to finish Dark Souls. It was like an itch. A burning, building need to finish what I started. And what really pulled me through a second attempt was a community of people who loved FromSoftware's work.


(Image credit: From Software)

As I sat at the flickering bonfire, overshadowed by the cadaverous bones of Blighttown a year later, I had forgotten both the controls and what I was even doing in this dire place. This time the adventure was different because I was laughing. Every death was either a lesson in what not to do, or an action so stupid I couldn't help but laugh. My viewers were in turn more determined to lightly guide me in the right direction and make sure that I finished the game. Or at least get to Ornstein and Smough.

I stumbled through Blighttown down into Quelaag’s lair, complained my way through Sen’s Fortress (my viewers thankfully showed me the hidden bonfire), and finally found myself in the heavenly Anor Londo. The main areas didn’t pose much of a challenge, and thankfully one of those Black Knight archers fell off the roof so I was spared that particular provocation. But then comes Anor Londo's main boss room, looming in the end of the Cathedral.

Ornstein and Smough are tough for any Dark Souls player, but now it’s time to admit two things about my particular playthrough. The first is that I’m stubborn. When I meet a boss in Dark Souls I’ll just keep running at it over and over and over until I beat it fair and square. I never summoned, I never went away to level or find a better weapon for a fight—I just got good. That was my philosophy. And the second detail is that I was stuck with the Drake Sword.

The Drake Sword comes from the Hellkite Wyvern, encountered early on while trying to cross their bridge—honestly the dude just needs to chillax. As revenge you can sit under the bridge, cheesing its tail with arrows until you’re rewarded with the Drake Sword. It’s incredibly powerful in the early game, but doesn’t scale with your character, making it useless at, let’s say… Anor Londo.

So I walk into the fight with Ornstein and Smough and am totally destroyed. I didn’t keep a death counter for my playthrough, but I spent four streams and about 12 to 14 hours fighting, dying and strolling back. New viewers would occasionally come in and ask me to change weapon, to which my entire chat would laugh at the suggestion that I had anything more powerful. Some told me to head back and get a new weapon which went against my headstrong attitude. I even had Scottish comedian Limmy come in and berate me for how I was joking around with chat while in the middle of the fight. But eventually on day four, I beat them. I beat Ornstein and Smough. And now I was playing Dark Souls.

Somewhere in those hours of bashing my head against golden chest plates and rubble, I had come to love the game. The incredible spirit of dozens of people cheering me on with every death was reassuring. The good runs were congratulated. The bad were shrugged off. My skill at the game had so vastly improved I could beat these two beasts with the equivalent of a weaponised toothpick and it felt glorious. In fact, after beating the golden boys of Anor Londo, the rest of the game was relatively easy combat wise. And once I had that under my control, I realised I was wrong about Dark Souls.

Earlier I said that I 'got' Dark Souls. I didn't. I didn't 'get' Dark Souls until the combat wasn't what I was focused on. I finally 'got' Dark Souls when I was trying to save NPCs, when I was choosing not to fight a boss out of sympathy, and when I was questioning if I could help anyone at all. The hardest bit about Dark Souls stopped being the bosses, and became the emotional toll of seeing the characters you meet get torn apart by circumstance. Your actions, even the well intentioned ones, ended with the demise of friends, and even the bosses you thought were evil were just trying their best to survive. Shit man, that's deep.

I have to give credit where credit is due, as I would never have realised half of the story of Dark Souls without my livestream chat. As I gained confidence or cleared areas, they'd reveal information, tell me to check my item descriptions and answer questions I had about NPCs. It wasn't only old community members helping but brand new ones who spent time searching for Dark Souls newbies to assist. People like me who come to the games with a million preconceptions only to slowly but surely fall in love with FromSoftware's worlds.

I have no idea how anyone figured out Dark Souls when it first came out—it must have been gruelling. I found my community essential to enjoy the experience. Sometimes when I was lightly stuck, just a "turn left here" or "go back to Firelink Shrine" made all the difference. When I was at my lowest, words of encouragement spurred me on. It was the best guide, even if they sometimes led me into traps just to laugh at me. Falling through the floor of the Undead Asylum upon returning almost gave me a heart attack, damn it.

But I owe my win to them. Months of work, dozens of hours livestreaming, and it all really came down to Dark Souls' tenacious community, and the viewers who enjoyed seeing me suffer. I never thought I'd finish Dark Souls. Now, I'm planning my Bloodborne playthrough.

Imogen has been playing games for as long as she can remember but finally decided games were her passion when she got her hands on Portal 2. Ever since then she’s bounced between hero shooters, RPGs, and indies looking for her next fixation, searching for great puzzles or a sniper build to master. When she’s not working for PC Gamer, she’s entertaining her community live on Twitch, hosting an event like GDC, or in a field shooting her Olympic recurve bow.