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Weapons in Dark Souls Aren't a Numbers Game (img heavy)

Dark Souls is an RPG, right? I have trouble describing its genre to people. It's kind of an adventure game. It has some stats. Your character has some stats. You "level up", and so on. Yeah, I guess it's an action RPG... it just feels so different sometimes, yanno?

I'm cool with stats. I think about number crunching sometimes, despite my aversion to real math, so naturally when I got the pretty cool Dark Souls strategy guide (now somewhat obviated by the 1.05 patch), I groveled all of the weapon lists seeing what was there.

At some point I figured out the hidden truth in Dark Souls: that your level matters only inasmuch as it enables or complements your weapons and armor. Many weapons have stat requirements, so of course you need to have leveled the corresponding stats in order to even use them. Likewise, having higher Endurance lets you wear heavier armor while retaining mobility and lets you keep on swinging your massive sword. Other than those things? The abundance of level 1 playthroughs is evidence enough that your level doesn't really matter.

So I went through the weapon lists and would pick out cool weapons with high damage and say, "Yo knut, let's craft our character to be able to take advantage of this crazy pain-factory of a sword, 'cause it's got mad damage and we'll be unstoppable." After all, it's an RPG, right? Numbers, yeah! And I did this, and it worked to an extent, but the more I watched other people playing (I've watched an obscene amount of Dark Souls videos, live streams, etc.), the more I realized there's far more going on here than stats and numbers.

Let's start with an example to frame the discussion. We've got two katanas, the ironically named Iaito (because in real life, an iaito is an imitation katana) and the awesomely named Washing Pole. To start with let's just look at the stats. Hmm, they're pretty close: base damage of 88 and 90, 300 bleed. Stat requirements are a little different (20 STR for the Washing Pole). Damage scaling for the Iaito is better if you have a DEX build, so that's a consideration. But they're pretty similar.

Similar? Ha! Don't make me laugh (again)! How the heck are these similar?

Could make some bad joke here... Nah, Dixon will take care of it.

What the strategy guide doesn't tell you (but which the in-game description hints at) is that the Washing Pole is monstrously long. With reach like that, your combat capabilities change drastically, since you can hit many enemies without getting within a normal weapon's range. Weapon sizes: not a quantifiable thing, but an important consideration nonetheless.

Next, let's talk about speed. Actually, I don't think "speed" is precise enough. Let's split speed in half and talk about "spe" and "ed". HAR! Got ya there, didn't I!? Anyway. The two aspects of speed that I think matter are hits per second and recovery time.

Notice I said "hits per second" and not "damage per second." An upgraded greataxe does a boatload of damage in, say, 5 seconds, which comprises maybe 2 hits; our friend the Iaito may do significantly less base damage in that same five seconds, but maybe you get 5 hits in. Those 5 hits might be better than 2, for two reasons: firstly, you can't move during a hit, so 5 quick hits gives you more opportunities to stop what you're doing and roll out of the way.

Greataxe's one-handed "light" attack is slow

Iaito's one-handed light attack is pretty fast

Secondly, bleed and poison damage. Many weapons have bleed damage or poison damage along with them. These weapons raise the enemy's bleed or poison meter a fixed amount per hit, not per unit of damage, so to be effective, you need to land several hits rather than a lot of damage. Bleed is neat because it does an extra truckload of damage when it fills up the bleed gauge.

So that greataxe we were talking about? Maybe it does a lot of damage per second, but if you factor in the Iaito's bleed, if you get in several hits in quick succession, the katana may win out in a big way.

Even within a class of weapons, though, there can be significant differences. Did you know that each weapon has seven unique moves in its move-set? They are:

- Light attack (1 or 2 handed, running or standing) - R1/RB
- Heavy attack (standing only) - R2/RT
- Two-handed heavy attack - R2/RT after hitting Y/Triangle to switch to 2H mode
- Running light attack / backstep-counter - hit R1/RB while running or hit B/Circle followed by R1/RB
- Rolling light attack - roll in any direction and hit R1/RB while coming out of the roll
- Kick - direction + R1/RB
- Jumping heavy attack - direction + R2/RT

Within a class of weapons, usually the light attack is pretty similar, but the heavy attack can vary quite a bit. For example, both the very neat Black Knight Sword (BKS) and the Flamberge, both greatswords, have similar light attack moves, but the BKS has a straight thrust with a very long wind up time for its heavy attack, whereas the flamberge has some weird diagonal wavy dance. Dunno what's going on there. Anyway, they're very different. And the BKS 2H heavy attack is this crazy uppercut thing.

Black Knight Sword has a slow, but strong one-handed strong attack

Black Knight sword's two-handed strong attack is a crazy uppercut!

Flamberge's strong attack is this weird diagonal wavy dance thing. wut

And speaking of crazy, some of the 2H strong "attacks" are reserved for completely baffling special moves.

Which one of these is better? The beauty of it is that there's no right answer; it's all up to your play style! There are so many weapons, and many of them have slightly different moves and quirks.

One of the most interesting ones to me is my beloved Great Scythe, which has a pretty diverse move-set. In fact, the simple light attack is not very good, in my opinion: it has a slow wind-up time that I don't like. However, many of its other moves are much more interesting. The running light attack turns into a sprinting jump while swinging. The standing heavy attack does a quick charge and slash. I find them quite useful.

Some moves have great reach, some have a wide arc, some are only vertical, some are horizontal or diagonal, some are pure thrusts in front of you. Halberd-type weapons even tend to have a move that hits in a circle around you. Each has its time and place or fits well with someone's style. The Iaito has a quick slashing dash (hee hee), where the Washing Pole has a long range thrust. Who's to say which is objectively better?

Iaito's slash is horizontal, so has a wide-ish arc

Washing Pole's strong attack is a long range thrust. Look at the reach!

Finally, there is an unquantified weight characteristic that comes into play. Yeah, I know there's a weight measurement that shows up in the stats, but I think there's a second, hidden weight-like aspect that affects the way some weapons hit. The best example of this is probably the Zweihander. Weighing in at a paltry 10.0, this guy's overhead chop/smash flattens enemies to the ground. It's not the only weapon to do this, but it might be the lightest one.

Zweihander Smashing attack

Compare it with the lengthy, heavy Black Knight Halberd. It weighs significantly more, at 14.0, has a sort-of overhead vertical hit, yet... no flattening. Clearly there is some hidden attribute that affects some weapons.

Numbers... yeah, Dark Souls has 'em, but if you start looking closer, there's a lot more that's hidden and really has to be explored, experienced, and discovered on your own. The perfect weapon for your play style is out there. Maybe it doesn't have the supermodel measurements, but you'd rather grab onto it than anything else!
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About knutafone of us since 6:45 PM on 03.01.2010

I'm a dad in my thirties.
I work for MS on the Xbox, making features and fixing bugs.
I have a cat and two dogs.
I sometimes make Twitter bots: 1, 2, 3

Groundhog Day: Wave After Wave, This Is My Ocean
Obscurity: Nobody has ever heard of Lemmings

Currently playing
Stephen's Sausage Roll

Dark Souls
Geometry Wars 2
Burnout Paradise
Rayman (original, Origins, Legends)
Tetris Attack
Metroid Prime series
Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3
Descent 1-3
English Country Tune
The Witness

Other places you might find me:
Twitch.tv livestream (PC indie games and Dark Souls)
knutaf on YouTube
@_knutaf on Twitter
Occasionally, I am part of a podcast
I watch a fair bit of anime.
I sometimes listen to music.
Xbox LIVE:knutaf
PSN ID:knutaf
Steam ID:knutaf


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