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'Souls: "Guts Mode" in Dark Souls II


It’s my “Month of ‘Souls” and I’ve nearly finished my playthrough of Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin; the current-gen remaster of From Software’s sequel, with altered enemy and item placement, all the DLC packs included, and an alternative ending. With this playthrough, which will be my third time through Dark Souls II,  I’ve also taken the opportunity to try my hand at a “Guts Mode” character build and have been having a *lot* of fun doing so. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, you will first need to read my article about the Japanese anime and manga Berserk, and then watch/read some of it to familiarise yourself with the central character of Guts (sometimes written in the romaji ‘Gatsu’) as this character build, and way of playing the game, is designed to approximate or cosplay this protagonist. Why would you want to do that? Well, the ‘Souls games owe a lot to Berserk in terms of aesthetics and even in terms of some weapons and items which are almost ripped straight from the manga. This is a way to pay homage to that, as well as altering the gameplay in some surprising ways that keeps Dark Souls II feeling fresh and challenging, especially into your third playthrough.

Before I get into what weapons and equipment you will need, let me explain some of the restrictions you will need to impose upon your game in order to run “Guts Mode”, most of which have been developed by the ’Souls community over time.

  • No shields: never, under any circumstance, are you allowed to use shields (I’ve seen a build on YouTube that used an invisible shield on the characters back, but in my game I immediately item-boxed my shields and sold them all to Gavlan ASAP).
  • No magic (sorcery, miracles and hexes): you’re not allowed to equip staffs or catalysts and you can’t use any magic whatsoever. The majority of pyromancies are also banned with the exception of Forbidden Sun and Flame Swathe, which you can use and which it is recommended to upgrade an equipped pyromancy flame.
  • No longbows: the only ranged weapons you are allowed to use are crossbows, ideally repeating crossbows (optionally some people refuse to use any crossbow which is not repeating, but you won’t have access to these until late-game).
  • Greatswords Only: you must try and get hold of the Bastard Sword as soon as you can, and upgrade this to last you until you can find the Greatsword, which is then the only weapon you are allowed to use. The exception is the Crypt Blacksword (see below), and optionally some people use the Pursuer Ultra Greatsword in the early game as a backup weapon.
  • (Optional) No Estus: personally I didn’t follow this rule as it seems a bit too restrictive, but some people refuse to use Estus Flasks and only use Lifegems (of any type) in order to heal. Also, many people do not allow healing if enemies are still attacking.
  • (Optional) No Trading: I personally enforced this rule, which means that, with the aforementioned exception of the Crypt Blacksword, you are not allowed to trade boss souls for weapons and instead must use them for souls.

That’s it in terms of general restrictions, which when combined seem like they would make the game ridiculously difficult, but it’s simply not the case, especially coming straight off the back of Bloodborne where there are no shields anyway. By only using one weapon, which scales to strength, and pumping all your souls and boss-souls into levelling up, you end up creating a character that hits like a ton of bricks; for example by the time I got to the Covetous Demon boss fight I killed it in just four hits!! Four! The damage scaling is insane.

Of course, most “Guts Build” guides only cover weapons and equipment that you obtain late-game, and which is designed to cosplay Guts as the ‘Black Swordsman’, after the events of the eclipse in the anime and manga. So what about early-game? Since I was cosplaying, I thought I would try and make Guts from the ‘Golden Age Arc’ of the story, which was actually pretty easy in the first Dark Souls, with the Balder Armour being almost exactly like Guts’ from this period. However, Dark Souls II is a bit trickier and really the best and most accessible kit that I could find early-game was the Knight Armour, sold by the armourer in Majula, and which looks enough like the plate mail Guts wears around this time (unfortunately minus any sort of red cape). At the very start of the game I was not really strong enough to wear this though whilst keeping mobility, and so I mostly ran around topless for the first few areas and boss fights, which was not ideal.

As mentioned in the restrictions above, you should try and get hold of the Bastard Sword as soon as possible, which is behind a locked section of the Forest of Fallen Giants. However, you’re going to need to use other weapons before this in order to get through the area and kill the Last Giant, and for this I simply restricted myself to two-handing any kind of sword: shortsword, longsword, etc. You’ll have to stick with the Bastard Sword for quite a while once you do find it, and so it’s worth upgrading it, but probably only to +6, as you don’t want to use rare titanite chunks at this stage of the game. Eventually, you’ll find the Greatsword (I think it’s in No Man’s Wharf) and should switch over to that straight away, upgrading it as much as possible as soon as possible, since at +10 it’ll scale ‘S’ with strength and do *massive* damage.

This is basically how I ran ‘Golden Age Arc’ Guts all the way through the game until I had killed the Giant Lord (yeah pretty much most of the original game!): Greatsword and Knight Armour (with Elite Knight Gauntlets), nothing else. It’s hard but it gets you used to fighting solely with your large sword and nothing else to cheese with; during this time I upgraded a Pyromancy Flame to +10 and got hold of the Avelyn, also upgraded to +10, but wasn’t allowed to use either of them until the transition to the ‘Black Swordsman’ below.

Once you have killed the Giant Lord in the memories of the giants, you can then get the Llewelyn Armour(pictured on the left) from Chancellor Wellagar at Drangleic Castle, which is completely free and given to you simply by talking with the NPC. This armour should also be pretty easy to upgrade to +5, as at this point in the game you should have *loads* of twinkling titanite from trading stones with the crows in Things Betwixt alongside finding them on your journeys. This black armour is both lightweight and pretty strong, and has a nice long black cape, which is ideal for the Black Swordsman Arc of Berserk. Alternatively, at this point in the game you may wish to challenge King Vendrick in the Undead Crypt and kill him to unlock the King’s Armour (pictured on the right), which you have to pick up from a secret location in the Shrine of Amana after dispatching the monarch. This armour is also mostly black, except that it consists of more plate mail than the Llewelyn set, and is heavier and more ornate. I actually prefer this set, even though it’s traditionally not the one recommended for a Guts build. The King’s set also upgrades to +5 using the plentiful twinkling titanite and I suggest that you do, because then it is in many ways the superior armour of the two.

As mentioned above, as soon as you encounter the Greatsword (pictured on the left) you must switch over to using it and then keep it for the rest of the game as your often sole weapon of choice. During the early ‘Golden Age Arc’ part of the game, you should upgrade it to +10 but do not infuse it with anything, which keeps its scaling firmly set on strength. At this point in the game, you should pour all of your souls into strength until it is at least 40 (personally I pushed mine right up to 60), as this will result in some ungodly damage output that most enemies and bosses aren’t equipped to handle; just be aware that you’ll be a bit of a glass cannon and at some point need to stop scaling strength and level up your vigour and endurance.

 After the pivotal events in the eclipse at the end of the ‘Golden Age Arc’, Guts is forever transformed into the ‘Black Swordsman’ and gains the Dragonslayer  Sword; a *massive* slab of iron that eventually gains dark magical properties from all the souls it absorbs killing apostles. When you are ready to run the ‘Black Swordsman’ (usually when you can get your hands on the Llewelyn Armour) you will need to do two things: firstly you will need to re-spec your Guts character, using a Soul Vessel, with a minimum of 40 Strength but then aim to pour the rest of your souls into Intelligence and Faith until they’re both sitting at about 30, which will massively increase your Dark damage bonus. Secondly you will need to infuse your Greatsword with Dark, which will still leave some strength scaling but also use your new Dark damage bonus.

For some “Guts Mode” players this is enough and they happily carry on using the Greatsword for the rest of the game. However, an alternative (especially if you want to physically change your sword to represent the Dragonslayer a bit more) is to get hold of the Crypt Blacksword (pictured on the right), which will require the use of a bonfire aesthetic in the Black Gulch. This puts that area into ‘New Game+’ and allows you kill The Rotten a second time, this time dropping the Old Dead One’s Soul along with its own. Trade this unique soul to get the sword, which you should upgrade to +5 using petrified dragon bone and infuse with Dark to make its damage bonus scaling even more ridiculous. The resulting Dark Crypt Blacksword +5 is a great sword for a Guts build, and has a different move set than the Dark Greatsword +10, although I tend to keep them both around so that I have several viable weapons in case one breaks.

To finish off creating the ‘Black Swordsman’ you’ll need a repeating crossbow and hand cannon, the latter of which is actually achieved with the Pyromancy Flame +10 which you should forge during the game and by attuning Forbidden Sun (alternatively you could use Flame Swathe as a cheaper alternative in terms of attunement). In terms of the repeating crossbow, the core game really only has the Avelyn (pictured on the left), which you can get behind an illusory wall in the Undead Crypt, and which should be upgraded to +10 as soon as possible using standard titanite and infused with Raw to increase its damage output. This is actually a really good weapon and perfect for the repeating crossbow except for the look of it. Alternatively, in the Sunken City DLC area you can farm the enemies there for a Repeating Sanctum Crossbow (pictured on the right), which doesn’t seem to have the same damage output as the Avelyn but has a strange alternate attack that fires volleys of Dark. I’ve not managed to upgrade it to +10 using standard titanite yet, but I have infused it with Raw to give it a bit more punch. I’ve not made my mind up yet which is better, and so rarely use the repeating crossbow that I might not get much time comparing them before I finish the game.

So, that’s the “Guts Mode” build and playstyle. I’m getting closer to finishing Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin now, and will be posting a review up over the next week or so, but my enjoyment has certainly been increased by playing in this fashion and roleplaying my character in this way. It has really surprised me, especially since I often run more balanced builds, how effective this way of doing things actually is. The only downsides I’ve found is that quick and nimble enemies are a pain in the bum to handle with a greatsword, and anything with massive poise (which can strike through my heavy blows) poses a large threat. Otherwise its great fun and I wholeheartedly recommend “Guts Mode”, especially for fans of Berserk.

April was my “Month of ‘Souls” and I have been writing many articles and reviews regarding From Software’s masterpieces: check out my special article looking at Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and the original Dark Souls II. I also reviewed Bloodborne when I completed it earlier in the month, as well as three specials: one about remasters and remakes that need to happen, one about Berserk, and one about finding a happy place in the dark worlds of ‘Souls. Please check back for my review of Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin.

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About n0signalone of us since 2:01 AM on 10.06.2014

Videogames have come a long way since the 8-bit and 16-bit days of old, and it is now one of the most interesting and constantly-evolving storytelling mediums. I started blogging about videogames a few years ago because I am very passionate about certain experiences I've had, which I don't think could have existed outside of our unique hobby, and I wanted to share this with other like-minded people on the internet.

I'm based in the UK and my favourite videogame of all time is probably still Shadow of the Colossus, but other more recent games such as the impeccable Dark Souls and Journey have given it a run for its money. My other interests, and things I have blogged extensively about, are board games and Japanese anime. I've got a degree in Media Communications and Film, and I'm currently a Teacher of ICT.

I post fairly regularly on my personal blog at https://n0timportant.blogspot.co.uk/, so please visit there for legacy videogame reviews and articles on anime, boardgames, etc.