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Dark Souls Top 10 Tips and Tricks – #7: Backstab, Backstab, Backstab

May 23, 2012

Dark Souls builds on the seismic changes brought upon the action RPG landscape by Demon Souls.  Revolutionary and evolutionary improvements include dark and moody but beautiful art direction, spine-tingling level design and, of course, epically challenging boss encounters.  The extreme difficulty is perfectly balanced by incredibly tight controls (now with the benefit of a jump animation) and powerful but scarce equipment that can tilt the balance of power to your favor.  This game severely hampers the efficiency of spells by limiting their use to a set number.  You cannot re-fill magical power and rely on a spell-spamming strategy.  Spell use must be carefully planned and executed.  This increases the importance of swordplay.  It will be a long time indeed before your character will be powerful enough to carry multiple strong spells.  Your ability to progress and enjoy the game is directly proportional to your ability to expertly wield your favorite weapon.  Luckily, swordplay allows for critical attacks (backstabs and ripostes after parries) that cause high damage even with base level weapons.  The parry/riposte combo is the most powerful critical but difficult to reliably execute.  To score a critical riposte, you must block an enemy attack in the moment just before it hits you.  The enemy will be stunned leaving him momentarily open to your riposte.  The problem is that different enemies attack at different speeds.  High level players can consistently time the parry on different enemies but the average gamer cannot.  Luckily, the backstab is much easier to consistently execute while still yielding high damage.  To backstab your enemy, you attack his exposed back.  Specifically, you must attack when you are even with the enemy’s right shoulder blade.  The backstab animation gains you precious time to heal or reposition, once the animation ends with your victim on the ground and safely away from you.  Even better, you cannot take damage during a backstab.  Thus, it is possible to simultaneously battle multiple enemies by focusing on achieving a backstab on a single one.  The attacks of their companions will not damage you as you score the critical.  While the first attacker is down, you can shift your attention to the next one, and so on.  Most sword-wielding enemies in the game can be backstabbed.  The strategy for this critical is to patiently circle counterclockwise with your shield raised waiting for the enemy to either miss and expose himself, or until you circle around him and are even with his right shoulder.  Then drop your shield and attack.  Clockwise circling is also an option, especially for the Anor Londo knights, but it leaves you more exposed to attacks (all Dark Souls characters are right-handed).  Enemies that like to do rolling attacks (such as Maneater Mildred, Shiva of the East and Oscar, Knight of Astora) leave themselves completely exposed after a roll.  It is not difficult to circle around them as they roll, and then backstab them as they get up (this is a useful technique in PVP as well).  Backstabs can be performed one or two-handed.  The damage is higher with a two-handed wield but it requires a bit more skill since you are most likely going to be shielding as you circle your opponent.  Equipment is an important consideration to maximize backstabs.  Weapons that do thrust damage typically yield higher critical damage.  My recommendation is to use the Estoc because of its added damage rating and range.  Although daggers have bonuses for critical attacks, they are only effective at close range and will do almost no damage if you miss the critical and score a normal hit.  A shield with high stability (58 or higher) will help you maintain your stamina and avoid a guard break as you maneuver around your enemy.  The Hornet Ring raises critical damage (more about this in Tips #4 and #5).  A fire or lightning Estoc, paired with a stable shield and the Hornet Ring, and solid backstab basics will help you easily take down very strong enemies.  Backstabs are essential techniques for Havel the Rock and other NPC’s, all undead soldiers, the serpents in Sen’s Fortress, New Londo Ruin Darkwraiths and any knight (Silver or Black).  Practice and sharpen you backstabbing skills; you will suffer less and progress much faster through the game (and feel more like a proper ninja!).  Here are a couple of videos that highlight the strategies discussed above.  The first one is a compilation of backstabs with different weapons and in various areas.  In the second one, we quickly make a +5 Estoc and backstab our way through Firelink Shrine, Darkroot Garden, Undead Burg and Undead Parish. Now it is your turn to go forth and terrorize Dark Souls with your newly found backstabbing skills.

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