From Software’s Dark Souls is designed to kill you constantly from the very beginning, presenting players with difficult boss encounters, overpowered enemies, tough environmental challenges, and confusing areas to navigate. Each of these is presented in a way that encourages players to learn and adapt, though, building their own skill in order to overcome the worst the game has to offer – but sometimes, the initial challenge isn’t enough.
For many Dark Souls fans, the next logical step in the process of mastering the game levels is engaging in challenge runs, which introduce limitations to the base game in order to mix things up and increase the difficulty of the experience. These runs focus on removing key aspects of Dark Souls, like rolling and bonfire checkpoints, in order to provide a new sense of difficulty that reminds veteran players of their first experience with the game.
Inverse spoke with Kyle ‘TolomeoR’ Doogilah, a Twitch personality known for his challenge runs in both Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3. Kyle first started streaming his challenge runs on Twitch last year following the launch of Bloodborne, pulling in a loyal community of viewers.
When did you know that you had figured out the formula?
KD: With Dark Souls I didn’t level up my weapon, I didn’t have any pine resin or anything. I just had a really slow weapon that was un-upgraded and I fought the gargoyles for around 2 hours. I learned a lot during that fight with the gargoyles and that’s kind of when it solidified for me. I think I actually spent more time on the Gargoyles than I did on Ornstein & Smough. The only boss that took longer than the Gargoyles for me was the Four Kings.
I would complain about how the game was really hard and how it was extremely difficulty and that they needed to add an easy mode. I was the person that people told to get good.
What advice would you give new Dark Souls players?
KD: Get good! People say that as a joke, but honestly that’s what you have to do with Dark Souls. Whenever you die, there’s a reason – there’s a mistake that you made. The easiest way to get good at these type of games is to never, never blame the game. You made a mistake, you made an error and you have to correct it. Unless you glitch and fall through the floor or something, there’s not much you can do about that. But 99.9% of the time it’s something you did yourself.
One thing I always tell players is to level up your health because leveling up your damage stats doesn’t really give you much more damage until you have a weapon that is upgraded as well. Explore the world and don’t just rush to a boss. Exploring gets you new equipment and materials to upgrade your weapons as well. It’s important to play through the game slowly and meticulously, learning from your mistakes as you go.
What sort of weapon type is your favorite?
KD: First play through, I always pick the biggest weapon possible and smash everything. I always use heavy weapons because I get an immense amount of satisfaction from beating the shit out a dragon with a two-handed sword, but one thing that those weapons have is hyper-armor during their attacks. Basically, if you get halfway through your swing an enemy can hit you and it won’t interrupt your swing. So when you don’t know boss moves or enemy moves in the game, that is invaluable because you can make a mistake and swing at the wrong time but still do damage. Whereas if you had a little weapon, like a broadsword, and you did that they would just hit you and you wouldn’t get any damage on them in return.
Take Dark Souls 3 for example, Soul of Cinder. There’s no opening in that fight where you can get more than one hit with a big weapon, but you can get 3-4 hits with a small weapon which will add up to more damage overall. It’s easier to just milk out every bit of damage with a fast weapon because you can capitalize on every opening with an enemy, where some bosses have openings where you could realistically damage them with a small weapon but if you have a big weapon you are going to end up trading hits instead.
When did you first decide to start doing challenge runs?
KD: I wanted invisible weapons! In Dark Souls 2, if you beat the game without using a bonfire and without dying they would give you a set two rings for each respective challenge at the end of the game that would make your left and right hand weapons invisible. So they actually incentivized doing challenges for Dark Souls 2. That’s when I got started.
I did the no death run in Dark Souls 2 followed by the no bonfire run. Eventually I did the no death/no bonfire run too.
In a game that revolves completely around dying, what was it like doing your first play through without dying once?
KD: It was frustrating for sure. Dark Souls 2 was not my favorite of the series, so I would get really upset when I died. I remember one time I died on the Throne Defenders, who are much, much harder than the boss that follows them. I died because I wasn’t paying attention to where I was looking and there’s no wall in the arena, so you can fall off, which is what I did.
What is the most difficult challenge run you’ve completed?
KD: Going by sheer amount of time that I put into a challenge run the hardest for me was Dark Souls 3 level 1 with no blocking, no parrying and no rolling. I could only sprint and attack which took me about 50 hours of gameplay to complete, with 20 hours of that being on the Soul of Cinder boss fight. Soul of Cinder is literally the hardest boss fight I’ve ever done with those limitations. Runner up to that would be the same challenge in Bloodborne, no rolling and no dashing, except this one was in new game plus six. Boss fights took up to 10 minutes without being able to roll and every single hit in the game killed me in one shot. It was quite an adventure.
What sort of boss mechanics have been the most frustrating for you to deal with? Is there a particular boss that drove you to the edge?
KD: Oh absolutely, pretty much every late game boss in Dark Souls 3 for my no-roll run. What basically is the kryptonite for the no-roll run are attacks that have big hit-boxes and excessive amounts of tracking. Let’s say a boss is attacking a target moving in a circle around them; tracking is the ability of a boss to correct its swing and actually hit the target moving in a circle around them. In Dark Souls 3 a lot of the end game bosses have omnipresent tracking essentially, which gives them the ability to hit you no matter how quickly you are moving around them.
Take the Nameless King for example, who has a charge attack where he lifts his pike over his head and charges at you head on. When you are doing a level 1, no-roll run in Dark Souls 3 and he uses this attack you’re going to lose – there’s nothing you can do. His entire body is a hitbox, not just his weapon, so even if you touch his toe he will still be able to do full damage to you. Since the tracking on the attack is so strong and the hitbox is so big, you can’t avoid it no matter how hard you try.
For Bloodborne actually there weren’t too many of those – the only attack I can recall in Bloodborne off the top of my head that was unavoidable was the gigantic ground slam that the Headless Bloodletting Beast did in Chalice Dungeons. That one was theatrically avoidable, but you had to have less than a tenth of a second reaction time, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that. I actually have really bad reaction time, so I rely on predicting what the enemy is going to do next. That Bloodletting Beast attack wouldn’t one-shot you unless you took counter damage. Counter damage occurs when you get hit right after a dodge, while sprinting or in the middle of an attack you’ll take about 50% more damage. So if you got hit by that attack while sprinting, you would take fatal damage – which is a huge problem in a no-roll run because sprinting is how you avoid damage. Odds are you’d get hit, so you might as well try to tank the damage, which is what I ended up doing myself.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.