Something very important to understand about Dark Souls going in to it is that this game is a full-fledged RPG (role-playing game) in every way. As you progress through the game and level up, you will have the option of placing more or less emphasis on various stats that will shape how you play the game.
For example, if you put a lot of points into Attunement and very little in Vitality, then you will have access to a larger array of magic attacks but you will also not be able to take a lot of damage. If you make your “build” (the strengths and weaknesses of a character) heavy on Endurance and light on Resistance, then your character will be able to carry more and have more Stamina in battle, but will also die to fire, poison, and other elements much easier.
That being said, many have asked the question, “What is the best overall armor in Dark Souls?”, and I am not sure that there is a truly definitive answer.
Some armors compliment different builds and some do not. What might work for you and your Izalith Catalyst might not work for me and my Dragon Greatsword. So allow me to do this: I will give you what I believe to be the best armors in the game for each “standard” build and then you can decide which one you believe to be the best.
Something that you ought to think about when deciding what direction to take your build in is your equipment weight. Although the game itself does not classify any items by their weight, the Dark Souls community as a whole has determined three levels of overall weight based upon the speed changes that occur at each level.
If you are Underweight (under 25% of your carrying capacity), then you will run and roll at increased speeds, if you are Balanced (25.1% to 49.9% of your capacity) then your movement will be manageable but not necessarily quick, and if you are Overweight (50% of your capacity and beyond) then you will be doing what is known as “fat-rolling”, which truly must be seen to understand.
Also, bear in mind that there are no bonuses in Dark Souls for wearing an entire set of armor, so mixing and matching elements of them to fit your needs is also part of this game’s strategy. Warning: This may leave you looking like one of Seath the Scaleless’s failed lab experiments! We are looking at you, Smough’s leggings!
1. Strength Build Armors
A strength build is geared towards having heavy weapons that hit hard but slow while also having armor that limits quick movement but is able to take more hits. This build has also been referred to as a “tank” build for somewhat obvious reasons.
Typically speaking a fully realized strength build will require forty points in Endurance and fifty points in Strength, while also getting Vitality to around thirty at a pace defined by your skill. Everything else can be left alone or taken up slightly to accommodate particular weapons you might want.
The following armor sets are ones that I believe complement a strength build well: Havel’s Set, Smough’s Set, and the Black Iron Set. Let’s look at Havel’s Set first.
You can find Havel’s Set in Anor Londo after successfully passing the most infamous enemies of the game, the Silver Knight Archers. Proceed to find the basement entrance behind an illusory wall located on the main floor in a fireplace.
Besides Havel’s Set, you will find several other useful items in this room as well as a Mimic chest. It took me almost two full playthroughs to notice this but you can spot a Mimic by looking at the shape the chain makes on the floor beside it. On Mimic chests, the chain points out a the player and on a normal chest, the chain wraps around to the left.
Each piece of Havel’s Set provides the best poise of that particular armor piece type. Poise is the ability for a player to continue through with their attack, even if they are hit in the middle of their swing. This aspect is crucial for a strength build because as most large weapons strike very slowly, it leaves huge windows for the enemy to get quick jabs in and mess up your attacks without it.
The obvious downside to Havel’s Set is its weight. To wear it all without “fat-rolling” requires forty Endurance and even then there are only certain weapons you can carry. The best tactic regarding this armor is to mix and match it with others until you find the right balance for your build.
You can find Smough’s Set after the boss fight with Ornstein and Smough by first defeating Ornstein and then defeating Mega-Smough in the second round. You can then go back to Firelink Shrine and purchase this armor from Domhnall of Zena under the bridge.
Technically the fully upgraded Giant Set is better in most regards, but Smough’s Set starts off with beastly numbers in both physical defense and in elemental defense. It also provides a decent amount of curse resistance. This set is not able to be upgraded after purchase, so what you get is what you get.
I find it interesting that one of the best armor sets for defense against physical and lightning attacks comes immediately after Ornstein and Smough, you know, those guys with the giant hammer and lightning spear.
Black Iron Set
In actuality, this armor could be considered a dexterity build armor as well so if you have the endurance for it and want to use it in that way no one is stopping you. I myself have worn pieces of it with just about every build that I have tried and that is why the Black Iron Set is my personal favorite from the game.
After you pass through the rafters section of Anor Londo and turn the bridge back into place, use the staircase to go down to the main floor of the room you were just above and go all the way down the hall, killing Painting Guardians as you go.
After you reach the painting follow the wall to the left and you should see the Black Iron Set of Tarkus left in the corner just for you.
This set is very high in physical damage and the best armor in the game against fire damage (AKA your best friend between Quelaag’s Domain and Lost Izalith). It is also not quite as heavy as Havel’s Set or the Giant Set, making it ideal for use as temporary buffer defense against tougher bosses and enemies.
This set can be upgraded with Twinkling Titanite and truthfully should be experimented with by all types of builds.
2. Dexterity Build Armors
A dexterity build is one that features light to medium-sized weapons that strike quickly but do smaller amounts of damage while also wearing the armor of the same nature.
A standard dexterity build requires between forty and fifty dexterity, while also having at least twenty strength to accommodate some late-game weapons. Vitality and Endurance should be leveled up at your discretion and/ or skill level. Most other stats are irrelevant to a dexterity build unless you are adding in elements of magic or you are playing through NG+.
The following armor sets are ones that I believe compliment a dexterity build well: Elite Knight Set, Executioner Set, Set of Favor, and the Silver Knight Set. Let’s look at the Elite Knight Set first.
Elite Knight Set
There is a reason why this armor was chosen to be on the box art for Dark Souls Remastered and that is because it is one of the best all-around armors in the entire game. It is a “jack of all trades” set that defends you a decent amount in almost every category.
First seen being worn by Oscar of Astora in the Undead Asylum, this set can be found in Darkroot Garden being guarded by Stone Knights and Ents.
It is a tremendous early to mid-game set that has a great weight to defense ratio, making quick movements possible without sacrificing protection.
Ornstein’s Set is one of a few armor sets to appear in all three Dark Souls games, mostly due to its iconic look as well as a tribute to the fan-favorite boss it belongs to.
You can find Ornstein’s Set by defeating Smough first and then killing Ornstein second in the fight against them. The set can then be purchased from Domhnall of Zena, under the bridge near Firelink Shrine.
This set can be seen as a lite version of Smough’s Set in many regards: both are focused on physical and lightning damage while carrying a small amount of curse damage. If you want to look awesome without sacrificing your defenses, this is the set for you.
Set of Favor
Does this armor work well late into the game and into NG+? No, not really. So you might ask yourself, “Why then is it here, listed among the supposed “best” armors of the game?”.
It is because it looks awesome, makes you feel awesome, has an awesome name, and even the things you have to do in order to have a chance at this armor can only be described as “awesome”
Lautrec can be found first in the Undead Parish on your way to the first bell. Explore every nook of the building the bell is on and you should find him locked up alone in a prison cell. Release him and let him wander back to Firelink Shrine.
Proceed with the game and after you have rung both bells, return to Firelink to discover that he has killed Anastacia, the keeper of the bonfire and left a Black Eye Orb. Pick it up and take it to Anor Londo.
After defeating Ornstein and Smough, go to the bonfire just outside Gwenevere’s room and crush the Black Eye Orb to enter Lautrec’s realm and defeat him. He will give you five Humanity and the Ring of Favor and Protection (just trust me, you want that). You can then find his armor on his corpse near the bonfire.
It took me three playthroughs to figure out how to get sweet revenge against Lautrec, and even that was with a bit of help from friends. It is one of the best secrets in the Souls series and also one of its coolest moments.
Silver Knight Set
This set is fairly comparable to the Elite Knight Set in terms of overall weight and protection, but it is way better looking. I love cosplaying as these early game terrors and the armor is fun to mix and match to see what balance you can strike up.
You can find this set in a room in the Anor Londo Cathedral (noticing a pattern here yet?) being guarded by a Silver Knight of the same name with a spear.
3. Intelligence Build Armors
An intelligence build is one rooted in magic and/ or pyromancy attacks while being limited to mostly light armors due to low endurance levels.
To set up a true intelligence build you must have at least nineteen points placed into Attunement so you can carry five different spells, such as great soul arrow, homing soul mass, combustion, and fireball, etc. Try to get Intelligence built up to fifty throughout the game, while also increasing Vitality and Endurance as you hit different roadblocks throughout the game.
Leaving Resistance and Faith stats alone is fairly advisable unless you want to add Faith spells in NG+.
The following armor sets are ones that I believe compliment an intelligence build well: Gold-Hemmed Black Set, Pyromancy Set, and Dark Set. Let’s take a look at the Gold-Hemmed Black Set first.
Gold-Hemmed Black Set
This set can be found on the corpse of one of the Witches of Izalith in the Demon Ruins, but beware, removing this set will cause the Ceaseless Discharge boss fight to begin, so be prepared.
This set offers great fire and poison defense as well as decent physical defense for its weight. It makes for an excellent find for all builds because it can be swapped in and out when faster movement is needed, such as for the Bed of Chaos boss arena.
The only set on my list that you can start the game with, the Pyromancy Set offers high fire and poison defense for the early game as well as decent physical defense that can be upgraded as you go into the mid-game and beyond.
It is well worth choosing the pyromancer class to start a new build, regardless of your plans for it, just to have this great set from the start.
I mostly have this set on the list because it is terrifying and awesome, but it does have one very specific benefit that might tempt you into wearing it often: high poise per weight unit. This stat alone makes it worth using as a magic caster so that you can follow through with your spells without being interrupted by enemy hits.
The major downside is the fact that you must join the Darkwraith Covenant and reach level two status before you can have it. This set also appears in the other two entries in the series.
4. Faith Build Armors
A faith build is quite similar to an intelligence build because they both require high Attunement and can be very limiting in what kinds of melee weapons and armor you can have equipped.
Obviously for a faith build the main stat to pump points into early on is Faith (going higher than fifty is not necessary). Strength should be eighteen or higher and Dexterity should be twelve or higher to accommodate some of the best faith build weapons, such as the Divine Zweihander. Vitality and Endurance, as always, should be leveled up as necessary for each player’s skill.
Leaving Intelligence and Resistance alone is advisable unless you wish to add magic attacks to your arsenal at a higher soul level such as one-hundred.
The following armor sets are ones that I believe compliment a faith build well: Crimson Set and Xanthous Set. Let’s take a look at the Crimson Set first.
This set is perfect for those wanting a good defense against other invading players who are magic users. It offers high defenses for most elemental types and a decent amount of physical defense for its weight, but has absolutely zero poise. If you get stun-locked while wearing the full set, you are one dead hollow.
You can get this set by traveling down from Firelink Shrine through the Valley of Drakes and into the entrance of Blightown. From there you should see a branch sticking out near the water wheel that you must carefully walk out onto to retrieve this armor.
Sometimes you save the best for last, but I saved the weirdest for last. This set is set up nearly identical to the Crimson Set but trades the Crimson Set’s low lightning resistance with low fire resistance instead. Nice of the developers to color-code them like that!
To get this set, enter the Painted World of Ariamis and go into human form. Now make your way around until you are invaded by the NPC called Xanthous King, Jeremiah and defeat him, then proceed to the end of the area and look to the left on the bridge before jumping back to reality; there you will find this incredibly odd-looking set.