Backstabbing criticals are one of the most effective ways to deal major damage to foes, regardless of enemy type, stature, or equipment. Additionally, for the duration of the backstab animation, you are invulnerable to all forms of damage, which is a great opportunity to wipe the sweat from your brow during a riveting boss battle or tense PVP skirmish.
While you don’t deal quite as much damage as you would after performing a successful parry/riposte (at least, pound for pound depending on whether you are one-handing or two handing your main weapon), the risk for failing or sustaining damage is significantly lower for backstabs, and you furthermore are free to use your offhand for two-handing or wielding a potentially stronger, non-parrying tool.
Backstabbing in PVE
Unsurprisingly, backstabbing is significantly easier to accomplish in the offline, player versus NPC environment. Virtually all enemies that are able to be critted have some degree of predictability to their moveset that you can learn and then promptly identify the opportune time to strike.
Furthermore, uncontrollable factors such as bad net code, latency, and input lag are nonexistent. Keep in mind that not all enemies in the game can be backstabbed, and identifying which foes are vulnerable to this type of attack ultimately comes down your own experimentation or outside research.
However, there are some consistencies between types of enemies that can be found and exploited to deduce whether you should approach them with the intention of backstabbing. Generally, the larger, more bestial creatures will be immune to these types of criticals, while the smaller, more humanoid enemies will almost always be vulnerable.
Get Behind Your Target
Obviously, as the name implies, pulling off a backstab requires getting behind your target. There are many ways of going about doing this depending on the type of foe you’re fighting. As already stated, PVE enemies are invariably predictable, and you can often observe and identify the best time to strike.
Typically after performing some type of heavy attack, the monster will have a period where it is immobile and vulnerable, giving you a chance to sidestep or roll behind them. If you were a fair distance away when he fell into this state, you may not be able to perform the critical before the foe fully recovers, but you should have ample time to get behind his back and stay there until you are able to execute the move.
Circle Your Enemy
Circling your enemies is almost always an effective way to get behind them. This is especially true for larger, slower monsters that are able to be critted. Of course, for this to work you will have to get a bit closer than you may be comfortable with to ensure you’re gaining ground with your sidestepping, and this inevitably puts you at risk for sustaining damage.
Again, this is why it is important to analyze and know the foe you’re facing. If the enemy has a wide, horizontal attack arch, you are more likely to get punished for aggression. However, enemies with a smaller or vertical attack arch (such as an executioner-type enemy raising his ax and swinging it straight downwards) are especially vulnerable to circling – in fact, circling is a great way to bait them into these easily exploitable attacks.
Backstabbing in PVP
We’re tackling this dilemma last because there are a whole host of factors that make backstabbing in PVP a less predictable exercise (as it basically is with all aspects of player vs player duels). Most individuals who roam the player-vs-player world are intimately aware of the games’ mechanics, especially when it comes to the viability of backstabs, so they will be much more conscious about avoiding blunders that could leave them open.
Furthermore, all Dark Souls players are unique in their playstyle, equipment, character build, among other things, so if you’re trying to go for any kind of critical attack, (whether it be a parry or backstab) it helps to have an idea of the moveset of their weapons and how they are approaching you.
Have a Good Connection
The quality of your online connection can, in some cases, also have a decisive roll in how you should handle a foe. If your invader or duel is jittering across the battlefield, or cycling through animations without rhyme or reason, it’s probably best to forgo attempts at criticals (especially parries) and try to take them out with quicker, less risky means.
If the connection and the playing field is level, there are several telegraphs to look for that you can still find with almost all players. For example, the primary use for backstabbing for most players is to punish excessive whiffing and carelessness. A foe who spams heavy attacks (with heavy weapons, too, the larger the better generally) is asking for a backstab. Roll-dodging around these attacks and then going in for the stab is an immensely satisfying experience.
Other than that, because each online foe you face will have a unique play style, there really is no one catch-all strategy that you can apply for all your PVP battles to secure backstabs. However, there are a few things you should NOT do that may give you an edge.
What Not to Do
Firstly, unlike PVE, circling/sidestepping an opponent is rarely effective. The reasons are manifold: you and your opponent will almost always be locked on to each other, and also constantly moving and sidestepping, making getting behind them with this method extremely tedious or outright impossible.
Secondly, do not base your entire PVP strategy on backstabbing gimmicks. It can work against less experienced players, but more competent opponents will recognize your desperate attempts to get behind them and punish you accordingly.
Lastly, have patience. Getting backstabs off in PVE already requires some degree of waiting, but this requirement can often be multiplied when facing another player. Many inexperienced players approach battles with the goal of finishing them as soon as possible, and this can lead to several blunders.
Always remember that while backstabs, parries and all other types of criticals are a large part of combat in this game, they are by no means dominant and ultimately to be successful, whether it be in PVE or PVP, you have to mix up standard dueling with critical timing.