Dark Souls is a game that exemplifies the difficulty in almost every aspect and never holds your hand for one second. Even the second and third games of the series only have a few sparse moments of explanation when it comes to the harder gameplay mechanics to understand. Still, the original leaves everything up to the player to discover.
After spending hundreds of hours combing through the various versions of the original Dark Souls that have been released, I have a clear knowledge of how leveling up works and what effects the player will experience for picking one stat to bolster over another.
I have two objectives that I will attempt to complete in this guide:
- Educate the player on each of the categories available for leveling up.
- Give a template for what Soul Level you should be at certain points.
Spoiler Warning: The second half of this article may necessitate certain boss names or late-game locations to be used. Please bare this in mind if you wish to go into the game blind.
Related: The Best Armor in Dark Souls
When you level up in Dark Souls, you can increase the strength of the following statistics: Soul Level, Vitality, Attunement, Endurance, Strength, Dexterity, Resistance, Intelligence, Faith, and Humanity. If you take the time to become knowledgeable about each of these, it will help you greatly to morph your character into who you want him/ her to be.
Allow me to summarize what each of these stats does and what kinds of builds that increase them can benefit the most.
Soul Level is undoubtedly the easiest stat to explain on this list. You will increase your overall Soul Level whenever you rest at a bonfire and use your soul to level up. It serves more as a way to tell what strength you are in the game in a very general manner.
It does come with a very small increase to each of your elemental and physical defenses that “soft caps” (changes the amount a stat is increased by) at Soul Levels ten, one-hundred, and two-hundred. When I use the term “Soul Level” in the second half of this article, I will be referring to your overall level in the game.
Vitality is also a fairly simple stat to explain as you can simply relate it to “HP,” a term used in many games to describe your remaining health. In other words, Vitality is equal to health in Dark Souls.
Obviously having more health is a great thing in a game that takes so much of it from you like taking candy from a baby, but for some players emphasizing Vitality might not be as necessary. If you are a player that heavily relies on shields to get the win or you are a player that is confident in your dodging abilities, then Vitality is merely a backup plan and not really a need to succeed.
Vitality soft caps at level thirty and again at level fifty. Leveling Vitality past this point is not advised unless there is nothing else left that you want to upgrade, as the increases in health are very minimal.
Attunement is an interesting stat that falls into the “all or nothing” category of builds. That is to say that only those players who wish to focus on or incorporate spells into their build will need it.
Leveling Attunement will cause the player to slowly increase the number of slots available for magic (Intelligence) or Faith spells. More powerful late-game spells will require more than one slot to use, so the more you have available, the more options you will have for spell setups.
Attunement “hard caps” (no further increases of any kind) at level fifty, meaning that you can still put points into the category, but it will not add any more Attunement slots. Obviously, this is not advised, but you do you.
Endurance is similar to Vitality in that everyone will level it up to some degree or another. Endurance is a stat that increases three things about your character.
It increases the amount of stamina (the green bar below your health), allowing you to dodge, run, and cast spells more before having to stop and let it refill. It increases your equipment’s burden level, allowing you to carry heavier armor and weapons without slowing your movement. Lastly, it increases your bleed resistance, which, as the name implies, helps protect you from sharp, slashing attacks.
Endurance hard caps stamina at level forty but only soft caps equipment burden and bleed resistance. With that being said, it is only advised that you level Endurance past forty if you are heading towards a “tank” build (one that uses the heaviest weapons and armor).
The name of this statistic implies exactly what it is. Your character’s ability to be able to wield heavy weapons, in addition to how well you wield them, is directly tied to your Strength.
Certain weapons have stat requirements to wield them. Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Faith are all stats that must be leveled to carry weapons of their type.
For instance, say a heavy weapon such as a Greataxe was set to a level of twenty-five Strength, this would mean that your Strength level must also be set to twenty-five before you can even use it effectively.
Strength also adds damage to Strength-based weapons, meaning leveling up beyond the requirements for your weapon of choice is often something worth considering if you aren’t cutting…err, smashing it anymore. Strength soft caps at level twenty and again at level forty.
The stat of Dexterity is set up almost exactly like Strength, except instead of Strength-based weapons that strike slowly but deal more damage, Dexterity enhances Dexterity weapons that strike quickly but deal less damage.
Many Dexterity and Strength weapons also require some points to be put into the opposite trait as well, so be sure to check all the necessary requirements of that weapon before you decide to work towards wielding it. A little bit of double-checking in your planning can go a long way towards having an easier time.
Dexterity also slightly increases the speed of all magic spells that the player can cast. This can make it key for using magic against bosses who leave little time to heal, let alone attack.
Dexterity soft caps at levels twenty and forty just like Strength, but the speed increase for magic attacks hard caps at level forty-five.
Resistance is the black sheep of the statistics family because most players will not bother to increase its level until the late game or even NG+. This is because almost every other category you can choose will yield more results, regardless of your build.
Resistance will increase your well… resistance to Poison and buff your physical and Fire Defense. That sure sounds great and all, but when you consider the ability to add or remove certain pieces or armor that will have the same effect, it makes putting souls into this category seem pretty useless to start.
Once you have reached the final soft cap or hard cap in each of the categories, you need for your build, go ahead and start throwing your souls here. Just my opinion, though.
Resistance soft caps at fifteen and again at thirty, reducing the rate of each increase.
Intelligence can be defined as the category that allows you to meet weapon requirements, like Strength and Dexterity, and certain sorceries.
I must admit that I did not try out any form of magic caster build until my third playthrough of Dark Souls, but when I did, I started out as a sorcery caster and then added faith spells later on. That seemed to work pretty well for me.
If you have already played through the game as a Strength build and/ or a Dexterity build, go ahead and give spells a shot. It may be just the thing to save you from getting bored of the game.
Intelligence also adds damage to all weapons with intelligence scaling, so be sure to put more points beyond the weapons required to get the most out of it.
Intelligence soft caps at levels forty and fifty. Not as much increase after each one. Blah blah blah, you know the drill.
Faith is one of the most underrated stat categories in the game because many players do not bother with it due to its confusing nature. You need to have a talisman equipped in the correct weapon slot and then cast a spell on either another weapon of choice or yourself, depending on the type of spell. The results can often make you unstoppable in certain situations.
Faith works just like Intelligence in how it meets weapon requirements and increases Faith damage to weapons and the effectiveness of Faith spells.
Faith soft caps at level fifty.
Humanity is interesting because it is not as cut and dry as the descriptions of other stats. Here are the four things that leveling Humanity will do for you:
- Raise your ability to find better items and weapons in the game.
- Raises all of your defenses slightly but not as much as Resistance increases Poison Fire, and Physical.
- Raises your curse defense.
- Increases damage to Humanity- scaled weapons.
See what I mean? It is kind of a catch-all category or miscellaneous one. Depending on your build, some or all of these things may be enticing to you, but I personally never put much stock into it.
Humanity hard caps item discovery at level ten and it also hard caps curse resistance at level thirty. Soft caps for all other increases are set to those same levels.
Suggested Soul Levels
Here are a few thoughts I put together to help guide you on when to stop and grind so that you will be at the right level for particular areas or bosses. Not every player will find these suggestions accurate, as some may need a higher level, and the gods of gaming may need even less.
First Bell of Awakening
Recommended Level: 15-20
As many veteran Dark Souls veterans know, the first difficult boss (although the first two sure feel like it) would have to be the Bell Gargoyles. Chances are you are probably going to be higher than twenty when you get there simply out of necessity, but in the off chance that you stumble your way to the first bell, make sure to stop and grind until you are at least Soul Level fifteen for your own sanity’s sake.
Second Bell of Awakening
Recommended Level: 30-35
Quelaag can be an incredibly hard boss to fight all by herself, but having to wade through the swamps of Blightown and avoid being crushed by giant boulders makes the journey back equally as difficult. Be sure to get up around Soul Level Thirty or beyond before throwing yourself at her repeatedly.
Recommended Level: 45-50
Your journey through Sen’s Fortress and Anor Londo should be enough to get you up past Soul Level forty or so, but take my advice and grind for fifty before walking into the Anor Londo Cathedral. Ornstein and Smough, arguably the most difficult bosses in the game (not counting the tough-as-nails DLC), await you, and they will not show you mercy for poor planning.
Seath the Scaleless
Recommended Level: 55-60
Seath himself is not a boss that requires a high Soul Level to defeat, as most of the fight is spent dodging rather than recovering from hits. However, the area where you find him (Duke’s Archives) is an entirely different matter. Most enemies in the area have long-range and close-range attacks, and many groups of enemies will gang up on you sometimes. Prepare before you enter because Seath wants you to stay for a while.
Recommended Level: 65-70
Nito is set up similarly to Seath as he himself is not super difficult, but the area leading up to him is a living nightmare. From the Giant Skeletons and their “dogs” to the hideous re-imaginings of Super Mario’s Pokeys, this area is littered with ways to punish and kill you. Oh, I almost forgot, it is also pitch black down there, and all the Soul Level in the game can’t buy you a light. You may want to find one of those before heading down.
Bed of Chaos
Recommended Level: 70-75
Most of the creatures you face in the Demon Ruins and beyond are mob versions of the Taurus Demon and the Capra Demon. That should be enough to explain why you should be Soul Level seventy or above. If the names of those bosses don’t bring up some bad memories, then all I have to say is, “you poor, poor soul…”
Recommended Level: 70-75
No matter if you head to the Demon Ruins first or New Londo first, in my opinion, the difficulty is about the same. The boss of each zone, however, is a completely different story. Don’t seek the abyss until you have found your way to Soul Level seventy; even that may not be enough. The Four Kings are here to ruin your day four times for the price of one.
Gwyn, Lord of Cinder
Recommended Level: 75+
You did it. You made it to the Kiln of the First Flame. If you have perfected the art of parrying throughout your playthrough, you could probably get away with being a level forty to fight Gwyn. If you have not, though, you should consider farming for as high of a level as possible before taking on this former savior of Lordran. It will be worth it if you choose to tackle NG+ as well.