I’ve been playing a lot of Dark Souls 2 on the PS4 to prepare for the release of Dark Souls 3, and a big part of that has been taking advantage of the stronger network connection I now have compared to the PS3 version.
Way back when, I used to get messages from other players complaining that I was being a “lag monster”, which meant that my character would, while invading or repelling an invader, glitch around the level. Luckily that doesn’t happen anymore, which sucks in a lot of ways, but makes the game a lot fairer.
There’s a lot to prepare for the new game and there’s no better way to prepare to die than playing the older games.
Anyway, what’s also got me writing this is hearing that a friend of mine recently had a Sun Bro try to kill him while fighting Nashandra, the final boss of Dark Souls 2. The player used Lifedrain Patch as he entered into the fog wall and hurt the world master before being banished through the Black Separation Crystal.
Bad eggs like this who don’t heed the game’s unsaid rules (if you’re a Sun Bro you try to help others) don’t necessarily make the game worse, but they do make summoning far more difficult. Who can you trust? Will a friendly spirit try to kill just as you achieve victory?
That said, there’s no “right” way to play Dark Souls only a semi-right way that goes by the games’ unsaid rules, so if you do want to be a good phantom here’s a few things you can read up on.
I think it’s important to understand a few words before going into the meat of this article. Lingo plays a big role in how the community talks about the problems around online play. Here’s a few and leave a comment if you’d like to add a few.
Aggro — The act of making an enemy chase you in PvE.
AFK — Away from Keyboard means the player is unresponsive.
Arbiter Spirits — Invade games through the use of a Cracked Blue Eye Orb and target players with a high amount of sin.
Arena — Refers to an area in the game made for PvP, which can be in a set place like the Brotherhood of Blood’s arenas or Battles of Stoicism or Darkroot Garden in Dark Souls.
Baiting — Singling out a single player in PvP and attempting to get them to move away from their group.
Blue Sentinels — The Blue Sentinels is a covenant in Dark Souls 2 that are devoted to protecting members of the Way of the Blue from invaders.
BS — Backstab (or ‘that was bullshit’).
Dragon Bros — Refers to players in the Dragon Remnants covenant.
Ganking — Refers to a group of two or more players that team up against another giving them little chance to defend themselves used in MMORPGs.
Gank Squad (Gankers) — This term refers to a group made up of three players that waits for invaders in various locations to kill them.
Griefer — A player who invades another with the intent on hindering the progress of the host, a high-level player with good gear facing off against a novice player.
Invading — Refers to a player who enters into another player’s game either through the use of a Black Eye Stone in Demon’s Souls or Red Eye Stone/Cracked Red Eye Stone in Dark Souls.
Messages — Messages are notes left in-game by players that often give advice, but sometimes misdirect.
Lag Monster — A player who benefits from input lag mostly due to network connection problems.
PvP — Stands for player versus player.
PvE — Stand for player versus engine.
Red Phantom — A red phantom is a malevolent player who has entered into your game.
Sin — Is a gameplay mechanic in Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. Sin is built up by a player who has killed a non-hostile NPC, invaded and killed a host, or taken part in the Bell Keepers Covenant or used Cracked Red Eye Orbs. The more sin you have the more likely you are to be invaded by an Arbiter Spirit.
SL — Stands for Soul Level, which determines who you will fight against during PvP.
Stun lock — Refers to the inability to move when a character’s poise is broken by a repeated attack.
Sun Bros — Sun Bros is the colloquial term used to describe players in two covenants: the Warriors of Sunlight (Dark Souls) and the Heirs of the Sun (Dark Souls 2).
For a full list see Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 terminology lists.
Online Gameplay Types
There are several ways to play online in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. The main way and perhaps the most common way is to be a cooperator. Cooperators, or friendly phantoms, appear as Shades, White Phantom, Blue Phantoms, and Gold Phantoms. Each of these cooperators work in different ways, for example.
- Shades are from Dark Souls 2 and exist only briefly. Shades can help up until a certain number of souls have been gained by the world host or the world boss has been destroyed. They can also be summoned after the area boss has been defeated unlike other phantoms who become unavailable.
- White Phantoms are summoned into a game and exist for a longer time than a Shade, but will disappeared after a limited time. They can belong to a number of covenants.
- Blue Phantoms appear in Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 (also in Demon’s Souls as cooperating phantoms), and their purpose is to attack invading Red Phantoms. Blue Phantoms can also invade worlds of the guilty as a Spirit of Vengeance in order to kill a player who accumulated a lot of Sin, which is given to them upon being indicted or doing something bad as a Red Phantom.
- Gold Phantoms were introduced in Dark Souls and exist in Dark Souls 2. These phantoms exist to cooperate and they also get much more time on the clock to help. These phantoms also get higher priority when it comes to being summoned.
There are several types of invading phantoms whose main goal is to attack and kill the world host.
- Brown Phantoms which aren’t really all that brown belong to the Dragon Remnants, Rat and the Bell Keeper Covenant who are either summoned into the game as the Dragon Remnants are, invade as the Bell Keepers do, or bring players into their game as is the case with the Rat Covenant.
- Red Phantoms are invading spirits who enter games uninvited using a Red Eye Orb, but they can also place down a summoning sign that can bring them into a game for a duel.
- Black Phantoms are the invading spirits in Demon’s Souls.
- Arbiter Spirits enter into games in order to attack players who have accumulated Sin.
Those are the varying types of people who play online, but the most troublesome are the Red Phantoms who invade games. I’ve recently been one of them and I’ve got to say it’s been a heck of a lot of fun.
That’s a question I’ve asked myself a few times while playing Dark Souls 2, what’s the point of invading?
While some invade to rank up in the Brotherhood of Blood (which has ridiculous requirements), I mostly invaded to have fun interacting with other players.
Sometimes you spawn with the host near to you, so you bow and then fight to the death while other times you’d end up invading somewhere deep within the area and then you hide using a Silver Pendant. It’s a lot of fun tracking down the player while under cover, back stabbing them, and then enlisting the help of nearby enemies to take them down.
The basic point of invading is to kill the world host using whatever means you have at your disposal. You can be honourable in this regard by using melee weapons only and keeping your underhand tactics to a minimum, but there’s quite a bit at stake for invaders in Dark Souls 2.
Dark Souls 2 made invading way more difficult by making the Cracked Red Eye Orb a disposable and giving it limited availability. In order to get a new orb, you have to be in the Brotherhood of Blood and defeat another Red Phantom in the arena. The other way to invade as a Red Phantom is to use the Red Soap Stone that sets up a duel between you and the world host.
When I invaded in Dark Souls 2, I usually just pinned down players with my Hunter’s Black Bow. I would equip poison arrows and try my best to kill the host plus any phantom that was tagging along. I did this most of the time with the aim of killing the helper before going directly after the host. As an invader, you can’t expect a Sun Bro to act honourably when you’re trying to kill the host, so you have to do your best until the host is alone.
I’ll admit that most of the time, I was unsuccessful. I’d either run out of enemies who the player could aggro or have their Sun Bro run up to me with a big sword and stun lock me to death.
The times that I won the encounter, I would go to the spot where the host died and bow to show that I recognized that it was a good fight. Bow, bow, bow it’s really the only way to make sure feelings aren’t too hurt. To invade and have fun is the main reason you do it. While some players will do it to grief others by hindering their ability to advance in the game, most Red Phantoms do have some respect for you as a player and that’s an important part of keeping the community vibrant.
Fundamental respect makes the world go round
Ever since Demon’s Souls, players have been using the games’ gesture mechanics to interact with other players. Demon’s Souls introduced us this concept through things like the beckoning gesture to make someone come to you, the pointing gesture to send someone in a specific direction, the sighing gesture to display frustration, and perhaps most importantly bowing gesture.
When you enter into someone’s game you bow to your world master. This not only shows that you respect the you are a guest in their game, but also shows that you will try your best to help the host. Bowing is also used by invaders to show that they recognize you as another player and that they will respect certain rules during a fight.
Dark Souls innovated upon the bow by giving the player a proper bow that is used when invading through the Red Soap Stone. This item allows players to intentionally invite an enemy player into their game thus introducing the concept of duelling into the games.
Basically, a bow before any kind of interaction makes a big difference. A bow will leave the player with a good experience and keep them playing while not bowing could result in them throwing the game down in frustration, which is something none of us want.
Cooperators who do not bow or display any gesture when first entering into your world, make themselves look like they are just there to grind for souls or there for Sunlight Medals. You can send these phantoms home if you should chose, but don’t summon them again thinking they’ll bow to you.
Duellists who do not bow upon entering into a battle open themselves up to the use of dirty tactics by the world host. A duel is a kind of agreement between players and the bow shows that you will be following the rules i.e. not using Estus or chucking Poison Throwing Knives.
Red Phantom invaders who do not bow upon seeing you should be killed onsite.
While you will undoubtedly encounter players who will not show any level of respect, it’s still important that you still show it to them.
How to be a good host
As a host the level of responsibility you have depends on your experience. The first time you go through an area no phantoms can expect you to know exactly where to go. In fact, the phantoms you summon are really there to help you find your way and a good phantom will help you out, but there’s a little protocol you can follow.
Firstly, you bow to your companions. Then you proceed to complete whatever objective you wish to accomplish. If that involves grinding for items against enemies like the Ruin Sentinels don’t be surprised if the phantoms leave (you don’t beat around the bush if you know what you’d like to do to ensure you don’t waste their time).
It’s normal to allow a cooperating phantom to go ahead in the level and clear the way for you, but don’t let them do all of the heavy lifting. You have to make a contribution to the team and a host who doesn’t fight will find their phantoms leaving/dying pretty quickly.
As a host, you can use certain spells to make the phantom’s experience a little better. Using healing miracles or the Pyromancy Warmth, for instance, is a good way to ensure that your phantoms are kept at max health as they don’t have the ability to heal on their own. You can lay down a healing spell right when a phantom arrives in your game.
During a boss encounter, the host should hang back a little more than the phantoms as they are meant to fight for you. If you go through an entire level with a phantom and die three seconds into the boss fight it can make the whole experience feel a little pointless.
The host should also bow to their phantoms before and after a boss fight to recognize the effort they are about to put in.
As a host, you can also receive gifts from your phantoms should they drop an item in the game. It’s good to bow to a phantom should they do this as a sign of thanks, but you don’t have to give an item in return unless you have solicited a trade.
The host can use the Black Separation Crystal to send a phantom home, but there are only a few times when it is appropriate to use the item. If a phantom is AFK, you can send them home. If a phantom is acting deliberately rebellious, i.e. not following you to your destination, you can send them home. You can send a phantom home if they actively try to sabotage your game or hurt you by laying down a Warmth by the boss or using Lifedrain Patch.
Basically, don’t send a phantom home for no reason. They’ll hate you for it.
Other than that, as a host just make sure you have fun and kick a lot of ass.
Gesture use during PvP and PvE
Gestures are used before a fight and not during fight in Dark Souls PvP. Using a gesture during a fight opens you up to an easy backstab and it also makes you look like a dick, which is makes losing even worse. The bow is used at the start of the fight to show that you respect the other player and it can be used if you win.
The mock, no way, and decapitate gestures in Dark Souls 2 are a great source of contention at the end of PvP matches because they can come across as being offensive. They do have actual uses outside of a fight, which can be seen below.
- Mock — This gesture is meant to mock the opposing player that much is obvious. Anyone who uses after a fight has been won opens themselves up to receiving quite a bit of hate mail. This gesture can be used during cooperation to express frustration either from an uncooperative companion or an invader unwilling to come out of hiding.
- No way — This gesture is used by a player when they have defeated an invader or duellist who has chosen to use underhanded tactics to win the fight. It can also be used during cooperation to show players an area that they cannot enter or should not enter due to traps.
- Decapitate — This gesture is used by a player to indicate that their opponent will likely die or used after their opponent has been defeated. There’s actually no real use for this gesture other than being a dick…
There are also items like the various carvings that make you character speak. The use of these items is seen as unnecessary simply because the gestures do most of the talking for you.
There are also various ways to communicate with your host during PvE without using gestures.
- You can mash L1 while holding a shield or a two handed weapon to indicate the correct path to take, or just show you’re excited.
- In Dark Souls, you can also practice riposting with the host by either using L2 to deflect an attack or deflect the host’s.
- Spinning around in place denotes you are excited… strange as this sounds.
Be respectful in defeat
Sometimes players will be dicks. They will use a mock gesture when you have died or use the I’m Sorry Carving to rub their victory in your face. As a player, you need to take a step back from the game and avoid that urge to send the other player a rude message.
The typical aim of someone who is trying to grief/troll you is to rile you up as much as possible. They want to get you angry, to make your hands shake, and to make you send that message about how you’ll track them down in real life for being so cheap. To do so is only to feed them.
The best thing you can do when defeated by a malevolent spirit is to take a coffee break and leave it up to the Arbiters Spirits to punish them.
That being said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using a Joy gesture when you’ve finally defeated that pesky invader. It shows that you are happy that you have prevailed and the person on the other end will likely be happy for you as well. The last thing you want to do is use the Mock Gesture back to them. It brings you down to their level.
The same applies to you as an invader. Should you be defeated by a host and they act like a dick try not to sweat it.
You have one job as a Sun Bro: to ensure the world host survives.
Jolly cooperation is a quote from Solaire of Astora, an NPC from Dark Souls that embodies this spirit of helping your fellow hollows. Sun Bros are meant to fight in both PvE and PvP, but it is ultimately a sacrificial role.
Should that final hit from the boss kill you, but you can take the bastard with you go for it. Sun Bros are the best cooperators to bring into your game as in both Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 they get more time on the clock while helping out, but also higher priority in appearing to world hosts.
Recently there has been a trend for cooperators to use the Lifedrain Patch and Profound Still hexes to kill the host. Anyone who does this is really not keeping in the spirit of Jolly Cooperation.
The whole point of the Sun Bros covenant is to provide a fun experience for the world host, so when someone pretends to be a helper only to kill the host it doesn’t go over well. Luckily in both games there is an item called the Black Separation Crystal that allows you to send a player back to their game, so if you suspect there’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing on your team send them home.
Some players justify using spells like Lifedrain Patch against Gankers or Gank Squads, but if you do not wish to participate in their underhanded tactics the best bet is to simply leave the game. Helping the invader win against the odds in this case leads to a lose lose scenario for everyone involved.
Who to avoid
There are a lot of people who will still try to screw you over even if you summon them into your game as the host. These kinds of players have a certain look, so here are some telltale marks of who to avoid.
Hexers who work with the Heir of the Sun aren’t always bad people, but more often then not players who looks like this will likely have the ability to use hexes like Lifedrain Patch.
Players who wear the Moon Butterfly Set are almost always troublesome individuals. This set of armour will poison anyone who stands nearby the player, but will not have an affect on NPCs in your game.
Anyone can hold the Sunset Staff, but most hexers will use this staff or an equivalently powerful charm to cast Lifedrain Patch. Most of the time players will not have the Dragon Charm equipped if they are going to use the hex on the world host simply because you have to beat the Dark Lurker twice to have both the spell and the charm.
I know this is profiling at its worst, but this is also a video game, so deal with it. It’s also not a good idea to summon in a former Red Phantom who has killed you into your game as they will likely work against you during PvE.
The Player Rating System Should Return
One of the innovations of Demon’s Souls that hasn’t returned in any of the other games is the rating system for players. In Demon’s Souls you can rate the phantoms you bring into your game with a S, A, B, C, or D rank, which was a really helpful feature.
Most players will rate you pretty fairly, but a few times where I died through falling off a cliff or killed early on in a boss fight ended with me receiving a D rating from the host. When playing Demon’s Souls and summoning, be sure to rate your phantoms fairly.
I really hope this system makes a return in Dark Souls 3 because it holds phantoms to account for their actions.
Of course, these online interactions can’t really apply to Red Phantoms or invaders.
Arena Battling Etiquette
Fighting in the arenas in Dark Souls 2 can be difficult at times with a huge variety of players entering into the fray. There are players who will fight through the Blue Sentinel or Brotherhood of Blood arenas, and others who will play in areas like the Iron Keep. Regardless, areas that are designated as arenas have certain rules you should follow.
Some players are nice and will follow while others are not; however, here are some of the rules you can follow:
- Bow at the start of the fight once you see the other combatant either using a regular or duel bow or prostration if you’re really into it.
- Use melee weapons as much as possible (unless you are a caster) and do not resort to the use of Poison Throwing Knives or Black Fire Bombs.
- Avoid the use of attacks like Fire Tempest, Dark Storm, or Heavenly Thunder on knockdown or riposte of another player.
- Do not attack players who are AFK, instead wait for them to respond or simply leave the game if they don’t.
- Do not use Estus as the host or the invader; however, if the host or invader uses Estus then all bets are off.
- Do not run off during an arena fight as a means to aggro enemies.
- If a player falls off a cliff or is immobilized (the ledge in the Iron Keep) follow them into oblivion and finish the fight.
- If two phantoms are summoned, the first will fight the world host and wait for their turn. Phantoms should not gang up on the host.
- Bow if you win the fight.
I think the most important thing to remember as we embark into the strange and beautifully evil world of Dark Souls 3 is that there is a human on the other end of the Internet connection.
Showing fundamental respect to their humanity is really the only way to ensure that the online community remains vibrant and fun, which can be a tough thing to do given that there’s an entire set of phantoms devoted to circumventing this aim.
As a host, a cooperating phantom, or as an invader we all must show that our souls aren’t as dark as the game assumes. We can respect other players with a bow or send a friendly message when someone has really bested you in one-on-one combat.
Anyway, that’s it for this post. If you have any comments leave them below, especially if there’s anything you’d like to add.
A very good and comprehensive look at the PVP mechanics of the souls series. Keep burning that fire of jolly co-operation.