Monday, January 9, 2012

Dark Souls Official Guide is useless trash

We don’t normally do “reviews” of things, and we don’t normally look at strategy guides, but the Official Guide for Dark Souls, by FuturePress, is such an unmitigated trainwreck, and so utterly useless in terms of its intended function, that I feel the need to warn everyone: DO NOT BUY IT – IT IS OVERPRICED GARBAGE. Read on to find out why.

Wow, where to begin explaining how and why this is such an awful book. I’ve used a lot of guides over the years: several from Prima, including their excellent original Pokemon Red/Blue guide, and Shenmue guide. Many included free with magazines and, while I was employed at Imagine Publishing, I enjoyed getting a free copy of their PowerStation magazine. In fact PowerStation stands as the gold standard for magazine guides, since the guides I used were coherent and easy to follow. Plus of course I’ve used GameFAQs since it opened back in the late 1990s. I’ve even written a few game guides myself.
It’s roughly 380 pages, hardback, priced as follows: £15, e20, $25 (USA), $28 (CAN).

I bought it because my online is too slow to make gaming viable, so without friends to summon I wanted the guide to help with tough areas.

Very seldom have I ever come across anything even remotely as badly organised as this crap. And I speak from experience, since by profession I’m a sub-editor, tasked with ensuring coherence and logical flow in other publications. A guide, and an OFFICIAL GUIDE no less, should be easy to follow and, as its name implies, should guide you.

First, it must be stated that the index at the back is a single page with such a brief selection of topics that it’s actually useless and might as well not exist. What they needed was multiple pages citing each individual item and object for quick and easy reference in the main body of the guide, because otherwise YOU ARE TRAWLING THROUGH 380 PAGES. When we made the HG101 Guide to Adventures, we agreed pretty early on that because the Contents was not in chronological order we absolutely HAD to have a detailed index. Not having one was FuturePress’ first mistake.

Next, when starting a new character I wanted to be absolutely certain I chose the right gift. Except look at their page on the topic:

For the Pendant all it says is “can be traded” – to which I ask what the **** does that even mean?!

For the Witch’s ring it’s even more cryptic, saying “No obvious affect, can help with communication”

This is bullshit. So I’m forced to go to the contents page, find the starting page for items and then trawl through all of them until I find the Pendant. What does it say?

Can be used to exchange with the Hawk Girl! That still tells me **** all about the item. So now I have to return to the CONTENTS, find the NPC section, flip all the way through this heavy book and then trawl through each NPC until I find her. Great, she has a table of info: the pendant gives me a Souvenir of Reprisal. What the hell IS THAT?!

Back to the CONTENTS, back to items, more trawling, turns out the item is absolutely useless.

It’s some generic covenant item. Why couldn’t they have said at the start:
Pendant can be traded with hawk Girl NPC for Souvenir of Reprisal, which is useless. Do NOT choose this as your gift.

That is what a guide SHOULD do. Provide you with all the information you need. Instead I spend more time trawling through this guide than playing the game. I’d be better off just keeping my PC on tabbed at the GameFAQs forum page.

The Witch’s Ring proves equally as troublesome. Go to CONTENTS, head to ITEMS section, find the RING SUBSECTION, trawl for the ring. Find it. Turns out it allows you to understand Chaos Daughter.

Who the hell is she?

Back to CONTENTS, back to NPC page, trawl for her. Find her. Turns out the ring is NOT needed to join her covenant or buy items. Therefore it is useless.

Why couldn’t they just tell me this AT THE START OF THE GUIDE. Why force me to spend 20 minutes flipping back and forth like a MacDonald’s burger boy at lunch hour? Screw this crap. In the end I eventually decided on the Thief because he gets a free Master Key, and chose the Twin Humanities item, since they’re extremely useful in-game for levelling Bonfires.

Which leads to the next offender, the Bonfire Kindling page:

It says you can Kindle Bonfires up to Level 4 if your character is Human and has a Spare Humanity item. So I spend time clearing out an entire area, all enemies dead, and I find I have two spare humanities and am in human form. I decide to Kindle the bonfire up to level 4 since if I die I will lose both human form and both Humanity points, so I want to spend them right away! So I rest at the fire and... I can’t Kindle beyond Level 2 without some kind of spell or item. WHAT THE ****?!

The guide doesn’t mention this little fact AT ALL on the bonfire page. Worse still, by resting at the fire – which was pointless since I could not Kindle it - all enemies respawn. So what happens? I die fighting a previously vanquished enemy, lose my human form and all my humanity, because this stupid guide neglected to explain how the bonfires work. When I try to retrieve my humanity I die AGAIN and lose it for good. Absolute bullshit.

A similar problem happened later on. I’d cleaned out the parish and was going to fight the roof gargoyle, and again I had spare humanity in human form. So I decided, let me try to find the spell in the guide which grants level 4 bonfires. I went through spells but couldn’t remember the name the game told me. No way was I touching a bonfire again to find out, that would respawn everyone. In the end I had to find a safe place to let the game idle, switch my PC on, go to GameFAQs forum and search. Turns out you need to beat PINWHEEL boss in the CATACOMBS. Went back to the guide and it had a section on him, turns out I can’t reach that area until MUCH later.

It would have been nice if they’d said this on the Bonfire page, something like:
To level up beyond Level 2 you need to defeat PINWHEEL (turn to p??) in the CATACOMBS (turn to p?? for maps), and then you’ll get the RITE OF KINDLING (turn to page p?? for info).

Or hell, ANYTHING would have been better than nothing. By omitting the fact regarding the Rite of Kindling, they in fact are spreading disinformation and making the game harder. Because the bonfire page makes it seem like anyone can just level it up as they please.

The next bit of bullshit is when you rescue Lautrec from his cell. The guide says he rewards you later on at Firelink Shrine, but it doesn’t say how. Well done IDIOTS. The game itself quite clearly tells me I’ll receive a reward, but gee, wouldn’t it be nice to know what the **** that is before I shlep like an idiot across two maps to see for myself? Well, they don’t tell you what it is, so I assume it’s something incredible, like an item store, or really valuable magic or weapons. So I leave the cleaned out Parish and trek all the way back to Firelink, and my reward is: a sunlight medallion. Something I already have anyway, and which is utterly useless unless I go off on a quest to Hawk Girl to trade it, and she only accepts one, so this duplicate is useless, and besides which the item she gives you isn’t that great anyway.

So again this piece of shit guide wastes my time and makes the game harder, because now the entire shrine has respawned. Well done, morons, well ****ing done indeed. Why can’t they just tell me immediately what the reward is? That is what a guide is SUPPOSED to do. Not this nonsense.

The weapons section is also rubbish – like with Demon’s Souls you need to use stones to level up your weapons, but it doesn’t say how many are needed for each level up. Meaning if you want a specific weapon you need to visit GameFAQs again and check there. Their weapons charts make a great song and dance of showing you the ATK specs, but not the items needed to ascend the weapons to those specific states – again this is useless. The ATK specs I can find by playing the game, but the needed stones require I waste time harvesting.

The entire guide is full of such bullshit. Lack of information, misinformation, confusing layout and structure, and generally it’s just an awful, awful guide. Apart from being almost impossible to navigate, it ends up making the game more difficult. The maps are alright, but the rest is TERRIBLE. The problem with the book is it offers a torrential downpouring of technical data and numbers, but without decent context or actual guidance on what you need to do. I can get all these bloody numbers myself just by playing the game – I bought a guide to have someone give me – you know – actual ****ing guidance.

Other problems include the fact they never give you page references for extra information which, coupled with piss-poor index at the back, forces you to keep going through the contents and then manually trawling. Even if the design was up in the air until deadline date, including page references is EASY. Each time someone makes one, you add it to a single master TXT file of page references, to later be appended with the correct corresponding number. In addition, in the text you place non-conventional ASCII characters for easy quick-search later on. For example: “The Pendant can be traded with Hawk Girl for Souvenir or Reprisal, see p&&&”

Nowhere else in the text would you then find &&& unless it was an unchecked page reference. It would take one guy a single day to search the entire book and fix these, making the entire guide more useful.

Finally, I hate the fact it’s a hardback. In theory this gives it that nice coffee table look, but this isn’t some artbook – it’s a GUIDEBOOK. Its priorities should be functionality and easy of use. Flipping through a hardback book for a quick reference on something is a NIGHTMARE, made worse by the fact that nothing is easily found. You need to put your controller aside, rest it on your lap and then painstakingly lug through each section. Try it for yourself. Grab the HG101 Adventure Guide and see how easy it is to flip through it. Grab a phonebook and do the same. Now try it with any hardbook book.

What the **** were these idiots thinking?

The Dark Souls Official Guidebook is broken on several fundamental levels, from the hardback cover which makes handling it cumbersome, through to the presentation of data, quality of writing, overall structure, layout of pages, even the actual data itself which is obfuscated and actually denied from the reader. Why doesn’t it tell me what the gifts are for? Why doesn’t it tell me what reward an NPC gives me? Why the **** does it not mention the Kindling Rite on the actual Bonfire page itself?

A lot of people complain about the poor quality of guides on GameFAQs, but frankly the majority are superior to this commercial example. This is useless and therefore it is trash. It is garbage. It is a waste of paper, and it is an insult to the Dark Souls players.

Do not buy it – please do not give these charlatans any more money. I doubt they could find their arse with both hands and a roadmap.


  1. If you were any good at the game, you wouldn't even need the piece of shit guide.

  2. Better yet, don't play/buy Dark SOuls at all.

    With an asinine auto-save system that artificially makes the game "harder" by simply forcing a player to repeat hours of the game every time they make a mistake (to recover lost items, weapons, etc.).

    DS (along with Demon's Souls) are probably the most overrated pieces of gaming garbage in years, along with Metal Gear Solid 4 (love the poop scene and arms dealer monkey!).

    1. The "auto-save" doesn't make the game harder. If anything, it makes it easier; any items you picked up, any shortcuts you opened are retained after you die and it keeps a sense of narrative coherency with death, something no other game does.

      If it made the game harder for you, its only because you're an idiot and didn't bother to actually learn how to play.

  3. All valid complaints, far as I can tell. I managed to figure out some of the right places to look for things and supplemented this with the wiki. I wouldn't have bought it at full price, but it was half off on Amazon.

    And on top of all this, there are typoes everywhere.
    And furthermore, 1.05 patch made enemy placements and weapon stats quite a bit different.

    But to respond to the first Anonymous, Dark Souls has a lot of incredibly unintuitive parts. It's prohibitively time consuming or difficult to figure out things like some of the NPC quests. Heck, you can't even get information about both the "good" and "evil" aspects to the main plot without doing a series of events in an unobvious order. It has nothing to do with being good or bad at the game.

  4. Well, if I remember correctly they were going to give the guide as a free bonus when one bought the collector's edition, from what you said it'd be worth that, but not worth that much, thank you for this review so I know not to buy this piece of trash.

  5. This doesn't bode well for your attempt to appreciate the game itself, it is just as obtuse. Some of us enjoy that specifically, being teased like that.

  6. I considered the guide essential, personally, but the complaints are justified.

  7. The game itself is great. So far I'm really enjoying Dark Souls, and Demon's Souls was my GOTY when I imported the Korean version, way back when. I put around 70 hours in Demon's Souls, but I had a faster net connection back then and regularly met up with friends to perform daring but silent raids on the enemy.

    What I dislike about Dark Souls is the loss of the hub-system, which makes the layout more confusing. I also dislike how magic purchasing works now - several spells are covenant dependant, and joining one means you can't join any others. If you do, you lose your standing with former covenants and lose your spells.

    Otherwise the complexity and difficulty are great. They appeal to me. But I like to have a guiding light should I need it. Right now, the NTSC-uk forum and GameFAQs are fulfilling these needs, whereas this POS guide is not.

  8. Sounds like you're really bad at this game and would like most any excuse for your deaths.

    Really, the guide killed you$ because you hit a bonfire then got owned?!

    Some of your points are valid however most are not.

    1. Right on. I thought the same "You're upset because you had to hit a bonfire and the enemies respawned? Dude, that's the essence of the game!" Perhaps he thought he could clear an area and never again touch the bonfire so it would stay clean. LOL

  9. A lot of your complaints are valid although at times it sounds as if you are reviewing the game itself, not the guide. The fact that you didn't point out a single good thing makes this less of a review and more of a rant, a simple 'oh, the art is nice' would have changed that. Your use of profanity also doesn't help, you don't sound at all professional. Lift your writing standards is really what I'm trying to say, you do have some good points but you present them poorly.

  10. So you wanted a walkthrough and you're upset because you got a reference? You seem really emotional about this based on the amount hyperbole in this "article". You're knocking it for being hard cover? Really?

    The Dark Souls strategy guide is one of the best guides I've ever seen for a game. Most of them just tell me what to do. I love this guide because it presents tons of useful information but still respects my intelligence enough to let me actually play the game.

  11. i like the guide but yeah you basically need 3 bookmarks at all times because maps/mobs/npcs are in in diff sections of the book instead of all relevant maps/mobs/npc's in 1 area in a single chapter etc.

  12. why do people get so worked up over stuff...its just a guide man, what do you want someone to be there to hold your hand whilst you play too? jeeeez

  13. I need to finish DS someday. I was looking at the prices on Amazon and eBay, and now that it's out of print, this guide is really overpriced !

    Ikki from France

  14. Really, if you guys think this game is hard, it is because you are useless, really easy game, you just need to pay attention to your enemy, you need to learn his moves, and dont be a fool and just run with your weapon and attack like an retard.
    Dark souls is a game where you need to be patient, and if you are one of these guys that only can play stuff like FPS, then dont play it.
    The pedant was a prank from FromSoftware AND THEY SAY IT.
    The Old Witch ring really is obviously, since you cant understand what Queelag sister say, you need it to understand her.
    Please, dont say bad things about the game, since it seem you guys didn't take a time to understand it.
    TO UNDERSTAND THE HISTORY OF THE GAME, FIRST YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENCION TO ITENS AND THESE STUFF, BECAUSE THEY EXPLAIN A LOT. YOU MAY THINK THAT THE TRADER "TALK" IS USELESS WHEN HE SAY THAT LIVING BETWEEN HOLLOWS IS BETTER THEN LIVING WITH HUMANS. IF YOU THINK "Well, this explains that, if he thinks that humans treat undead like monsters, probably he is more happy to live here. The history is in everywhere you can find it on the walls, itens, monsters, and cutscenes.
    But you need to have a little of intelligence to play this game, since you cant even take your time to make a good post about it guide, where explain EVERYTHING IN THE GAME.
    ok, sorry about my bad english and stuff, but i got mad with this really horrible avaliation of a amazing game.
    Dark Souls is a badass game, where it will punish you.
    First time i finished it, i taked 60 Hours.
    So, you are a baby, and you cant play a game more then let's say 10 hours?
    Or you rage because you are such an retard, and quit the game, just because you are dying a lot?

  15. The guide is shity, its true, but from what you describe, you are shity at this game too. Clearing locations? This game is about grinding location, it even reward you for that, if you keep killing enemies in one location, you can grind up to 10 humanity not to mention souls. And if you do grind one location from start, another one is already easier. Its not game to play runing. And about Lutrec, and coming ALL the way back to Firelink Shrine, if you would actualy look around church you would find a goddamn Elevator shortcut right into Firelink Shrine, probably made SO YOU WOULD NOT HAVE TO GO BACK ALL THE WAY. Oh, end catacumbs are open right from the start, if you invest some poins in faith and look around, in Valleyy of dragons you can find sword with blesing to kill skeletons. Or do it hard way and run past them to kill necromancers.

  16. Dark Soul is a great game but not a masterpiece, The combat system is really awesome with so many weapons but upgrades are not really clear. The story is really fragmentary and at the beginning i had no idea what humanity was and hot to use it.There are too many secrets that you can discover only with a guide(buying it or not). The main problem is not a real open world, you can't climb, you can't swim(after you put off your armor) and it's really damn frustrating sometimes(very often). I would like to see a game with the atmosphere o the first Gothic series with the design and game combat of Dark soul, that will be a great game.

    1. If you can only discover certain things with a guide, then how did the people who made unofficial guides figure out those things?

  17. The game itself is completely and utterly designed to make you die repeatedly and eventually rage quit. Which is one of the many reasons I fucking adore this game.

    Dark Souls isn't perfect, but I defy anyone to find a game that is. The people who go on giant rants on how horrible this game is haven't really played it properly. Don't get me wrong they have have spend hours on it even days. But when I say played it properly I mean. You start up die, throw the controller against the wall and started again. I love that it takes about 9000 different Character builds and different directions to get into the swing of the game. It's finally something players don't beat in a day. (Despite the Speed runs on Youtube)

    This game is a like a good shampoo Rinse and Repeat. You are going to die, many times in fact. Once you accept you can't just race through and beat it, you will like it. And if you don't maybe you shouldn't say it's shit. You should just go back to playing another game and leave this one to other people.

    1. I enjoy it on pc because I save my game properly vs. the horrible save system they use. The problem is people confuse challenge/reward with grinding. Doing things over and over isn't a challenge, it is a grind. I love dark souls because I can save my game properly and don't have do all that shit over and over.

  18. The guide is supposed to underscore the fact that the game offers no mercy. How is it supposed to do this if it is easy to refrence?