Combat is the focus of Dark Souls, featuring a polished and deep array of mechanics that will delight players. This page explains the basics of combat and its associated tricks.
Stamina is the energy you use to perform various actions such as attack, block, parry, roll or sprint, so stamina is an extremely important element of combat. Stamina regenerates when you stop using these actions. That makes escaping and regaining a very important part of the combat system. If you have your shield raised to block, your stamina is regenerated slower. So keep your shield down when it's safe to do so. When you run out of stamina, you can't use the actions listed above plus you can't switch weapons (even though it doesn't normally cost stamina to do so). It is also possible to temporarily have negative stamina if you activate a high stamina cost action when you only have a little stamina remaining. This will make your stamina bar stay at zero for longer, and leave you vulnerable. Keep your eye on the stamina bar always!
Lock-On in Combat
Clicking in the right controller stick on either the XBox or PS3 will lock to your nearest enemy provided they are within range. If there are multiple enemies, you can switch your target by moving the right stick left or right after you are locked on. Locking on makes it easier for you to hit your desired target. Locking on also locks your movement towards your target and makes it harder to be aware of your surroundings while fighting, so be aware when you lock-on. The key is to know when to switch to lock-on and off.
Critical strikes (Not to be mistaken for critical damage) are strikes which deal much higher damage based on your equipped weapon's critical rate. The better the rate, the more damage will be done upon a critical strike. Critical strikes include backstabs and riposte. Critical Strikes work in the same way as other status ailments, the higher the critical rating on the weapon the faster the bar will fill up resulting in a critical hit upon being filled.
Attacking an enemy at certain phase of their strike, greatly increases your chance to land a critical strike so look for those openings in slow strikes, and opportunities to cycle behind your enemy.
Attacking an enemy at close range from their back, will lead to a powerful backstab attack. Backstab attacks deal a huge amount of damage, so it’s always worth trying to do. The attack animation lasts for a short while, but you're invincible while in the animation (except near the very end). Only some enemies can be backstabbed, usually humanoid type enemies. Other known enemies include the Mecha Boar in Undead Parish and Serpent Soldiers in Sen's Fortress.
To perform a Backstab, your character needs to be behind the target's back, and can not be using the block or parry actions, then hit R1 (on PS3) or RB (on Xbox 360) to perform the backstab.
Parry and Riposte
If you are using a light or medium shield (or certain types* of weapon equipped in the left hand), you can parry incoming melee attacks by pressing L2 (on PS3) or the Left Trigger (on Xbox 360) right as a blow is about to land and hit you. Most heavier shields will not permit you to parry and instead will activate a shield bash, so make sure you have an appropriate shield before attempting to parry. Successfully doing so will block the blow and stagger the enemy, leaving them open for a riposte attack. Parries are an advanced technique and hence will require practice to master, and there are points you should note to allow you to understand the action and make best use of it:
- Certain enemy attacks cannot be parried - for example, generally two handed attacks cannot be parried.
- Different enemies and their various forms of melee attack have different sized windows of opportunity in which you can successfully parry them.
- The speed at which you are able to perform the parry move will depend on the shield in use - the larger the shield, the slower your parry animation.
- If you fail your timing you will be left wide open to the enemy as well so it's very risky to try it on powerful enemies.
- Parrying slightly out of time or attempting to parry an arrow or an attack that can't be parried will result in a half block. The enemy will hit you but part of the damage (60~70%) will be prevented.
- While practicing the technique, you can hold down the block button and press the parry button. You will not parry until you let go of the block button, giving you time to gauge the attack speed without sacrificing defense.
- Parries on computer enemies are generally not subject to lag and can be accomplished based on visual cues tied to when the attack is about to strike you. In PvP, however, player network lag can make parries much more difficult to land, and the attempt to parry must often be made before your opponent even begins to swing (at least from what you see on your screen, due to the lag). These are usually referred to as "prediction parries" where you parry based on your prediction that the opponent is about to swing at you. Players learning how to parry should therefore first practice the basic concepts and techniques on computer enemies, with the understanding that learning to parry other players is an even more challenging and advanced skill.
After successfully parrying an enemy attack, signified by a unique sound effect and the sight of your attacker staggering, if you rapidly follow with a normal attack and are close enough to the enemy, a riposte will be performed. Ripostes are even deadlier versions of critical attacks than backstabs and can easily kill enemies in one strike. Similar to backstabs, the riposte animation will make you invulnerable for a brief period of time, which can be invaluable if you are facing multiple opponents.
*Daggers, Curved Swords (except the Golden Tracer), Katanas, Piercing Swords, Fist Weapons, Whips. It is also possible to parry while unarmed.
- Parrying Tutorial
There are four types of physical attacks: Regular, Slash, Strike and Thrust. The damage you deal with different attack types varies by the enemy. A weapon may also do more than one type of an attack. This is indicated in the weapon's attack types. Most weapons only have 2, tied to their particular moveset. Katanas, for example, have both slashing when swinging and thrust when stabbing. Depending on their moveset, certain weapons may benefit from items intended to increase particular damage types, such as the Leo Ring's damage bonus for properly timed thrust attacks.
When you are subjected to a status attack (e.g., poison), a status bar will appear on the bottom of the screen and begin to fill. The size of the bar is tied to your resistance to the aliment being inflicted. If the bar completely fills you will suffer the effect of the status. The bar will slowly recover so long as you are not being affected by the status attack, so if for example you are facing poisonous terrain with various islands of clear ground, you can wait on each patch of dry land for your poison status bar to recover before continuing on, and thereby avoid being poisoned. Most of the below aliments are more commonly encountered when facing computer enemies and environmental hazards, but there are some items that enable players to inflicted status effects on one other (with the exception of Curse).
Poison: Deals damage over time for its duration and cuts all healing in half. While the damage over time isn't especially dangerous as its a low value the heal cut can be life threatening.
Toxic: Deals very high damage over time. If left unchecked it can easily kill the player in less than 20 seconds. Cure it as soon as possible.
Curse: Instantly kills the player and cuts the remaining HP in half after the player returns to their previous bonfire. As of the latest patch, curse doesn't stack (you may get cursed while cursed, but your HP won't be halved again). If cursed your best option is to seek a cure quickly and avoid facing enemies that can curse you to prevent stacking. The HP reduction only affects standard HP, HP gained from rings/buffs won't be affected. Curse may be cured by a Purging Stone item, or by an NPC named Ingward located deep in the New Londo Ruins. It is wise to always carry a few Purging Stones, as being cursed can make it difficult to return to a vendor or Ingward if you do not have a cure handy.
Bleeding: Bleeding deals medium instant damage. This damage ignores armor and goes straight to the HP. Fast attacking weapons like Bandit's Knife or Katanas can easily inflict 1~2 bleeding effects in one combo. Prevent constant hits to avoid taking this damage. When the Bleeding gauge is full, it takes 30% of your maximum health, and sometimes 50% if a special weapon is used.
A very important statistic which determines your ability to resist having your "form broken" -- namely having your own actions interrupted when you are struck by an attack. With low poise, you will be more easily (and sometimes always) staggered when struck by an attack, which can interrupt your own attack or spell cast, and possibly subject you to a fatal "stunlocking" if your opponent has sufficient stamina and speed to keep hitting you and preventing you from moving. Working like other Status Resistances, there is a invisible bar that fills with the attacks you receive (the strength of the attack changes how much it fills) and when filled you will be staggered by the attack. Small weapons like daggers are greatly affected by Poise as they will rarely stagger an enemy, while great swords and other big weapons are mostly unaffected by it as a single strike will be able to stagger foes even with high Poise. Poise is affected by your equipped armor, and also by the Wolf Ring. Each wearable item has a Poise rating which may be viewed in its statistics. Your overall Poise rating, which may be viewed in the upper right hand corner of your Character information screen, is the sum of all the Poise ratings of your equipment. As a general rule of thumb, light gear has 0 poise, while heavy armor often provides significant Poise. Many players seek to have at least 52 poise to ensure they cannot be staggered by the first attack of all but the heaviest of weapons, while a poise of 77 should prevent a player from being stunned by the first attack of any weapon including ultra greatswords. Even with very high Poise, however, it is still possible to be staggered or even knock down by certain magical attacks or other effects.
Source; Dark souls mini-guide & Japanese wiki