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It's A Trap! The Drake Sword and You.
This guide is aimed towards new players and explains the weapon upgrading/scaling system and why the Drake sword may not be the boon it appears to be at the start of the game. Most of this will probably be old-hat for Dark Souls veterans.
One of my favourite parts of Dark Souls is the jolly cooperation of helping other players out as a phantom. It is a big part of why I keep coming back to game after so long. I've spent entire evenings with my summon sign down in a tough place like Sen's Fortress or the New Londo ruins, lending my ghostly hand in aid against the forces of evil.
When summoning, I really love seeing what kind of characters other players come up with. It's always amazing when you pop into someone else's game and see some half-human-half-dragon hybrid wearing a dainty skirt and shouting monsters to death, or a huge gothic knight swinging around an axe the size of a small car.
But recently I've noticed a disturbing trend. In one of my favourite places to co-op, Anor Londo (home of everyone's favourite boss duo Biggie Smalls), I've seen player after player skulking through the cathedral clutching the Drake Sword.
The Drake Sword? Really?
- The giant hammer is nasty, but what hurts most are the blows to your self esteem.
What exactly is the Drake Sword?
The Drake Sword is the worst kept "secret" in Dark Souls. A sort of bonus weapon you can acquire near the beginning of the game by (I♥♥♥♥♥♥you not) painstakingly shooting the Hellkite Dragon in the tail about 50 times with a bow and arrow.
If you get the Drake Sword at the first opportunity you can, it's amazing; an instant quantum leap in power. Enemies you had to hack and chop away at with your Longsword or Bandit Knife can be dismissed with a single swipe of it's scaly blade.
The fact that just about everyone knows about it and the Drake Sword and that it gives you such a boost off the start makes it very tempting to new players. But as powerful as it may be, it might not be the best way to learn the ropes in Dark Souls for a few reasons.
Why the Drake Sword sucks
The problem with the Drake Sword is that it doesn't grow with your character. It does an initially impressive 200 points of damage no matter how many levels you plop into your strength or dexterity stats.
(OK fine, a small caveat – it can be upgraded with the use of very rare Dragon Scales, but let's not get bogged down in neck-bearding details.)
Of course, while the Drake Swords damage remains the same, the enemies keep getting tougher and tougher as you explore new areas.
By the time you get to the glittering halls of Anor Londo, you'll barely be able to scratch the Silver Knights and Gargoyle jerks that guard the area with it. Coincidentally, this is the area of the game where many players chuck Dark Souls into the bargain bin for the next poor sucker to find (or leave it to rot in their Steam backlog as the case may be).
The problem is actually two-fold. Not only does the sword lose its luster when the going gets tough, but since you've been able to crutch on it's power early on, you might not have picked up on some of the skills and tricks you need to survive.
The frustration of failing despite using the "cheater gear" can crush a player's spirit. And the situation is all the more tragic because it's a completely false impression! The Drake Sword has it's time in the sun, but ultimately you need to swap it out.
It isn't a super weapon at all, just oddly overpowered for the part of the game you can get it at while quickly diminishing further along.
How scaling and upgrading works
- Make friends with this guy.
The truth of the matter is that the Drake Sword really isn't all that. With a little upgrading, and a few points in the right stats, even the humble Longsword (junky starting gear for the Warrior class) can rival it. And I don't mean eventually, you can get this going on at nearly the same point of the game - and for less grindy work!
One of the best parts of Dark Souls is it's mysterious allure. Developer From Software never spells anything out for the player, leaving the next step, the best tactics, and even the story of the game all for the players to figure out for themselves. It makes the game feel magical and alive and dangerous and is overall one of Dark Soul's best qualities. But if I had to say the lack of explanation hurts the game in one place, it's the stat screen. Everyone would have benefited with some clarification on the confusing♥♥♥♥♥jumble of numbers that populate the inventory and equipment screen.
See most weapons have a value called "Scaling" on one or more stats, marked with a letter grade. What that means is that you will get a small amount of bonus damage for every point you have in those related stats when using that weapon. The higher the grade, the bigger the bonus. Taking the Longsword[darksouls.wikidot.com] as our example, looking at the equipment screen you can see it has C ranking synergy with the Str and Dex stats. Comparatively the Drake Sword no scaling rank in any stat.
But that's not all, you can also upgrade the base damage of the Longsword at the nearby blacksmith (or with your own smithbox if you make the investment) with an item called titanite. Now titanite can be bought at the blacksmith for 800 souls a pop, but it also drops fairly frequently from most of the enemies in the Undead Burg area, so you are bound to pick up a few for free just running around.
You can upgrade any basic weapon to +5 at the start of the game (and up to +10 a little further on) for 200 souls a level. Even in a worst case scenario where you have to buy all 10 titanite shards, you're looking at a mere 9000 soul investment to tink up your starting weapon to +5. A number of souls you can easily make by looping the surrounding area a few times, or by Jolly' Co-Oping ONE person with the Gargoyle boss.
My most recent character was able to do 155 damage using a +5 Longsword with a VERY modest 13 str and 20 dex. Even though the basic damage is only 120, the added bonuses from str and dex scaling gave it more than a 30 point boost.
With a tiny bit of effort you can have a weapon that is only a little bit behind the Drake Sword at the same point in the game that will in fact grow with you and get even better. And you didn't even need to spend twenty minutes flinging arrows at a dragon to get it! You earned the souls to upgrade the weapon and your stats ACTUALLY PLAYING the game.
- Tell me this doesn't look like more fun than pestering the Hellkite Dragon with arrows for 15 minutes.
Creating your own unique style using the upgrade system
Once you understand how upgrading works, the world of Lordran is your oyster. Many weapons that might not seem great at first glance become totally viable, and you can pick and choose based on your personal fighting style or vanity as you please.
As you get more embers and materials for the blacksmiths to work with, you can upgrade your weapons with elemental or magical effects. The flashiest versions like Lighting damage strip the weapon of any stat scaling in favour of raw damage, and a lot of players opt for that route since it's undoubtedly effective. But don't throw the baby out with the bath water just yet. There are still advantages to working the basic upgrading path and the more esoteric upgrade options.
Pick up Richard's Rapier[darksouls.wikidot.com]. Who cares if it has so-so base damage, when you take it to +14 it has A-Ranked scaling on dex! Pump up that dex, and while you're at it toss a Magic Weapon buff on it to multiply that damage even further. Have fun poking Smough to death in his Buddha belly while looking positively dashing!
Or how bout the Large Club[darksouls.wikidot.com]. It's... well it's a huge chunk of wood. Pretty humble. But if you take it all the way to +5 Occult, it gets an A ranking on Faith, allowing your little worshipper (perhaps already heavily invested in the faith stat just for the miracles) to swing around a God killing heretical tree trunk that hits like an enchanted weapon that never runs out of buff.
It is a wild system if you're willing to give it some thought and creativity. Don't feel like you are stuck using a "good" weapon like Quelaag's Furysword or something with a Lighting Enchantment. With proper use of the upgrading system and attention to the scalling stats of a weapon, you can make just about every weapon in the game perfectly usable. Experiment and find your own style!
- My +15 Balder Side Sword has won me plenty of duels in its time. Doesn't need to be fancy to work.
What's with the Drake Sword anyway?
Back to the original weapon that spawned this guide, one wonders why From Software put the Drake Sword in the game and gave it to players so early on. Why can you get this piece of super-powered gear at the start of the game, that only leaves you high and dry feeling like a chump a few hours later?
Well, there are two interpretations I can see.
Charitably, you could say that From Software knew they were making a ball-buster of a game. Dark Souls didn't get its controller tossing reputation for nothing after all. Maybe From Software took a look at play testers stuck early on, or just decided to be merciful, and wanted to put in something that would give struggling players a boost till they found their sea legs. Balanced so that it's initially a big lifesaver, but eventually needs to be discarded – hopefully at a point where the player understands how the game works.
But well. These guys made Dark Souls. I don't think mercy is a big part of their vocabulary.
A more cynical person may look at the design of the Drake Sword and think it's a trap. A weapon designed to encourage laziness and overconfidence in the uninitiated. A weapon that is paced juuust right to fail the player once they've made it past a threshold where the thought of backtracking is almost unbearable.
In a mean twist of fate, Anor Londo (where the Drake Sword really starts crapping out on you) is accessed through magical means after a gruelling trek through Sen's Fortress. Nobody, and I mean nobody, relishes the thought of taking another trip through the Funhouse (torture castle) and whatever they've completed of Anor Londo to get back to the blacksmith and try and figure out a new weapon. In fact, many players might not even know you can backtrack at that point. I imagine most would rather just roll up a new character (or break the disc in two and burn the shatter remains).
Is this a fair interpretation of From Software's intentions? Would they really troll players like that? I don't know. On one hand it implies a deep level of maliciousness on their part, but on the other hand they made the Tomb of the Giants.
Don't get fooled again!
Whatever the reasoning From Software had behind the Drake Sword, it probably doesn't matter to all the poor Undeads I've seen struggling through every single inch of Anor Londo with it. They've fallen into the Drake Sword trap and their only possible escape is learning how the upgrading system really works.
Hopefully after reading this guide you won't fall into the same trap. Know your options and be bold experimenting with other weapons. You've got nothing to lose and so much fun and power to gain!