Breaking My Favorite Game: A Speedrun Amateur Tries Running Dark Souls

Dark Souls Remastered speedrun first try amateur FromSoftware

Speedrunning is a fascinating niche within gaming that has only gotten bigger year after year. With its roots in the fandoms of fast-paced shooters like Doom and Quake, and even classic adventure games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, speedrunning communities are some of the most passionate and dedicated fans of their respective games. But as runs get shorter and shorter and take more advantage of obscure glitches and strings of inputs, the game can become almost unrecognizable to people who played through it casually. Well, no more sitting in the rafters, I’m putting myself out there and trying to go fast — with Dark Souls!

When choosing a game to try to speedrun myself, I knew I needed to go to one where I have tons of playtime already amassed. I’ve seen some absolutely insane speedruns in Dark Souls, with the current record being just above 19 minutes for the Remastered version. And even though the world of Dark Souls is practically withering into dust around you and not exactly friendly, I’ve played it so much that every location makes me feel sentimentally warm and fuzzy, even the laggy and poison-clogged Blighttown.

Here’s how the game broadly plays out for your character, the Chosen Undead. You’re broken out of the Undead Asylum and given the mission to ring two Bells, one atop a parish and another deep underground. Ringing the bells earns you a ticket to fight through Sen’s Fortress and a flight via weird naked bat demons to the City of the Gods: Anor Londo. You have to beat the infamous duo boss, Ornstein and Smough, to plunder the Lordvessel, and all that stands between you and the final boss are four Lords in remote corners of the world who unfortunately need to be separated from their souls.

Once you slay these titans set up from opening cutscenes, you offer their souls to the Lordvessel to access the Kiln of the First Flame and battle Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, who can provide a stiff challenge for even seasoned players with his high damage and relentless speed. If you can parry his flaming sword enough times to take him down, you’re left with the choice to kindle the first flame with your body, which keeps the hollowing cycle of undeath in this world going, or let the flame go out and begin the age of dark. So basically, I have to do all of that and other things I glossed over really, really quickly.

Dark Souls Remastered speedrun first try amateur FromSoftware

There are a few tools I can use to shave off seconds here and minutes there in a Dark Souls speedrun. Even without glitches, the snaking paths around the game world have several natural shortcuts if you’re savvy, so I planned to start as the Thief, which is granted the Master Key item that opens an invaluable path down to the second bell. I also wanted to try to break the game as well, so I found guides for a soul duplication glitch, which would eliminate the need for grinding to level up, and the infamous wrong warp that skips the need to kill any of the Four Lords at all.

As I began my first run, I managed to kill the Asylum Demon boss with fire bombs, and it was mostly smooth sailing on my way to the first bell. I got more thrown off by standard Hollow enemies than the actual bosses in these first areas, since I was running through recklessly and forgot how far their jump attacks can track you sometimes. I died more to the group of Hollows in the Undead Parish than I did to the Gargoyles they were protecting. The most important part of the beginning area was the Undead Merchant, where I bought 999 wooden arrows and managed to successfully reproduce the soul duplication glitch, bringing my Strength up above 30 before I had fought a single boss. As far as a weapon was concerned, I sprinted to the base of the Darkroot Basin to try to grab the speedrunner’s classic Black Knight Halberd, but I had to roll with a Battle Axe and massive Demon’s Great Hammer after I got unlucky and the defeated knight didn’t drop it.

The Master Key made it easy to get to the boss guarding the second bell, Chaos Witch Quelaag, but I slipped up on this fight a few times because I had no items to heal the poison from Blighttown’s base. Even though I’ve died endlessly getting through Sen’s Fortress and Anor Londo areas in casual playthroughs, my first run was very lucky with navigating the treacherous environments and taking both the Iron Golem and Ornstein and Smough down in my first tries. I also stopped by the Giant Blacksmith to upgrade my new Silver Knight Straight Sword and buy the Giant’s Halberd with some black market duplicated souls. While I was having so much fun getting through Anor Londo quickly, I did have a pang of sadness not seeing the iconic NPC Solaire sitting cross-legged by a certain bonfire in the city, since I ignored his questline to save time.

Dark Souls Remastered speedrun first try amateur FromSoftware

With the Lordvessel in my possession, I bought the spells needed to try to force a warp glitch through the sealed door in Firelink Altar. Unfortunately, all I really managed to do was flail around for almost two hours with no warping to be seen. I had to decide if I wanted to dedicate the rest of this lost run to trying to nail this warp timing, but I realized I would have more fun just running a marathon through all the insane late-game areas Dark Souls has to offer. I cartwheeled through the Catacombs to kill Gravelord Nito in more attempts than I would prefer, traversed the Abyss below New Londo to take on the Four Kings. (Yes they’re Four Kings, but One Lord… try to keep up.) I even beat the frustrating Bed of Chaos fight on my first try and plundered the final Lord Soul from the Draconic nudist Seath the Scaleless after getting slightly turned around in the crystal-ridden Duke’s Archives.

Then came the Gwyn fight, and I died, so many times. I’ve parried this guy so confidently in so many final fights before this one, but I got so flustered and just couldn’t hang at all. I finally took him out after sleeping on it and ended my Dark Souls speedrun at six-and-a-half hours of in-game time… but I knew I could do it faster. I wanted to have a clean run that didn’t include time wasted on a failed glitch. So I started a fresh character and went right back to square one.

Armed with better knowledge of item pickups and a more solid route, I dove back into my next attempt. My times in the Undead Burg and Parish areas were great, and I duplicated souls at the merchant enough to wield a Falchion and defeat the Gargoyles. I decided to try for the Black Knight Halberd again, this time duplicating a Humanity item to up the drop chance. Even though I was bested in a duel by the Darkroot Basin Black Knight once, I went back and finally got the Halberd on the second try! This weapon makes pretty much every boss look like a chump, especially with the unnaturally high stats and currency I’m working with.

Dark Souls Remastered speedrun first try amateur FromSoftware

But even though this run had tons of blessings from RNGesus, it was full of silly mistakes by me, and prior good luck moments I had counted on last time didn’t work out the same way at all. In delicate vertical areas I had initially soared through, I tumbled off the ledges multiple times or got halted by minor enemies that could stop me in my tracks due to my low Poise stat. I lost tons of time early in the game on several failed attempts to weave through the Valley of Drakes to get the Red Tearstone Ring, which I then hardly ever took full advantage of. Even with the setbacks, I managed to beat Ornstein and Smough 40 minutes earlier than in my first run. The Lords went smoothly besides absolute idiocy on my part in the Bed of Chaos encounter, dying several times by plummeting into pits that open up in the arena and getting beaten down by her sweeping attacks.

I made my way back to the Kiln, the weight of past runs and deaths on my back, knowing I could get it down to under four, maybe even under three hours. I wouldn’t dare check the clock, I just had to get in there and win, and… well, I did win eventually! Look, even with the extra range and power of my Halberd, I need even more hours of training just in this fight before I could truly feel comfortable to pull it off consistently. Gwyn has just enough combos to be able to fake you out and keep you terrified, and he shredded through my juiced-up health bar with little issue.

I finally took him down just as my in-game timer crossed the three-hour mark. I brought my record time down by over three hours, which was such an incredible feeling, but I can’t deny that my eyeball twitched a little bit when I saw I was only half a minute away from the sub-three milestone. Even with that bother, I came out of this extremely proud of myself, and I see why people fall in love with the process of combing through these games and devising strategies for taking them apart. I won’t be shattering speedrun world records anytime, but it felt great to channel the love I’ve built up for Dark Souls over so many years into a totally new goal.

About the author

Jacob Linden
Jacob is a freelance writer for The Escapist and the writer of the column Expedition, which explores compelling side stories in new and classic games. He started writing for The Escapist, and games media in general, in fall of 2022 after a year writing blogs for small brands and news for smaller websites. He plays a ton of different genres but has a soft spot for sprawling RPGs like the Souls series or Skyrim, and he firmly believes that Pokémon Emerald is the best game in the series hands down. He has a degree in Film & Television Production and is also published in Esquire, Polygon, and Popular Mechanics.