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Join the Covenant: The hidden meta-game of Dark Souls

Tuesday, 18th October 2011 07:26 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Just when you think you’ve got Demon’s Souls sorted out, Dark Souls introduces a new multiplayer mechanic that turns everything upside down.

Dark Souls: Covenants

Dark Souls features nine covenants, some of which are hidden.

Each covenant has different rules of conduct which are still being discovered by the player base. Some rule out certain optional bosses or close off progression paths.

Changing covenants or breaking rules results in the player’s entry in the Book of the Guilty. A hefty fine can clear your name.

See the Dark Souls Wiki for more information on Covenants.

When Demon’s Souls released in 2009 it broke a number of conventions – like not killing off your players before you explain how the game works – and introduced a new kind of quasi-asymmetrical multiplayer unlike anything before it.

Dark Souls, at first glance, offers the same kind of experience. After earning the right to leave messages by finding the game’s first proper merchant, players can leave and rate hint messages around the landscape. As with the first game, these messages vary from life-saving through to deliberately – and hilariously – misleading.

Later, having shown the balls and brains to pass the first proper boss, players can claim an item which allows them to participate in co-operative boss runs, and with a little diligent searching, score a consumable which allows them to take the PvP route by invading innocent bystanders’ worlds.

So far, so Demon’s Souls. The gradual release of online components is a welcome change, given the enormous pool of newbies the game’s hype has brought, but there’s little described so far beyond what could be found in From Software’s first offering. Where are the revolutionary new elements we were promised, a dangling carrot for the focused high-level players of Demon’s Souls?

Oh, they’re there. Once beyond the tutorial environment, if players ignore the obvious path and explore the starting hub carefully they’ll meet an NPC who extends them an offer to join a covenant. Ignorant of what that means but seeing no downside, many new players do.

It’s only when you pass over the opportunity, that you might notice the Way of White’s effects, when a red phantom appears in your world and beats the living crap out of you.

The Way of White, as it is known, may seem to make little difference to the player’s experience; it’s only when you make a second run, and pass over the opportunity, that you might notice its effects, or rather, the lack of them, when a red phantom appears in your world and beats the living crap out of you.

When you’re done screaming, flailing, and asking repeatedly “what the hell just happened?” you may start investigating, and discover that the Way of White is a peaceful covenant focussed on co-op play. Players are far more likely to find their world abutting those of fellow members, eager to lend a helping hand in difficult situations. Without the protection of the covenant, chances are higher you’ll come up against a less benevolent adventurer.

Advanced players – veterans of Demon’s Souls and its incredibly high level PvP scene – hold out for other covenants, and it’s here that things get really interesting.

From Software keeps track, you see, of those who “sin” – and all of the actions which constitute sin have not yet been puzzled out by the community. There’s one covenant entirely devoted to punishing these transgressions. Join up, and you may be summoned as a blue phantom to deal with a player who enjoys the shock and awe of invading as a red phantom.

At higher soul levels, red phantoms are, almost universally, very skilled PvP players who work diligently to discover the most effective equipment, strategies and abilities to take down human controlled characters – a vastly different prospect to surviving the rigours of the game’s carefully crafted dungeons.

A Japanese player is invaded.

To take on the mantle of a blue phantom is to invite yourself to confront these PvP powerhouses. This is where From Software gave itself a pat on the back and a payrise for being an utter clever clogs, because many of the best PvP players want to try themselves against others of their ilk, making this role of guardian naturally attractive.

The interaction of the covenants dedicated to red and blue phantoms creates a power dynamic which favours those who give back with the kind of challenge they relish, and the easiest covenant to find gives those only interested in PvE an option to protect themselves.

By creating these almost guild-like groupings, which cater strongly to the multiple play-throughs and ongoing multiplayer of Demon’s Souls, From has handed the community the power to self-regulate and police in a multiplayer scenario without game masters, voice or text communication. And we’ve only touched on three of the game’s many covenants, the nuances of which are still being explored by the infant player base.

That covenants and their effects are only now being fully explored and explained on the game’s many guides, wiki and FAQ pages is absolutely true to From’s declared intention with both games – to foster a community which shares information and works together to demolish the deliberately unfair challenges placed before it.

The Souls series presents a new kind of game, and it’s crafting new kinds of players. Where are these players going to take their new skills and aesthetics? What kind of games will we see in the wake of From Software’s unforgiving design?

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15 Comments

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  1. Kabby

    The guardian aspect and the whole invading thing is an amazingly weird experience. If only the actual PvP wasn’t 100% reliant on gear and abusing badly balanced aspects of the game.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Ireland Michael

    I hope this game does well. Maybe the industry will suddenly wake up and realise that they’ve been wrong all this time, that people do still want a challenge in their games, like we used to get.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. YoungZer0

    @2: Dunno ’bout you, but i still like to have the option.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Gekidami

    Another Dark Souls piece?

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Ireland Michael

    @3 Oh, don’t get me wrong. I think there’s plenty of room for both.

    I think the best games are the one that provide modes for those not interested in the difficulty, but still have those higher difficulty levels and additional content for those, like me, who relish learning the mechanics of the games and conquering the challenges.

    I just wish more games would appreciate that fact.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. YoungZer0

    @5: That i can agree on. With most games i just want to chill. Seriously impressed how far i made it into Dark Souls without even being a little bit frustrated.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. dtyk

    The MP is really sadistic. I remember in blight town, was in the poison swamp struggling to get to the bon fire in sight, and some ass wipe invades me. I was mid way kicking his ass when I get jumped on by all the swamp monsters… oh god… good times.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. monkeygourmet

    I don’t think I’ve been human long enough too get invaded! Every time I use humanity I seem to die about 3 seconds after! :( is there a good place to farm humanity, Ive heard rats can drop it but that’s never happened to me.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. BraveArse

    @8 get down to the depths, I went from a measly 1 humanity to about 15 down there. I now use it as a farm ground when I’m running low.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. Zeydlitz

    I highly recommend to play this game in offline mode (turn off console network). And just ignore this stupid pretencious multiplayer.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Clupula

    @10 – why even play the game then, if you’re not going to play it properly?

    #11 3 years ago
  12. orakaa

    @11 : the multiplayer is not the ONLY part of the game. It is just a layer.
    I remember playing Demon’s Souls offline in “soul form” most of the time, to avoid being invaded. Then, once I started to grasp the gameplay, the levels and so on, I went to multiplayer.

    @10 : In Dark Souls, if you join the “Covenant of the White”, basically, you won’t get invaded. It is a “guild” focused on co-op mainly.
    If you don’t recklessly kill NPCs, apparently, you won’t see any invading player.

    I think From Software really nailed the Multiplayer part of the game this time, enabling a good balancing for those who want to only do co-op and read messages, those who are interested in recklessly killing other players (with some sort of “community police”, chasing the killers themselves). And, if like me you want to get the platinum trophy for it, you’re likely to experiment all of these

    #12 3 years ago
  13. Clupula

    @12 – I am aware the multiplayer is not the only part of the game. I enjoyed Demon’s Souls quite a lot. And there were times where I stayed in soul form to avoid being invaded. That’s part of the game, just as returning to life carries with it the risk of invasion.

    To just turn off the online for your console, as #10 suggested, takes away a great deal of that and isn’t playing it right. It’s akin to using a cheat code, IMO.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. monkeygourmet

    @9

    Just found the depths and managed to kill the gaping dragon! Going to go back and try and farm some humanity from the rats, thanks for the advice! :)

    #14 3 years ago
  15. Rambling Johnny

    The game also play a few more trick on you. Equip a certain sword and you don’t need to use a crack red eye to invade other peoples. You keep that sword equipped and it will happen automatically. Surprised the hell out of me when that happen for the first time!

    A rather large community formed around PvEing some boss like the gaping dragon. Because you have to reverse hollowing to summon PvP players are invading a lot in this zone and around most boss. That can make the trip from the bonfire to the boss really entertaining. Dark Souls got more layers than most reviewers gave it credit for. “It hard!” Really does not begin to describe this game.

    #15 2 years ago