Starting out in Dark Souls II can be agonising if you're a new player, with a sheet of options presented to you and very little information about what you're getting into. Do you actually need a shield? Why would I pick the explorer class? What's the swordsman's high dexterity good for? Here's a guide to the starting classes in Dark Souls II, with some basic information about their skills at the start of the game.
But it's also absolutely vital to remember that the levelling and class system in Dark Souls II is more of a starting block than a predetermined path--you could turn your warrior into a capable sorcerer, or go from a knight who loves two-handed weapons to an armoured tank with a greatshield, for instance. The way you upgrade your character is up to you, and don't be afraid to put points into whatever you like if you're enjoying (and seeing success with) one style of play over another. When you've accrued enough souls, you can level up your character by talking to the Emerald Herald back in the game's hub area of Majula.
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What stats do you need to be aware of, then? Vigor determines how much health you have; endurance governs your stamina (never run out of stamina in combat); and vitality decides how much you can equip without being slowed down. Strength makes you deadlier with heavier weapons, whereas dexterity governs faster weapons and bows. On the magic side, intelligence decides how strong you are with sorceries; faith handles the same for miracles; and attunement allows you to carry more spells. Adaptability, lastly, makes you more resistant to negative status effect, like poison, bleed, and curse.
On top of each character class, you'll also have to choose your own starting gift. That's any one of the following: the HP-raising life ring, a humanity-restoring human effigy, a bunch of healing items, a homeward bone to return you to your last bonfire, a seed of a tree of giants (sets enemies in the area on any invading player), a bonfire ascetic (raises the difficulty of the area around a bonfire), and a petrified something, which currently has an unknown use. You can also choose to reject a gift--will this have some kind of effect somewhere, too?
What class will you end up going with? If you're looking for more Dark Souls II information, you can read GameSpot's review, see the locations of 30 valuable early items to pick up, and check back later for our in-depth guide to the game's challenging boss encounters.
Starting stats and equipment: Starts the game at level 12, with 7 vigor, 6 endurance, 6 vitality, 5 attunement, 15 strength, 11 dexterity, 5 adaptability, 5 intelligence, and 5 faith. The warrior also has 10 lifegems from the start, and is equipped with the broken straight sword and iron parma shield. It also has a standard helm, along with hard leather armor, gauntlets, and boots.
Why pick them? The warrior starts with the highest amount of strength in the game, and is the only class to pack a shield by default--he's raring for melee combat from the get-go, which many players will likely find a bit more manageable than other fighting styles. Just be careful to keep your stamina up in combat; maybe put a few points into endurance as soon as you can.
Starting stats and equipment: Starts the game at level 13, with 12 vigor, 6 endurance, 7 vitality, 4 attunement, 11 strength, 8 dexterity, 9 adaptability, 3 intelligence, and 6 faith. Comes equipped with a broadsword, along with falconer armor, gloves, and boots. Also has 10 lifegems.
Why pick them? The knight starts out as a relatively lean, nimble fighter that can effectively wield a powerful broadsword in one or two hands. The class demands enough awareness to dodge attacks, but has high health from the beginning. Not relying on a shield is risky, but it can be incredibly satisfying (and powerful) when you get the hang of it.
Starting stats and equipment: Begins at level 12 with 4 vigor, 8 endurance, 4 vitality, 6 attunement, 9 strength, 16 dexterity, 6 adaptability, 7 intelligence, and 5 faith. Comes with a scimitar in one hand, a shortsword in the other, and the wanderer hood, coat, manchettes, and boots. Like the other classes, the swordsman gets 10 lifegems.
Why pick them? This is when things start to get a bit more interesting: dual-wielding has been made a viable option in Dark Souls II, with new combo options. With only four vigor, however, you're going to want to get in, attack, and get out. Circling behind your opponents and going for the backstab might not be a bad idea, either. Consider it more of an expert class, with a lot of danger but the greatest amount of potential flair.
Starting stats and equipment: Level 11 with 9 vigor, 7 endurance, 11 vitality, 2 attunement, 9 strength, 14 dexterity, 3 adaptability, 1 intelligence, and 8 faith. In terms of equipment, the bandit attacks with a short bow or hand axe, and wears a spiked bandit helm, along with bandit armour, gauntlets, and boots for protection. The bandit also gets 10 lifegems and 25 wood arrows.
Why pick them? The bandit is designed primarily around the bow, but the hand axe is a powerful melee weapon you'd be foolish to overlook. Fourteen dexterity is, like with the swordsman, gearing you towards a dexterity-focused build, and provides a good platform to look into creating a swift fighter that can go for powerful backstabs and lethal preemptive strikes with the bow. With only a single point in intelligence, you're going to have to put some real work in if you want to use magic.
Starting stats and equipment: Level 14 with 10 vigor, 3 endurance, 8 vitality, 10 attunement, 11 strength, 5 dexterity, 4 adaptability, 4 intelligence, and 12 faith. There's a solid mace for thumping evil, and a sacred chime for casting miracles, along with archdrake robes and 10 lifegems.
Why pick them? Now we're heading into magical territory. The cleric is geared entirely around using miracles, and starts the game with the heal spell. You'll need to find someone selling miracles in order to diversify your arsenal, but the combination of a hefty mace and great health recovery should help you through the opening stages of the game.
Starting stats and equipment: Level 11 with 5 vigor, 6 endurance, 5 vitality, 10 attunement, 3 strength, 7 dexterity, 8 adaptability, 14 intelligence, and 4 faith.
Why pick them? The sorcerer, unsurprisingly, casts sorceries. He starts with a dagger and a staff, and if you're anything like me, you'll want to have the staff in one hand and the dagger in the other. Soul arrow is a great spell, and you'll get 30 charges of it whenever you rest at a bonfire--more than enough to blast through throngs of foes.
Starting stats and equipment: Level 10 with 7 vigor, 6 endurance, 9 vitality, 7 attunement, 6 strength, 6 dexterity, 12 adaptability, 5 intelligence, and 5 faith. The explorer also gets a bevy of items: 20 lifegems, 8 witching urns, 4 aromatic oozes, 5 prism stones, 2 rusted coins, 1 repair powder, and a pharros' lockstone. Finally, there's the spell quartz ring, 20 wood bolts, and a trusty dagger.
Why pick them? Certainly the most esoteric starting class of the lot, the explorer basically comes with a tonne of consumable items--these could be incredibly useful, or you could burn through them to see what they do and end up with nothing. The class stats aren't particularly high, other than adaptability, and the spell quartz ring gives added defence against magic. But I don't think the consumable items are good enough to sacrifice the other stats and items, even though it can be really fun to have so many items to play with at the start of the game.
Starting stats and equipment: Level 1, with 6 points in all stats.
Why pick them? Maybe you're after more challenge? Maybe you like running around with very few clothes on? But, really, playing as a deprived character gives you the ultimate control over your character--and also a slight advantage in points once you catch up with the starting levels of all the other classes. You'll be making the start of the game incredibly difficult, but a deprived character ends up the most powerful in the long run. Have a go if you're brave enough.