Cheating More Than Death in Dark Souls

How unscrupulous modders and hackers are destroying the Dark Souls online community.

Article by Bob Mackey, .

At its core, Dark Souls is about loss. True, your victories may feel much more rewarding than in other games, but that's only because the world of Lordran doesn't shy away from trying to pull you down every chance it can. Even after putting roughly 200 hours into From Software's greatest creation, none of its devious bosses, treacherous territory or gauntlets of pain could prepare me for what would soon become one of the most evil (and undocumented) enemies I've ever faced in an RPG. Like all of Dark Souls' homicidal denizens, these creatures want your life, but they end up taking so much more.

I'll leave you hanging to provide a little context: thanks to an unprecedented amount of free time falling into my lap, I've been spending the past few months returning to Dark Souls, if only to go back in with some sense of purpose after my first shaky, mistake-laden playthrough. I decided to focus on sorcery, and quickly blow through the early sections of the game, only stopping to summon some help for the notorious Capra Demon -- a boss fight that can either go very well or very wrong. I'm invaded by another player -- not at all uncommon -- but after I take a few hits, I notice my max HP has dropped precipitously, and disgusting growths had burst from my character's head. Of course, I recognized these status effects, but knew they typically didn't show up so early; in fact, the latter condition can't be cured until much later. Assuming I'd somehow been ignorant of status effect-causing weapons, I retreat to an Internet message board in search of answers.

So yes, if you read the title of this post, the responses I received shouldn't be shocking: Dark Souls has been hacked to hell and back, and I would have to adapt my play style to work around certain anti-social behavior. But if I had to throw away a handful of hours to learn this important lesson, so be it. I'd simply wait until much later in the game to make myself susceptible to invasions; not an ideal solution, but a small price to pay for Dark Souls safety.

Going up against player wraiths becomes much less exciting when they're equipped with a +10 Sword of Glitching You Hardcore And Resetting All Your Character Stats.

Let's fast-forward to a new character, 50 hours deep -- and if you're cringing, that's a very natural reaction to the story I'm about to tell. I'm making my way through the Artorias of the Abyss DLC section, teaming up with and taking down random players on my way. Delving deeper with a co-op buddy, we're invaded by a curious character who goes by the Games for Windows Live name FunTimeIsOver (whose motto is "Back up your saves!"); the invader takes a few swings at my partner, leaving me to wonder why he hasn't retaliated. I rush in, but my body goes stiff as the screen stutters around me. The screen fades to black, and I'm promptly teleported to the New Londo Ruins, where I proceed to fall through the earth for an eternity. Loading up my game again, I notice my character can barely lift her usual weapon, so I go to my status menu to investigate. And when I saw what had happened, my heart sank.

If you haven't played Dark Souls, it should be noted that stats are extremely important, and the experience system of the game has you fighting tooth and nail to slowly increase these attributes until the bitter end. So you can only guess how I felt when I saw the damage: my character's stats had been reduced to a stunning 25% of their former selves, leaving me wondering if I could even stand to look at one more second of Dark Souls.

Strangely enough, the PC version's susceptibility to modding has made it the superior version for anyone looking to get their Dark Souls on. Technically, Microsoft can ban you for running programs like DSiFix, but I've only been using it to access graphical options From Software should have provided in the first place. But this same permissiveness has also made Dark Souls on the PC damn near unplayable, as there's really no way to avoid hackers unless you completely opt out of the game's online features. And if you don't, I'm guessing the alternative involves keeping obsessive track of your stats while using cheat programs to boost the parameters that get hacked away -- all while hoping Microsoft doesn't decide to eventually drop the hammer on Dark Souls cheaters.

In our most wonderful dreams, the hockey dudes are the Dark Souls version of Casey Jones, vigilantes burning with vengeance for the devastated character stats of the innocent.

I'm hoping this post doesn't come off as naive, because I'm more than aware that cheating and hacking can happen in PC games. But a ruined match doesn't even come close to the magnitude of decimating a character you've spent dozens of hours fine-tuning. And for a game that runs through the burdensome Game for Windows Live, Dark Souls' transformation into a hackers' paradise feels especially troublesome -- isn't that XBox-like overlay at least supposed to provide the illusion of security? I did report my new best friend FunTimeIsOver via GFWL's castrated reporting system, but the info I provided through drop-down menus could only hint at the severity of the problem; checking in today, I see that he still hasn't been banned despite his stunning one-half star feedback rating. And I feel like this problem is only going to get worse, as cheat programs continue to grow more and more versatile.

What's especially troubling is that neither Namco-Bandai or Microsoft has risen to address the problem. Of course, Namco-Bandai didn't take issue with fans completely fixing their botched port within days of its release, but the abuse seen within Dark Souls only serves to make their Games for Windows Live service feel even more impotent. As of now, I can only find an Internet petition addressing the issue, so I'm not expecting to see my problems resolved any time soon. It'd be a shame if I couldn't jump back into the best version of one of my favorite games, but I'm at least hoping From Software takes these lessons to heart for the PC version of Dark Souls 2. Or at least find some way to punish those who have wronged me in excessively cruel and unusual ways -- if you ever get 50 hours stolen from your life, please let me know if you feel any different. Certain experiences really give you a taste for vengeance.

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Comments 19

  • Avatar for scarritt #1 scarritt 4 years ago
    I will never understand why some people feel the need to ruin the enjoyment of a game for others. It's also a shame that the GFWL team seems to not be doing anything about the cheating.

    Side note: hurray for stuff from Bob! Pleasantly surprised to see an article from you on here.
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  • Avatar for davidbabb52 #2 davidbabb52 4 years ago
    I've just started playing this game after picking up on the cheap during the Steam Summer sale last month. I was not aware of the hacking issue, though. It's sad that games this involving are ruined by others :(

    Also, like@scarritt, it's good to see an article by one of my favorite Retronauts!
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  • Avatar for Mad-Mage #3 Mad-Mage 4 years ago
    I was going to play the PC version next time I felt like playing Dark Souls again. Now I'm not so sure what to do. I let my Gold subscription expire and don't plan to renew. I guess I could buy a cheap copy on PS3. This is a huge shame because the games looks wonderful on the PC.

    And yeah, as others have said, great to see Bob writing for USG!
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  • Avatar for d80s0q #4 d80s0q 4 years ago
    An online invasion when not a PVP man is hard enough, but this? It's just not cricket folks.
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  • Avatar for edstastny90 #5 edstastny90 4 years ago
    You'd think there would be a way they could build the net-code of the game to detect "impossible" items. And you'd be right.

    This is a failing not only of etiquette and empathy (pathetic script-kiddies), but also of engineering (FROM, Microsoft).

    And I'd also like to take this opportunity to say "Yay, Bob!". Because I mean it, and because I love palindromes.
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  • Avatar for sakicfan84 #6 sakicfan84 4 years ago
    GFWL has been an epic failure. I'm not sure what benefit has brought to users beyond achievement access. Not to say that this type of behavior wouldn't occur if GFWL weren't in the picture, but you would think a service provided by Microsoft would offer some level of cheat protection. I suppose that's the downside of gaming on the PC though; the open nature is often exploited.

    And I'll echo everyone else's statement -- glad to see you on here Mr. Mackey. You're one of my favorite game journalists. I'm hoping to see lots more from you.Edited August 2013 by sakicfan84
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  • Avatar for weevilo #7 weevilo 4 years ago
    If you're using DSfix you can have it make automatic backups which can help avoiding this if you're set on playing multiplayer. It really does some cool things with it's multiplayer, but I got tired of stuff like this and all the message spamming so I blocked Dark Souls and GFWL in the Windows firewall. Dark Souls 2 is going to use dedicated servers maintained by From, so these things shouldn't be an issue. And good luck with getting Microsoft to pay any attention to policing GFWL users. It's pretty clear at this point that they've forgotten they ever even made the program.

    Oh and this isn't just a PC issue, apparently console users have figured out how to pull the stat draining trick as well as invulnerability, teleporting and the like.Edited August 2013 by weevilo
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  • Avatar for baalbuster #8 baalbuster 4 years ago
    This has been an issue even before the pc release, both the ps3 and the xbox have been plagued with hackers, both claiming legitimacy (hacking stats and items to "proper" levels) and those with infinite health, infinite stamina, hacked karmic explosion, hacked havels, ornsteins and crystal greatswords.... Let alone the humanity stolen (deleveling hacks).....

    It is the biggest problem this series has, and it absolutely needs to be addressed by the game makers, they should be held accountable. It thoroughly robs other players of a legitimate experience.

    Gamers need to really step up and demand actual consequence for hacking in online games.... It's one thing if you're playing by yourself 100% solo, no online connectivity, but when it's in a game world? Under any circumstance, if you edited your save, you should be punished... In that you should be barred from online play with a detected hacked character.
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  • Avatar for TheCleverMonkey #9 TheCleverMonkey 4 years ago
    Dude. That really sucks, I'm sorry.
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  • Avatar for TheCleverMonkey #10 TheCleverMonkey 4 years ago
    Deleted August 2013 by TheCleverMonkey
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  • Avatar for feki #11 feki 4 years ago
    The PC port, stunning as it can be thanks to Durantes magic DSFix and liberal injections of SweetFX-graphical goodness, is more or less unplayable online due to these glitchers.

    There are numerous nasty CheatEngine tables for easy hacking, modding and general nastiness, unfortunately.

    What could have been a great, moddable version of the game ultimately fails due to this.

    I've run into a fair few invading players with near infinite health - which, given the way matchmaking works, should have been impossible. There's no way my soul level 30 character _should_ be able to be invaded by someone with stats matching a soul level 700, for example. Yet, it happens. And I can barely dent their health bar before sweet oblivion embraces me, and "YOU DIED" appears.

    It could be argued that using CheatEngine to hack your save equates to using Action Replay to statmax your characters in any old school RPG, but the inherent online nature of the Souls game disqualifies that excuse immediately. Any cheating done always negatively impacts the other players.

    (Also, yay for more retronauts-appearances here. Good to see!)
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  • Avatar for chrisbaker25 #12 chrisbaker25 4 years ago
    Great to see Bob getting some work on here, give him more!
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #13 Mega_Matt 4 years ago
    Wow. I probably would have been pretty ticked off. Sucks how people are allowed to ruin such a wonderful game.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #14 Stealth20k 4 years ago
    I remember this
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  • Avatar for FakeKraid #15 FakeKraid 4 years ago
    This is why I don't play online games at all. I'm super-duper-happy that the online content of Dark Souls is so minimal that the game can be fully enjoyed without it. I play games with my friends, not with random strangers who get off on impersonal spite.
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  • I recently decided to go back to Dark Souls after a few months away. Yesterday I decided to reverse hollowing in the blacksmith's bonfire so I could kindle it. It was the first time I reversed hollowing in that playthrough. Not 2 minutes after that I was invaded an got cursed just as you described. I didn't bother checking my stats though... I'm afraid what I will find when I go back home and check them =/
    Is there any information regarding whether DS 2 will use the Games for Windows Live services? I really do hope they ditch them in favor of Steamworks.Edited November 2013 by otáviogouveiadonasci
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  • Avatar for dutdutdut #17 dutdutdut 4 years ago
    Invaded and killed by players with 61,000 health is one thing but losing your stats is ridiculous. I'm lucky only the former has happened to me so far.

    It's becoming a lucrative market to sell hacks for games and if producers targeted the coders instead of the users they might actually stop it.
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  • Avatar for hemantagupta68 #18 hemantagupta68 3 years ago
    Off late, I'm being constantly invaded by fucktards who lose no health even when my hits connect directly (and I know I'm connecting cuz I can see a poise-break). Whereupon I just stand still and let them "win". FromSoft really needs to fix this somehow in DS2.
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