You know what the most surprising thing about Dark Souls’ PC version is? Its very existence. Who would have thought that petitions actually work? But they do, or at least one did. So here we are with Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. And as one of the most critically acclaimed RPGs on consoles, it comes to the PC with a lot of expectations.
It also comes with a bit of a reputation for being incredibly difficult. Some of that is deserved, but it varies largely on how you define difficult. It requires patience and perseverance, but most of all, it requires you to learn from your mistakes. And it seems almost merciless in the way it goes about doing that. Every outburst of bravado or complacency is punished ruthlessly. But if you are willing to be methodical and patient, there is very little in Dark Souls that you will not be able to overcome.
Its reputation for being difficult isn’t helped by the fact that the game does a lousy job job of explaining core concepts to you. In an age where most games seem to have a existential crisis if they let go of your hand, Dark souls is deliberately obtuse. The opening level will get you familiar with the controls and after that the game will leave you on your own. Granted you could figure out some things by reading item descriptions or talking to NPCs, but even then, for most players a trip to the Dark Souls Wiki or their online forum of choice will be inevitable. Some might find this endearing, but in my opinion, Dark Souls takes it too far. It’s one of the few criticisms I can level at the game.
If you can put up with that, you are looking at one of the deepest, most satisfying RPGs in years. The core combat alone puts the game in a league above everything else released lately. If that is not enough, the gameplay is backed up by sublime level design, some of the best boss fights of this generation, and absolutely stunning artwork. Artwork that was almost buried in a blurry mess of a PC port.
There have been worrying signs since the port was announced that From Software had bitten off more than they could chew, and the vanilla version of the game certainly reflects that. The internal rendering resolution is locked to 1024 x 720 and playing it that way makes the game look a blurry mess. The in-game graphical settings are also as barebones as can be.
Thankfully, the modding community has stepped in. There is already a fix that corrects the resolution issue, adds SSAO and even increases the depth of field resolution to give the background some much needed sharpness. The result of all that is a game that looks like a generational leap compared to its console counterparts. It might not be the greatest looking game on the PC, but it looks like it belongs on the PC. Another thing worth mentioning is that the frame rate is locked at 30FPS. It’s not ideal, but its not something that detracted from the gameplay either. Plus, a steady 30FPS is already a huge leap up from the console versions.
The PC version also comes with extra content that will be released on consoles later on as DLC. In typical Dark Souls fashion, even accessing the new content is a cryptic puzzle in itself, but once you get into it, it is a significant chunk of gameplay. There are half a dozen interconnected areas, new weapons, NPCs, four bosses and the Arena to look into. The quality of the new content also holds up to the rest of the game. Some parts are incredibly atmospheric, the level design is still superb, and two of the boss fights are absolutely sublime.
On the downside, the Arena mode, where you can duel other players solo or in teams, seems to be pretty hit and miss when it comes to online connectivity. In fact, this is a problem that occasionally rears its head in the rest of the game as well. Quite often you will be unable to summon people or invade them when you are playing online. It’s not consistent or game-breaking, but comes up often enough to be annoying.
The other issue of contention will be the controls. Plug a gamepad in and the controls are absolutely fine, but playing it with mouse and keyboard seems downright impossible. However, that is not an issue with the port, but with the game itself. The core gameplay is designed around a gamepad and trying to play the game without one just highlights that fact. I would go so far as to say that if you don’t have a gamepad, either consider getting one or reconsider purchasing the game.
Overall though, there is no denying the fact that as a port, Dark Souls might not have been quite what you expected. But thanks largely to some ingenious mod fixes, the brute power of a modern PC and the added content it still ends being the definitive version of the game. And the definitive version of one of the best RPGs of this gen is a fairly easy sell.
Note: Head here to download the resolution fix.