Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition PC Review

The transition from consoles to PC has been a mixture of ups and downs for Dark Souls. After the initial console release, PC fans wanted to experience the game as well, setting up a petition to Namco Bandai that actually pushed the company into porting the game to PC. After the publisher confirmed the game was coming (to much appraise), things did not go so well.

It started with the announcement that Dark Souls would come with Games for Windows Live support, which many hardcore PC gamers seem to hate (I have never had a problem with it). Preview events weren’t coming out with the most praise either, with press and gamers noting that the game wasn’t in the best of state and that there were no advance PC features included. Even the resolution was locked internally to the console’s 1024×720, making it become a blurry mess if you were playing at 1080p. From Software admitted it was having trouble developing for PC because of the lack of development history with the platform. This is obvious from the minimal customisation and no control options (the keyboard layout is god awful, so use the Xbox 360 controller for the best experience). Even with all these hiccups, the end result is that Dark Souls is still Dark Souls, and that means the game is just as flipping awesome as it was before.

We already have a review on the site for the console release of Dark Souls (here), so this review will speak mostly about how the PC game turned out, its features and the additional content bundled in the Prepare to Die Edition, called Artorias of the Abyss, which will be coming to consoles at the end of October as downloadable content.

No doubt the biggest question on gamers’ minds is how well is this port? After hearing all the horror stories that crept into the news, it is understandable why people would worry about it. There are next to no options for graphic settings, with resolution, AA and blur your only pick. The locked resolution does look terrible when playing on anything higher than the ports 1024×720, but we have a saviour who solved this problem, leaving Dark Souls looking better than ever before.

We have to thank a Neogaffer by the name of Durante, who supplied a fix that allows the user to force Dark Souls to render at the resolution they require, and even allows for supersampling (running at a higher resolution than on display, then downsampling to the display resolution to give off a sharper, smoother image). This fix worked perfectly for me and was giving a constant 30fps, which in the world of PC gaming might not be great to hear, but the game is locked at 30fps due to some hard coded animations and other aspects that will mess up if it was unlocked to 60fps. With that said, I instantly felt that the PC version was running smoother than on consoles, and not having any dips – which happened constantly on my PS3 version, even hitting single digits in some areas – is a god send and makes the overall experience with Dark Souls nicer to sit through.

So with that worry out of the way, let’s just talk about what makes Dark Souls brilliant and why you should not pass up this straight port to PC. If you know anything of the Souls series, it is most likely about how hard they are; hell, even this PC adaption has “Prepare to Die” in the title, and while this is true, the difficulty never feels cheap. Players are required to be patient with every enemy encounter, as enemies are on the same playing field as the gamer. They can heal, backstab, parry, and if you haven’t got the ability to watch and learn the attack patterns, you are going to find yourself dying over and over again. Any player coming in with the mindset that they can hack and slash their way to victory will be destroyed, because the combat is about precise timing and tactics.

The combat feels realistic because weight is a big factor in how the avatar moves, dodges and attacks. Equip the character with big armour and movement is sluggish, with the hero struggling to dodge roll. This is the same with giant weapons. A big halberd will cause slow strikes, but equip a dagger and attacks will be lighting quick, like that scene in The Raid where the dude stabs everyone in the hallway.

Death is such an interesting mechanic in Dark Souls. It’s consistently used as a teaching mechanism and will constantly punish you with death until you stop and learn what’s causing your failure. Reading that, death might not sound like it’s different from any other game, but with Dark Souls, the main character doesn’t “die” as such. Instead, they are warped back to the last bonfire – a place where you can gain your health, health potions and magic back at the cost of all the defeated enemies respawning, losing the human state (if acquired) and all of your hard-earned souls.

Souls are used to level up, buy items and repair equipment, and the only way to get them back is to pick them up from the place you died. If you die on the way to picking up the souls, you will lose them completely, as the last place you died at becomes the new point and the souls you had then drop instead. This is how you are taught to be good at Dark Souls, by removing what you need as punishment, but boy, this game gives off the most rewarding feeling when progressing successful.

From Software have created a mysterious and open world environment that dumps the player in the middle of it, not telling them where to go – reminiscing the start of the original Legend of Zelda on the NES – only that you must ring two bells, one above and one below. Not knowing what’s coming, along with the sense of dread impending from every corner as you explore, is what makes Dark Souls so thrilling to play. The world itself is beautiful and artistically crafted, ranging from the medieval village of the Undead Burg and the castle to the architectural design of the giant city Anor Londo, with its gorgeous setting sun. Every place is vastly unique from the last, creating a versatile world full of secrets and stories that require someone with the calibre of Sherlock Holmes to be able to find them all and piece together the plot.

Gamers are not completely on their own in the world of Dark Souls. The distinctive implemented online system allows players to drop hints on the ground that can be read by other players, great for helping them find hidden areas. Bloodstains are littered around the environment; showcasing someone’s last few seconds before a unfortunate death. An amusing vision, but it also provides an advantage by showing potential ambushes from nearby enemies. Lastly, players have the opportunity to lay down white markers that allow other players, who are in human state, to invite them into their world and help them, be it to progress the area or defeat a boss. On the flipside, gamers can invade another player’s world as a red phantom with the sole task to kill that player – a fun, but evil mode.

All this summoning talk brings me on to the additional content, the PvP arena. To access this, you need to beat a certain boss and then go to the arena and wait for people to join. This hardly worked for me, often resulting in me wasting my time. I got fed up and never went back to it. You are better off just doing invasions instead. There is something wrong with the matchmaking and summoning, as even summoning helpers occasionally results in a failure.

At least the new area included is great and doesn’t simply feel like a slapped on extra. It gives expert Dark Souls players the chance to put their skills to the test with even harder enemies and bosses, but come away rewarded with extensions to the lore – which these bosses smartly fit into – and new weapons and armour. Getting to the new content is a mystery in itself as you need to do a specific task to unlock the portal, which you can do after retrieving the Lordvessel in the main game.

Looking over my time with this PC port of Dark Souls, I can say, even with some of the hitches with the PvP, that in the end I came away feeling rather happy with this version. No doubt the patch by Durante helped, as I would have hated playing it at 1080p and be forced to put up with the awful pixilation. Looking at the game itself though, there is no doubt that this is the best version to play thanks to the solid 30fps. Fans might want to double dip on the game if they have a PC that can run it. The added content (took me about 6 hours to get through) and the stable framerate make a difference.

There is no game quite like Dark Souls. It’s a game that sticks twos up at the modern video games of today and brings them back to a different age, when you had to learn games and not be strung along like a kid with his mother. If you have the balls to stomach the time that the game requires to master (if not, then grow some! It will be worth it), I highly recommended buying Dark Souls. The game is one of the most satisfying and rewarding pieces of digital entertainment to arrive this generation, and in all honesty, of all time. Prepare to die, sure, but also prepare to be amazed.

9 out of 10