“You died.” Those words no longer hold any real meaning to me anymore. Just as “bless you” or “what’s up” have changed from an honest way to address another human being as over the years they’ve been ground to dust by over-use. It’s simply yet another empty phrase used to fill what would otherwise be awkward silence.
Dark Souls quickly became one of my all-time favorite titles when it first released on consoles last fall. The game is brutally tough yet very rarely unfair. When you start out on your quest, you’re a frail bag of meat that could easily be squashed by even the paltriest of enemies. You’ll have to find or craft better gear while paying close attention to your stat allotment if you want to even have a prayer of survival. However, the best gear in the world will not save you from yourself. Unless you’re willing to dedicate some time to master the control scheme, you can expect to die painfully and often.
This wouldn’t be so much of a challenge in most games, but trust me when I say that Dark Souls hates you. From the very get go, you will be pushed into near impossible situations that will undoubtedly lead to swearing and thrown controllers. If you suffer even a momentary lapse of concentration, you’ll undoubtedly be crushed by your opposition. In a sadistic twist, when you inevitably die, you’ll drop all of the souls you’re currently carrying, leaving behind a bloodstain. If you die again before you get back to that stain, consider those souls lost forever. Very few things have prepared me for the rage that comes with walking off a cliff and losing close to 100 thousand souls.
Your time in Lordran won’t necessarily be a lonely one though. There are hordes of players aching to be involved in your personal journey, and some of them may even want to help. At any time you can drop down your sign, letting other players summon you into their world for some jolly cooperation. If you have your humanity intact, you’ll be able to do the same if you need help taking out a difficult boss.
Be warned though, when you’re in human form you’re open to invasion from players hunting you for your souls. It’s a limited multiplayer aspect to be certain, but it never fails to be invigorating. I can’t help but feel attached to players I’m working with against a boss, and even after all this time my hair stands on end when the telltale sound of an invasion plays through my speakers.
Players who have already conquered the console version of Dark Souls will find a nice chunk of new content waiting for them in the Artorias of the Abyss DLC. While it falls short of FROMSoftware’s estimated 10 hour completion time, you’ll find new spells, weapons and baddies waiting for you to discover if you’re willing to invest the time.
It’s really perfect DLC for a game like Dark Souls as it adds to the game’s overall lore without breaking the basic gameplay. I won’t give out any spoilers, however, I will say that the expanded lore turns the already heart wrenching boss fight with Sif into a complete tearjerker.
It’s important to remember that this is a game that wasn’t supposed to happen. Just a few months ago there was absolutely zero intention of ever releasing a PC version of Dark Souls. It wasn’t until a fan petition made its rounds through the internet that Namco Bandi even considered the PC a viable market for the title. Sadly, in an effort to meet this new demand, the game may have been a bit rushed. Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is by very definition a straight port of the Xbox 360 version.
The first facet of such a port is the inclusion of Games for Windows Live. These words alone may strike more fear in the heart of a PC gamer than anything from the Dark Souls universe. This has been the death knell for many titles in the past as the DRM is overly intrusive and notoriously uncooperative. I can honestly say that my experience with it here has been largely positive. I didn’t have any issues setting it up and I’m kind of a sucker for achievements. My friend, on the other hand, wrestled with the beast for a good hour before finally being able to break through and actually play the game. I wish I could guarantee you smooth passage here, however, that simply may not be the case.
As is often the case with a console port, we’re also limited to console options. PC gamers are routinely used to 60 FPS, a plethora of resolutions as well as a myriad of other options. Right out of the box (or download as the case may be) you’ll find the game locked down with a 30 FPS cap, resolutions capped out at 720P and there are no other goodies waiting to be had. For some, this will be enough to justify stealing a copy from The Pirate Bay or not buying it at all, however, I have to say you’re doing yourself an absolute disservice.
There has been a bit of rage across the internet regarding these limitations, but it’s extremely short sighted. While yes, it is inconvenient not to have these options available to you, every so often it seems we need to be reminded that a good game is a good game regardless of FPS or resolution limitations. The aesthetics of a game have to work with the rest of a game’s mechanics in order to create a total product. I invite anyone who believes that the visual aspect of a game is the most important part of a game to play some classics from the days of yore where we were limited to 16-bit graphics and pallet-swaps.
There is a fan patch available that fixes some of these issues. Programmer Durante has created a dll file that will essentially force the game into using DirectX 11 as opposed to 9 allowing for a higher internal rendering resolution. The game looks fine, albeit muddy, initially, but this patch makes the game absolutely gorgeous. It is unofficial and there is no guarantee that it will work flawlessly, however I found it greatly improved the product for me. I won’t be basing my review score on the aspects of a fan patch, but this improves one of the few flaws to be found in this game.
As for the FPS lock, I’m sure I’m going to anger some people with this but I have no problem with it in this instance. Dark Souls had a 30 FPS lock on the consoles as well, and due to technological limitations often fell beneath that, especially in demanding areas such as Blighttown. Not once did my FPS drop below 20 during my playthrough. In fact, the vast majority of the time was spent at a solid 30, including areas of Blighttown that brought my Xbox to its knees. It may not be the most desirable trait for a PC game, but it worked swimmingly here.
Developer FROMSoftware did manage to fit the complicated controls into a manageable state for keyboard and mouse users, but I simply could not get used to them. After spending well over a hundred hours with the console version, the keyboard simply felt foreign to me here. I would highly advise you to purchase a USB controller (specifically a Xbox 360 version) before writing off the game.
The soundtrack may not have many tracks that will get caught in your head for days on end, but they manage to tell the story of the desolate lands perfectly. The screams coming from a Black Knight as it takes his last breath are guttural and terrifying. The few NPCs in the game all have brilliant voice acting that fits the characters astoundingly well. These things may all seem minor, but they help create an environment unlike anything else out there.
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is truly a treasure waiting to be discovered by anyone willing to brave its perils. While it probably would have been better served with a team more affluent with PC programming as opposed to consoles, it is still a remarkable game. It plays beautifully, the world is spellbinding, and there’s simply an incredible amount of replay value.
There’s always something new to be experienced as you keep going back to the drawing board with new builds or searching out for secrets you may have missed out on. It may not be the perfect PC port, but it’s decidedly worth the investment.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us.
Pick this one up immediately; you will not live to forget it.