A lot of words have been written about Dark Souls. Properly so, as this is the game that made Cliff Bleszinski reconsider his design philosophy. In an age where video game hand-holding has gone so far that players are given a button prompt to have their vision directed at something, it advertises itself as one that intends to destroy you. “Prepare to die” was the tagline repeated over and over. Rare was the voice amongst popular press that declared the game as “okay”; most opinions existed at the extremes of either adoration or condemnation. The game was such a topic of conversation that a rare and spectacular thing within the video game industry happened: a petition worked. PC gamers voiced their desire to play the game on their platform of choice and From Software surprisingly responded with a port. As so much has already been said about the game, the port will be the focus of this review, with some thoughts on the new single and multiplayer content.
When released on consoles, Dark Souls was already a game that was rough around the edges technically. Any veteran from that version will turn quiet at the mention of Blighttown and have flashbacks to unwarranted deaths caused by terrible frame rate drops. While stuttering still happens, the game is smooth enough that those stutters stick out quite a bit. Blighttown remains the worst frame-rate offender, but my experience with the area this time around was nowhere near as bad as my first. I did see more drop using the unofficial patch from Peter Thoman- which unlocked the game’s resolution- but that’s no surprise when working with unsanctioned fixes. This version is also locked at 30 FPS- something no one has managed to patch around yet- but as someone who is never quite bothered by the 30 FPS versus 60 FPS distinction, I found it perfectly fine.
As Thoman and his one-man effort to make the game look great has come up, let’s address the resolution of the game. Out of the box, the game comes locked to 720p. Textures are a bit muddy, but I played the majority of the game in it’s shipped condition perfectly content. If there’s any real criticism here, it’s that the game doesn’t take advantage of the PC’s graphical power. It’s visually equivalent to playing the game on a console, which some will take as good enough and others as a crime.
Speaking of crimes: Games for Windows. At least I know that’s what some people thought when they heard From Software was using the Microsoft shell over a game that was releasing through Steam. I’m actually of two minds about the implementation. For one, I love the gamepad support- a necessary addition, as I’ll discuss later. Secondly, one of the thrilling things about Dark Souls was how when using the system that allowed players to move from their world to another player’s world (or vice versa), one never knew who was on the other side. GFW’s random matchmaking will keep that element alive and well. On the other hand, when I think of the horrible time I had with GFW’s matching in Gotham City Imposters, I shudder. As it stands now, GFW works well in the game- the real test will come once the community shrinks and how fast it takes to connect with others.
I mentioned that the Microsoft gamepad is a necessary tool for playing this game, and it’s an unfortunate truth. Dark Souls is a game built with a controller in mind and it’s move to the PC leaves much lacking. Trying to parry, attack, make fine movements, block, change items and so forth are a hassle beyond comparison. After an hour of struggling with the mouse and keyboard, I went to the gamepad and haven’t turned back since. Another glitch I noticed was that when sometimes I activated an item in my inventory, but the game wouldn’t respond immediately. I was still able to do everything else, but it took a few seconds for the game to register that item command. This was a hassle during battles when I tried to drink from the flask, the game wouldn’t respond and force me to continue fighting, then interrupt me in the midst of action with the drinking of the flask animation. It didn’t happen often, but enough for me to notice.
The new single player content adds new enemy types, new bosses, new weapons and new areas. They’re placed fairly deep within the game, taking somewhere around nine hours depending on how fast one plays. It’s not surprising that this stuff is hours into the game, as the new enemies mix up their strategy in refreshing ways and the bosses tested all my boss-beating skills in exactly the way I wanted them to. I found the areas a bit too linear, lacking the fork in the roads that made exploring such a dangerous and enigmatic prospect in the original areas, but its newness was enough to propel me through at a happy pace.
The arena multiplayer isn’t quite as engaging as I’d imagine. With two different battlefields, the multiplayer boils down to solo or team pvp. While this might be exciting to those who want to directly compete different character builds, it lacked the tension I got from when someone invaded me (or I them) and had to make my way around the world with two eyes behind my back.
Looking back over what I’ve written, it may sound like my tepid feelings about the port denote a lack of enthusiasm in the game. It’s true that the transition to PC from consoles was a lazy one and that a lot of the problems of vagueness and bad information distribution remain. That being said, underneath all of Dark Souls’ problems lies that same game that made players everywhere scream with triumph, defeat, adulation and denunciation. It’s the same divisive game that made people pay attention to Japanese design again. Dark Souls is not for everyone, but for those players who are willing to get past it’s punishing obstacles, a sense of elation that few games have ever provided await.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Dark Souls mod offer interesting future
+ Improved performance
+ It’s still Dark Souls and has all that same, great gameplay but…
– …it’s still Dark Souls, and comes with some of the original’s main problems.
– Unplayable without gamepad
– 720p and 30 FPS lock doesn’t take advantage of PC power
– GFW may be a curse as game ages
7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.
Dark Souls was developed by From Software and published by Namco Bandai Games. It is available through Steam for $39.99. A copy of the game was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.