[Review] Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition

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Dark Souls

It is rare for such a tangible sensation to be evoked by the mere mention of a game’s title. Even more rare is when the act of playing said game is considered a rite of passage with whispered hints and affirmations exchanged between players both in game and in social media. Dark Souls, just over a year old, is already legendary for its difficulty and atmosphere…and now it is available on PC. As a non-console owner I missed out on its spiritual predecessor, Demon’s Souls. Suffice to say, I was thrilled to hear that this one was being ported to PC and a little apprehensive at how it would turn out.

Well, it certainly isn’t the best port job I’ve ever seen. Then again, the experience of playing Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is mostly unmarred by any porting issues. By ‘experience’, I mean that this game is frustrating, disorienting, demoralizing, and cheap at times. I am certain that I have more gray hair than when I started playing.

I hate this game so much, and I can’t stop playing it.

[Playability]

Overall, Dark Souls is mechanically solid. The controls are fine…as long as you have a USB controller. I tried playing it using a keyboard and mouse, but frankly I found it to be impossible to navigate and fight with the level of precision required. Thankfully, with a controller it is as responsive and fluid as it is on consoles. Additionally, the frame rate is silky smooth.

It’s not without a few odd glitches however; there’s a lot of no-clipping into walls and floors, as well as some camera issues – specifically, being attacked by multiple enemies and having to fight blind because the camera was focused on the floor above me. It never seriously affected my ability to play, but it did come across as a little sloppy considering the overall level of care and detail that went into this game.

Combat is tense and thrilling when fighting enemies small and large. Bosses are massive and terrifying, but those fights are actually a little underwhelming. Generally, they amount to figuring out the boss’s pattern and waiting for opportunities to chip away at their health, one sliver at a time. It’s not terrible by any means, but it would have been nice if From Software could have introduced more dynamic gameplay for these fights which are essentially intended to be the jewel in the crown here.

The learning curve in Dark Souls is very high, which may turn off players who are curious about it. Leveling up is unique in that it is all done at bonfires by cashing in the souls (i.e. points) you currently have. You can level up aspects of your character as well as weapons and armor. To be honest, my understanding of this is rudimentary at best. It’s partly because no real guidance about it is provided. Granted, it is likely by design as part of the game’s “figure it out” philosophy, but having a quick tutorial on how to manage a character would be far from game-breaking.

[Playability Breakdown]

[+Responsive, fluid controls] [+Difficult but fair] [+Incredible combat sequences] [+Amazing Enemies] [*Controller is essential] [*Steep learning curve may turn some off] [-Tedious boss fights] [-Little to no guidance] [-Some camera issues]

[Production]

One heartening thing about being a PC gamer is that many developers and publishers lately have been doing a commendable job of porting games. Some notable examples are Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dead Space 2, and Resident Evil 5. All three of them did an outstanding job, and it could be argued that those are the definitive versions of those titles.

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is not the best port of a console game out there, but it’s not as bad as some would have you believe. A lot has been made about the muddy textures as a result of the screen resolution being frozen at 1280×720. That, along with a lack of customizable features (with the exception of Antialiasing and Motion Blur — the first two things I normally turn off anyway) is slightly disappointing especially considering that somebody created a mod to fix the resolution within 24 hours of the game being out.

While Dark Souls is not the best looking game out there, it makes up for any graphical shortcomings with wonderfully consistent design and a staggering level of atmosphere. This game world is massive in scale, yet crushingly oppressive and full of nooks and crannies. It really is one of the most atmospheric games I’ve ever played, so much so that it almost makes me not want to explore areas because I’m afraid of what I might find. Now that’s good design.

It’s such a cliche nowadays to use this word, but Dark Souls truly is an immersive experience. This game, unlike any other I’ve played, masterfully creates and manages an experience in which you struggle at every step and feel like you are not making any progress, until you are suddenly at a bonfire or a boss fight. It is incredibly satisfying to reach these checkpoints, but also terrifying when you look back at what you had to do — and ponder what is likely to be ahead.

[Production Breakdown]

[+Unparalleled atmosphere] [+Massive, immersive world] [*Mod required to fix resolution] [-Muddy textures 'out of the box']

[Value]

On one hand, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition costs $40 which was a pleasant surprise when it was announced. On the other hand, this game did require me to buy a controller to be able to play it effectively, which is something no PC game has ever made me do. While the game is not full-priced I am inclined to factor in the value of a controller to the purchase. That being said, I would have been perfectly happy to spend $60 on this game so I suppose it all balances out in the end.

When one talks about value with a game, the amount of time one can spend in the world factors into things. I can safely say that even though I have sunk almost 60 hours into Dark Souls, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of its complete experience. Besides the game itself (whose ending I still haven’t reached due to my lack of skill), there is ‘New Game +’ which ramps up the difficulty, multiple character classes which necessitate playing the game differently, PvP, and of course all the hidden stuff that I just missed. Yes, I will definitely be playing much, much more of this game.

[Value Breakdown]

[+Not a full priced game] [+Very deep game] [+Massively replayable] [+Multiple class options]

[Reviewer Impression]

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition has brought me as much grief as any game I can remember, but it has also pulled me in completely. Over the last week or so, I’ve been trying to get my daughter to sleep earlier just so I can get back to Blight Town, Anor Londo, or wherever else I happen to be stuck. While the brutal difficulty of this game can be daunting, it is never as a result of bad mechanics or lazy design. If you are dying over and over again, it’s because you aren’t ready to move on yet.

For all its flaws, and make no mistake this game has flaws, PC gamers should count themselves fortunate that Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition exists. This is a thrilling and unique title which deserves to be played by anyone who considers him/herself to be a hardcore gamer. There will be points where you will hate — HATE — this game, but once it gets its hooks into you, you won’t be able to stop.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go play some more Dark Souls.

[Overall Breakdown]

[+Responsive, fluid controls] [+Difficult but fair] [+Incredible combat sequences] [+Amazing Enemies] [+Unparalleled atmosphere] [+Massive, immersive world] [+Not a full priced game] [+Very deep game] [+Massively replayable] [+Multiple class options] [*Controller is essential]  [*Mod required to fix resolution] [*Steep learning curve may turn some off] [-Tedious boss fights] [-Little to no guidance] [-Some camera issues] [-Muddy textures 'out of the box']

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About Author

(Senior Writer)

Born in 1844, I bring a lot of gaming experience to the table. In my day-job, I work for a public library which carries, amongst other formats, video games. I'm very interested in observing and documenting the growing pains this industry is experiencing as it is dragged kicking and screaming towards something resembling maturity. Join me!

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