+Rewards patience and strategy
+Delivers many hours of gameplay
+Unique multiplayer system
-Can be quite challenging at first
-Online system still needs work
-Bugs are still present
Final score: 8 / 10
Controller support: Yes
OS: Windows XP , Windows Vista, Windows 7, or newer
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 GHz+ or AMD Phenom II X2 545 3.0 GHz+
Memory: 2 GB
Hard Disk Space: 8 GB
Video Card: GeForce 9800 GTX+ or ATI Radeon HD 4870+
Sound: Direct Sound Compatible
Additional: Online play requires software installation of and login to Games For Windows – LIVE
Demon’s Souls revived the notion of challenging games that don’t hold the player’s hand and, last year, Japanese developer From Software released Dark Souls onto the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, delivering an equally tough experience that takes lots of practice and plenty of deaths to master.
As you can imagine, the game caught the eye of many PC owners who also wanted to try out their skills with the challenging title.
After plenty of pleas and petitions, From Software, together with publisher Namco Bandai, has now released Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition, which includes not just the experience from last year, but also new content that’s even more difficult to master.
Is the PC edition of Dark Souls the definitive experience or should it be killed right before the start loading screen? Let’s find out.
Dark Souls is a complex RPG and that usually means an equally complex narrative, at least when you look at titles made by Western developers. From Software, however, takes a more bare-bone approach, delivering a pretty intricate plot but presenting to the player only fragments of it, while leaving him or her to draw their own conclusions.
Players start off as an Undead but, after proving their worth in an asylum, they’re tasked with completing an ancient prophecy. Most of the story is delivered through dialog with the NPCs you meet along your journey and, if you pay attention, there’s actually a pretty decent plot and a tough decision at the end.
What’s more, depending on your actions, plenty of things can also happen during your adventures, as certain NPCs that you rescue might bring great advantages but might also end up killing some of your friends or even you, given enough time.
Overall, while at first it may seem like a title that focuses more on gameplay than story, Dark Souls is a decent experience plot-wise.
Create your own hero ...
... and fight all sorts of monsters
Dark Souls is very hard. While some may call it unfair, and I did too after the first hour or so because I was forced to replay sections all over again due to deaths, it’s actually quite just, as it rewards patience, thinking outside the box, and strategy skills, while punishing you for reckless behavior.
An enemy hit will harm you and rushing into areas filled with opponents will certainly result in your demise. For this and many other deaths, you have no one but yourself to blame, as you didn’t raise your shield fast enough or didn’t properly time your attack.
You don’t play Dark Souls, at least at first, by exploring aimlessly around its different castles and locations. You play it by inching forward, with your shield up, and ready to roll backwards in case an enemy gets the jump on you. Running away may be cowardly in games nowadays but it’s a necessity in Dark Souls, as it doesn’t hold your hand and won’t prevent you from exploring areas filled with practically unbeatable opponents.
As such, expect plenty of trial and error and, of course, plenty of deaths, which have both an advantage and a disadvantage. After resurrecting at your nearest bonfire, which acts as a checkpoint, you still have all the gear you looted before your death but you must return to your remains and retrieve special items like humanity and souls, which are both forms of currency.
Humanity is used to turn your undead character human, thereby unlocking special skills and powers (like summoning allies or a higher resistance to certain enemy attacks), while souls are used to buy items from merchants or to level up your skills.
Besides the rather unforgiving gameplay, Dark Souls is just like a regular medieval fantasy RPG, allowing players to choose from many different classes, including traditional mainstays like Knights or Warriors, as well as Mages or Bandits, and various hybrids, like the Pyromancer.
You level up a variety of skills by spending souls but you can do this only by resting at bonfires. This resurrects all enemies in the world, while resupplying you with health, potions, magic attacks and other such things.
You can wield different things in your hands, including weapons, shields, or magic attacks, while wearing trinkets, like various rings, and different types of armor. You can choose up to two different items in one of your hand slots and then alternate between them with the touch of a button. You can also opt to forego your left-hand item and hold the right one with both your arms.
Speaking of buttons, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die edition may have support for the mouse and keyboard on the PC but it’s pretty much unusable, unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time learning what each button does. What’s more, From Software hasn’t even changed the icons, meaning you’re faced with prompts that display the buttons from the Xbox 360 controller, not the actual key mapped to that action.
The Japanese studio also shows its lack of experience with the PC platform in terms of actual mechanics. As a result, the game, at least right now during its launch, has a fixed rendering resolution, meaning you’re faced with a stretched and distorted image when trying to play it on higher resolutions. Thankfully, a user has already created a mod that overrides Dark Souls’ initial visual settings and makes everything look much nice.
Quite a few glitches are also present in the game, with buggy ragdoll effects and enemy attacks that go through walls. The collision detection is also all over the place, as enemies get caught up in the environment, while your hits can miss, even if you can see the weapon go through an opponent’s head, for example. At least for now, Dark Souls for the PC needs quite a few patches to be fully playable.
While most of these problems can be fixed through subsequent patches, the biggest issue with Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is the fact that it uses Games for Windows Live, even if you buy it off of Steam. This can lead to all sorts of issues and problems, not to mention the fact that you can’t buy it unless GfWL is present in your country.
One of the most intriguing elements of the original Demon’s Souls was its special multiplayer mechanic, which allowed players to leave notes for others throughout the game’s world.
In Dark Souls, this is taken further, as not only can you leave notes, thereby helping or deceiving others, but also interact with the games of other people, either helping them out cooperatively or fighting against them in a makeshift Player-versus-Player experience.
As I mentioned above, you gain perks after becoming human. This form allows you to jump into other people’s experiences or to summon friends in your own playthrough. Needless to say, this unique experience can make players even more paranoid, as they not only have to fend off enemies, but also other players that are out to get them.
Sadly, it takes a lot of attempts to actually join another player’s game so don’t expect to have many successful online experiences.
Light up bonfires ...
... and upgrade your skills
Graphics and Sound
Dark Souls is a gritty game so its color pallet is dominated by equally gritty shades of gray, brown, or blue. Unfortunately, this makes the whole experience feel quite dull, especially as the game attracts players and tempts them to spent many dozens of hours with it.
What’s more, the standard game doesn’t look that impressive, due to its fixed resolution, but a user-generated mod makes it more enjoyable. Sadly, playing on higher resolutions shows that the textures are still of a low quality, while the whole interface feels reminiscent of RPGs from many years ago.
In terms of sound, Dark Souls doesn’t stand out, as the score complements the action on the screen but doesn’t really turn your battles into epic encounters. Voice acting is also a bit drab, as quite a few characters have awkward voices that you wouldn’t expect from people of their stature or role.
Explore the open world ...
... and become victorious
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition can be easily classified as an unfair and unbalanced role-playing experience. Once you spend enough hours with it, you slowly realize its appeal and start playing it as intended: with patience and strategy. You’ll still die a lot, especially when exploring unknown locations, but you’ll have a decent experience, especially once you’re able to join other people’s games.
Sadly, the title still has plenty of bugs and glitches on the PC, so, at least for now, it’s probably better to avoid it until From Software releases a few patches in order to remedy the title’s various problems. What’s more, the mandatory Games for Windows Live system results in a wide array of other issues and the online system could use a bit more work.