Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition Review

My sins must be heard: I have not finished Dark Souls. The task was simply too great. It’s my first time playing the game crowned by fellow IncGamers staff as the best of 2011, and the review code only unlocked late on Thursday. I’m writing this on Sunday. Even if I’d debased myself by perusing and abusing strategy guides, the chances of completing such a notoriously punishing title in roughly three days would’ve been slim. I mean, I do enjoy sleeping.

You’re here to find out whether this PC port is up to scratch though, aren’t you? Not to hear about my newb-ish traumas with Bell Tower Gargoyles and Darkroot Basin. Well, the short answer is Dark Souls is a bare-bones port. This brings with it a number of issues; some of which can be solved, others that may have been necessary and one or two that PC users are going to find particularly galling.

Let’s talk resolutions. Prior to release, rumour (and the odd interview with From staff) had it that the port would be locked at 720p. This turns out to be true. As a result, the highest resolution the native game will allow is 1280×720 which, on a monitor that can pump up to much higher numbers, will make the game look stretched out, jagged and pretty terrible. The only aspect ratio supported is 16:9, so if you’re rocking a 16:10 or something like a 4:3 monitor prepare for some letterboxing (black bands above and below your image).

Not good. But here’s some much better news. A splendid fellow going by the name of ‘Durante’ has put together a resolution fix that’ll allow you to utilise your monitor for its intended purpose and even force some anisotropic filtering. It’s simple to use, you just drop a couple of files into the Dark Souls folder and tweak a couple of .ini file values to suit your system (oh, and don’t forget to disable the in-game anti-aliasing too). If that all sounds like too much effort then I can only assume you’re new to PC gaming. Durante’s fix solves the majority of the resolution issues, though the image will still be restricted to 16:9.

This does prompt the question of whether a fix for resolutions above 1280×720 should have to come from an external source rather than the makers of the port itself, but I look at these things pretty pragmatically. Yes, From’s port should have catered for higher resolutions. The main point is that higher resolutions are now feasible.

Frame-rates are a trickier area. Dark Souls has a hard frame-rate cap of 30fps. Here in PC-land that’s a playable, but low, rate. People like to shoot for at least 60fps and many rigs are capable of much higher. The frame-rate in Dark Souls is unlikely to ever improve beyond 30 because, as I understand it, it’s somehow hard-coded to the character animations. In other words, unhooking the frame-rate could lead to some very weird in-game behaviour.

The upside here is that a lot of people are reporting a steady 30fps. That’s a marked improvement on the console versions of the title, which infamously chugged away at single-digit frame-rates in areas like Blightttown. PC players across the board are confirming that those problem areas are now a smooth 30fps (or, at least, improved) on their machines.

Others have not been so lucky. As the port is unoptimised for the PC, there’s no guarantee that your machine will manage a super-steady 30fps. People with lower-end machines than those with issues have said their frame-rates are fine. Others have noted that using Durante’s resolution fix actually increased their frame-rate (this is possibly related to an issue with higher-end graphics cards slipping into ‘low power’ mode during the game; making the card work harder at a steady rate prevents this and keeps the frame-rate up). I’ve noticed clear frame-rate dips myself, though nothing single-digit and nothing that’s severely hampered my ability to play.

Frame-rate ‘tolerance’ is a subjective thing, but just be aware that (for now at least) you may have to put up with some dips below 30fps.

Forget playing with mouse and keyboard. That might sound harsh, but Dark Souls was designed with controllers in mind and no amount of wishing is going to change that. Using a mouse and keyboard here is a bit like doing so with an Assassin’s Creed title; it’s possible, but few will recommend it. Add the fact that you can’t rebind attacks to (say) extra mouse buttons you may have, and a controller looks more and more like the only viable option. Don’t torment yourself any more than necessary.

Games for Windows Live will probably do its best to mess up your fun too, which is unfortunate but unavoidable. In fairness to the much-hated system, it seems to have functioned fine for me. Summoning buddies for jolly co-operation was a hit and miss affair, but my wider reading suggests this is a problem carried over from the consoles. Another case of being a straight port rather than a specific GfWL screw up (though I’ve seen others struggle to get any multiplayer functions working without first opening a bunch of additional router ports).

Speaking of online functions, there’s no real prevention of hacking or cheating so PvP (invading, in Dark Souls parlance) can be as much of a minefield as it was in the console releases. If you’re involving yourself with PvP, you will run into some filthy cheaters.

So why, after all that, am I going to slap a 10/10 on the end of this review?

It’s not for the quality of the port, obviously. I’d have loved Sleeping Dogs style PC graphics options, thoughtful translation of mouse and keyboard controls and an exorcism of GfWL, but even without these things the PC version of Dark Souls is still an improvement over its console counterparts by most measurable standards. Higher resolutions (thanks to an external mod), more consistent frame-rates across the board and a three month head-start on the forthcoming console DLC (whose bosses, as you’d expect, raise the difficulty bar even further). The port is rough, but it otherwise offers the same incredible experience.

Dark Souls is a game that pokes at our soft, flabby bellies and laughs at the way other titles have babied us with cheap gimmicks and easy rewards. It’s a game whose mechanics are the perfect reflection of its bleak, desolate world. You will suffer, you will learn and you will feel triumph after elated triumph when you succeed. The subversion of traditional RPG thinking (levelling up is nothing compared to good equipment, and skill trumps all), tremendous physicality of its combat and clever integration of co-op play are just a few highlights from a truly outstanding title.

Champions are always emulated. Aspects of From Software’s Souls games are already beginning to creep into other titles and be referenced in interviews for forthcoming releases, influencing the design choices of yet more developers. This, not niggles about monitor aspect ratios, will be the lasting legacy of one of this generation’s defining titles. Praise the sun.

Read our PS3 review of Dark Souls.

A bare-bones port can’t sully one of the outstanding titles of this generation.

  • DavidTheSlayer

    Awesome, review really, all the juicy info in one place and nothing held back, thanks Peter.

  • Jack Pott

    Any link to the actual game review?

    • Jack Pott

      thanks for adding link.

  • M4cR1II3n

    A 10/10 for a review in which all but the last two paragraphs are complaints about the PC port? Really? So it’s a “perfect” game with glaring flaws, that should be played by everyone? This just screams biased fanboy opinion, and not professional journalism.

    • Peter Parrish

      10/10 on our review scale means “essential”, not perfect. Despite being a bare-bones port, this should indeed be played by everyone. The PC porting flaws are clear, and everyone should be aware of them (especially if you don’t own a gamepad), but as the review should communicate none of the ropey port business makes this version worse than the console ones. In fact, it’s better.

      • Elly Davis

        Any review that praises a game that the reader does not like can be explained away as fanboyism. Any review that criticises the game the reader likes can be explained away as hater.

        Rule 3 of the Guide to Baiters and Troll

      • M4cR1II3n

        See, now that makes no sense. Dark Souls is a game that has been labelled as “not for everyone” many, many times, which is fine, but it should be reflected in the score. A lot of things that other games takes a lot of hits for, Dark Souls get praised for. Why’s that? Extreme difficulty with no way to turn it down is a good thing now? Endless grinding with constantly respawning enemies is fun? No sense of direction and no story in an RPG makes for good atmosphere? Is making your game consciously inaccessible to the majority good game design?

        I don’t have a problem with people liking the game for being hardcore (I did not like it myself), but giving the game a perfect score saying “this is a must play!” followed by hushed tones of “(if you have a gamepad, mod the game with 3rd party software, don’t mind FPS drops, GFWL and an overall frustrating, inaccessible experience)” feels dishonest to the average customer, especially when any other game would burn in bargain bin hell with the issues Dark Souls are having.

        In short: the majority will not like this game. Thus it is not for everyone (as advertised). Thus the game should not be played by everyone. Thus it should not be given a perfect 10. Had they given the game an adjustable difficulty curve and made a good port, then maybe. But not this version of the product.
        The comparison to the console versions in this case is moot; it should be compared to other pc versions of console games, not to the console game itself (where the pc almost always wins due to the better hardware).

        • Dallas

          Dude, you need to chill. Just because you didn’t like Dark Souls doesn’t mean others wont. Honestly, the game should be played by everyone and it is a 10/10, come up with one company that made their first pc port and it was flawless. Exactly. Everything has it’d issues, in all reality no game can be a perfect 10 because everything has its issues. Maybe not everyone will like Dark Souls, but everyone should at least try it. Plus reviews are made strictly by opinion so if you don’t agree nobody cares, because no one came to read you’re opinion.

        • Grimp

          reviews should not reflect what the majority of people think. what a silly idea. reviews are the opinion of the reviewer/publication, not a reflection on the general consensus. go back to metacritic if that’s how you think.

        • djstar

          See how that worked
          M4cR1II3n? See how you reviewed the game and came to a different conclusion to the reviewer here? That’s how reviews work, they’re not put to a vote, with everyone proofing the review and agreeing on the score. One reviewer, one review.

          Peter’s reviews scores are probably the toughest on incgamers so this 10 is rare rocking horse shit.

        • Bill

          Quite honestly, you have the only logical response to this game. When anyone talks about this game it’s non-stop hypocrisy to their own way of grading. Even as you pointed out how the reviewer says”
          10/10 on our review scale means “essential”, not perfect” It’s right there in that very sentence… how can something be “essential” and “not for everyone”.

          I don’t care much for this game and I played through it to see what was up. Even the most predictable “traps” create death because of “difficulty” (i’ll just leave it vague like that). Games like Double Dragon and Battletoads were more rewarding than this

  • MrImmoli

    LOL. Paid off much?

    • dlat

      You can’t honestly think that From Software, of all developers, would pay anybody off.

  • rwc5830

    Peter, saw your review and giving this game a 10 and any other game a 10 is going to generate some criticism. I played and completed this game several times, along with Demon’s Souls on the PS3 and will say that it deserves every award and high score it can get. The only reason I have not finished it more times….well, like you said, you have to sleep and I need to earn a living. I’ve been playing PC and video games since 1979 (yes 1979) and this game is a classic for those who take the time and effort. It’s difficult, frustrating and then some. Yes it has flaws but it is still a classic. Wish I had time and the PC to play the PC version.

  • Gabriel

    A 10/10 Score After spending two thirds of your review listing problems? You just topped Ben Turner as the worst writer in the gaming world. Congratulations! How’s it feel to be the king?

  • https://www.facebook.com/roberto.zoredaichaso Roberto Zoreda Ichaso

    I give it a 3/10 at best. Unplayable port. If i wanted to buy an Xbox controlled i’d buy an Xbox.

    • B4ldur

      So you would also complain about Racing- or Flight-Sims being pretty much unplayable with Mouse and Keyboard?
      One of the biggest advantages of PC-Gaming is that you can choose which input device you want to use. Why give that away by saying “This sucks. I only want to use Mouse+Keyboard”?

  • Baklavah

    I love how almost everyone here gave Peter flak for his review. He even gave you trolls a legitimate REASON for his 10/10 rating. It is his opinion and journalistic view of this game. Just as I have my own opinion, so too do the rest of you. However, that does not give you free reign to throw the hate and garbage that you have so graciously tossed all over this place. You want the review to reflect how you feel? GO WRITE ONE!

    Now, sit down, shut up, succumb and play this game. Why? Because a longtime veteran of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls says so! This game is amazing. It never ceases to make your gaming experience a living hell. And you know what? As frustrated as I get, constantly getting killed by enemies due to my own lack of attention to the situation, I will continue to play this game until Dark Souls II is released. And upon release day, I, along with several of my peers, will be enjoying the most chaotic experience of my life. If you choose to hate the game and decide not to be there, then more for us.

    Don’t waltz around spewing your opinion like everyone has to accept it. Opinions are just that. Opinions. Peter, loved your review, I’m glad you were honest in your rating of the game. I will continue to love Dark Souls, regardless of the filthy cheaters, trolls and haters.

    To the aforementioned unpleasant bunch, go find something constructive to do. To the rest of you, GAME ON! And I hope to see some of you around in Dark Souls II!