Sit in on any given episode of our podcast, Random Encounter (which recently celebrated its 50th episode, hurray!), and you’ll immediately know that I was a big fan of the original console version of 2011’s Dark Souls. While the game has a notoriously high barrier of entry and a somewhat steep learning curve, I found it to be one of the most rewarding and well-paced action RPGs ever made, though certainly not without its foibles. It’s likely that you already know what side of the fence you sit on when it comes to Dark Souls, so this review will focus on the PC port-job and the brand-new content found in the Prepare to Die Edition.
Much ado has been made about From Software’s open admission that they were in over their heads when it came to a PC port of Dark Souls, and the general sentiment has been one of begrudging acceptance, given that the task was undertaken at the behest of vocal fans. Whatever your stance on this particular issue, the simple fact is that this is not a bells-and-whistles-laden PC extravaganza. You won’t be tweaking bloom, ambient occlusion and whatever other PC-specific variables that your heart might call out for.
The framerate is locked at 30-per-second, and if you’ve played the console versions, you’ll know this is actually an improvement. Additionally, though you can set the screen resolution of the game, the visuals are simply stretched to accommodate – and things can get a bit muddy. The internet has taken up the task of attacking these limitations, but if you’re unable or unwilling to try these third-party solutions, you’ll be playing what amounts to a console game run through your PC.
The PC-specific controls (in other words, the mouse and keyboard) are pretty abysmal. I spent about five hours of my playtime trying to acclimate, but it’s clear that Dark Souls was not designed or refined for this type of control scheme. Plug in a controller, however, and the game will quickly recognize it and send you on your merry way, with no further hassle.
While Dark Souls is available through Steam, the online portion of the game (including achievements) is handled by Games for Windows Live, a service that hasn’t exactly been warmly received. In practical terms, I found the online experience of the game to be at least as functional as the console versions, though – with one exception: attempting to summon other players into my game almost always failed. Being summoned wasn’t a problem, so I was able to help out plenty of other players, but when it came to my own progress, I was left high and dry. Even after spending quite some time trolling the vastness of the interwebs for a solution, I was unable to solve the problem. This sadly led to my having to solo almost the entire game, a real shame when one considers how maddening some bosses can be when taken on alone.
The port itself isn’t anything to write home about, so what about the new Artorias of the Abyss content? Explained simply, it’s more Dark Souls. If you hated the original game, it’s not going to change your mind. On the other hand, if you loved it – it’s more Dark Souls! There are several new areas, all of which are up to the consistently high artistic standard of the rest of the game. The layout of one or two of them is a bit muddled, but they’re just as well put-together as the main game, and the sense of interconnectedness that was such a well-beloved hallmark of the original release is still here.
There are new foes to tackle, including a number of bosses. If you’ve got your skills sharpened, they’ll be challenging but not impossible, and immensely rewarding to defeat. There are several new weapons, some new armor, a few more miracles and sorceries, and a new pyromancy, as well. The new additions to the arsenal are welcome and breathe some freshness into both the new and old areas of the game. Lastly, there’s a good deal more of Dark Souls’ particular brand of story – which is to say that it’s subtle and understated, but engaging and hugely atmospheric to follow along with. Holes from the original’s lore are filled in a satisfying fashion. Again, if you enjoyed the original, this content is well worth your time.
In the end, it’s true: this port could be better. But there’s a bright side: not once did I experience a crash of any kind. The framerate never dropped below 30 – not even in Blighttown, an area remembered more for its performance woes than for its nightmarish atmosphere. From a performance standpoint, everything was as smooth as butter and functioned perfectly. So no, while there aren’t any real trimmings to this meal, the meat and potatoes are there and are well-prepared – which makes it easy for me to say that this is without a doubt the definitive version of the game. With the new content included and a controller in the USB port, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is the best version of the game – just not by as much of a margin as some might’ve hoped for.