Never has a subtitle been so apt…
Let’s get this out of the way; Dark Souls on PC is one of the laziest ports we’ve played in recent memory. Sure it’s stable with no crashes or funny issues disrupting gameplay, but at first glance the hard-as-nails RPG won’t win any beauty prizes. The native resolution is capped at an ungodly 1280×720 which means if you want to play anything above those dimensions, which are fresh from 2001, you’ll have to put up with pixels doubling up on each other which creates a smudged look on characters, environments and worst of all text. At least that would’ve been this story if the game’s doting community didn’t do their part to increase that arbitrary limitation, with a freely available INI and DLL file. Adding those small 3k files transformed Dark Souls into a much more palatable experience, but really it shouldn’t be up to the community to cover the backs of the publisher/developer because really all they’ve done is the minimal work necessary to get this game to market. You’d think that 70,000 gamers pleading with From Software and Namco Bandai to release this game on PC would encourage them to invest the extra effort, but alas really all they’ve done is the bare minimum.
The frame-rate is capped at 30 and the controls are only fit for a gamepad, yet despite all that the innate brilliance of Dark Souls still shines through; an RPG which tips traditional life/death balance on its head to create an experience which is unlike any other. As a member of the undead horde players are dropped into the world with only a brief cut-scene to introduce their underclass status before creating a character, choosing a class, skill specialisations and appearance before setting off into a world that’s dark, foreboding and absolutely hates you and most likely your friends and family as well. Death is an avoidable eventuality in Dark Souls, with vague objectives requiring you to explore castles, graveyards and wide open areas with no mini-map or NPC to guide you. Instead you occasionally meet other adventurers on the trail, but really all your doing is meandering from one boss fight to the other, exploring every nook and cranny for more loot and souls (the only economy component), to become a better warrior. This liberal attitude to game structure, creates an unnerving yet addictive atmosphere as you never really know what’s coming next. Bonfires act as checkpoints where you can level up, save your progress and refill potions, but for the most part you’re moving from one battle to the next, inevitably dying and respawning with all your loot intact. Leaving your character to dust his/herself off and try again, now with the knowledge of what to expect.
Yet oddly these repeated slaps in the face don’t lead to you putting down to the controller. If anything it compels you on further, as you inch towards your goal, getting closer every life span. The campaign’s innate loneliness is alleviated whenever you come across player scribbles on the floor, which most of the time hint at future enemy ambushes, trader locations and our personal favourite, ‘Not far from Bonfire’. Even though the world hates you, the community feedback sprawled on pathways in red golden lines motivates you to carry on and as you find certain noteworthy items, you too can create your own instructions from a list of canned responses. This dynamic makes this single-player experience seem connected; like you’re part of an interlinked effort by gamers the world over to conquer this relentlessly challenging experience.
Dark Souls is a punishing game, but it isn’t an inherently unfair one. No system sums this up more than the game’s action-orientated combat which no matter your specialisation – be it thief, warrior, ranger etc. – you have the tools to cause serious damage. However the windows of opportunity are small and enemies, even meagre ones, can often cut you down in a few well timed hits. Combat hits the sweet spot of being empowering yet cut throat, and seeing as you need to be on your toes for every skirmish, battles with groups, knights or monsters never feels dull or routine.
Games spoon feed progression as if it’s a right rather than a privilege, but Dark Souls turns that modern conceit on its head, creating an experience where players will need to replay sections again and again to learn more about the game. The result of that strife is that victories over dungeons, enemies or bosses are the sweetest to be had in the entire RPG genre, and those times keep you going over the sixty hour running time. Dark Souls will kick you in the balls, but as in all things in life, the harder you work the sweeter the rewards feel. Just play it, you won’t regret it!
A lazy yet functional port of a weird and wonderful RPG.
Company of Heroes 2, Batman: Arkham Origins, Grand Theft Auto V, Watch_Dogs, Beyond: Two Souls and Night of the Rabbit previews.Download Now!