Die, Die My Darling
Dark Souls does not give a crap about you. It doesn’t care if you die—in fact, the new PC port is called the “Prepare to Die Edition,” and in the game you play a walking corpse who has escaped the Undead Asylum. It does not care if you break your controller in a fit of rage. It does not care if you’re a beginner and you really need the EXP you’re carrying with you; after each death, you have to touch your old corpse before you die again, or you lose it permanently.
From Software, the evil bastards who made this action-RPG, aren’t the type of developers who look at statistics and feel bad that so many people never finish the game. They don’t want you to finish the game. They think that if you finish the game, they didn’t make it right. They want you to crawl off somewhere and curl into the fetal position long before the credits roll. They think you should earn the right to watch their names scroll past.
Heck, they don’t even care if you miss key items. In the first hour of the game, there’s a bad guy who shoots arrows at you. Once you find your shield, you can block the arrows and run toward him. But when he runs away, you had better notice the weapon on the floor where he was standing—if you move to the next area without picking it up, it’s gone forever, and you’re stuck trying to beat powerful enemies into submission with the broken hilt of a sword. I had to start a new game after trying to kill the same three enemies with ineffectual swipes for half an hour and finally looking at a guide in frustration. That was my introduction to Dark Souls.
Dark Souls is essentially a third-person Elder Scrolls game for the self-hating. Like Bethesda’s masterful series, Dark Souls offers you a fantasy tale with dragons and other mythical creatures to meet, classes to choose from, factions to join, magical spells to learn, a huge world to explore, and a bunch of awesome medieval gear to find. But unlike the Elder Scrolls, Dark Souls doesn’t reward your failures with generous helpings of EXP and leveled-up abilities, and its combat is nuanced and unforgiving. Dark Souls kills you over and over, and then punishes you for dying. If you want to make the game a little easier, grind to improve your character. If you don’t like it, go play Skyrim with all the other wimps.
Yup, Dark Souls is hard. And it isn’t one of those hard games with lots of checkpoints, like Super Meat Boy or ‘Splosion Man, either. This is a game that will force you to play long stretches over and over again until you get them right. If an ultra-lethal boss kills you, you won’t just start over at the boss; you’ll have to fight through a bunch of easier enemies again, presumably to give you time to think about what you did. If you wander into an area you’re not equipped to handle and get killed, you’ll have to go back unless you want to lose all the EXP that’s sitting in your corpse. In other words, not only will you die constantly, but each death will be a serious inconvenience.
Some folks like this. I think it’s an infuriating waste of time. But playing Dark Souls on PC did make me appreciate what other people see in it.
At its core, Dark Souls is a game about animations. You need to keep a close eye on what your enemies are up to, and you need to remember that every button you press commits your character to a full motion. If you begin an attack animation after an enemy starts swinging at you, you’ll probably get hit. If you want to take a swig from your health flask, you need to know that your character will take his sweet time, leaving himself vulnerable. And when you get knocked down, your character won’t scramble back to his feet; he’ll lie there for a second, just tempting bad guys to move in.
You need to take each enemy type, dissect their patterns, and figure out what works through trial and error. It might be as simple as blocking, strafing, and attacking when you get the chance. Or, you might need to deflect their blows to stagger them, or somersault away to avoid a powerful blow your shield can’t handle, or use a certain type of magic. You’re prevented from button-mashing by your stamina meter, which is not particularly generous unless you pour a lot of effort into leveling it up. The upside: When you finally get a hard part right, you feel… well, not good so much, but relieved.
Of course, there’s more to an action-RPG than just the action. Killing enemies earns you souls, which you can spend (if you don’t lose them first) to improve your many attributes—and RPG progression is the only way to make this game less difficult. You’ll want to find and improve the best weapons and armor. You also earn a resource called “humanity,” which makes you a little less undead, allows you to return to your human form, and offers a variety of other perks, such as the ability to “kindle” a bonfire. (Bonfires are this game’s checkpoints, and they refill your health flask; kindling the fire doubles the amount of health the bonfire gives you.)
The game also offers a variety of online features, basically multiplayer elements that are integrated into the core experience. Players can summon each other to help out, though the process for doing this is unnecessarily complicated. Further, players can leave notes to each other pointing to hidden areas and giving strategy advice. There’s even PvP combat, for when you inevitably get sick of dying in the single-player campaign.
The visuals are well-crafted, for the most part. Dark Souls offers impressive environments, detailed and frightening enemies, and fluid animations. The creepy music and decent voice acting add to the atmosphere, too.
PC gamers might want a little more than that, though. All the minor glitches from the console versions return, and what’s worse, the PC port doesn’t take advantage of modern computers’ power advantages—the resolution and frame rate are capped, and the textures are muddy. (There’s a fan-made patch that fixes the resolution problems for most PCs, but not all.) When it comes to graphics, this is a “port” of the console game in the truest sense of the term.
As for the controls, they’re easy to get used to, but you’ll definitely want a USB Xbox 360 controller. There is a default keyboard configuration, but it’s incredibly clumsy, and the developers don’t even pretend there’s a chance you might use it—all the on-screen instructions pertain to the gamepad. (No, you don’t “Press A” to pick up items when you’re using a WASD movement setup.)
There’s ten hours of new content in the “Prepare to Die Edition” as well, making it the definitive version of Dark Souls (at least until the new material becomes console DLC in a few months). There’s a new chapter of the story, including fresh areas, bosses, enemies, and NPCs. As I said above, most players probably won’t finish the game—which was up to 100 hours long to begin with—so it’s not that big of a deal that this version has more of it. But if you’re a hardcore Dark Souls fan, or if you’re confident in your ability to wring every last cent of value out of the game, the Prepare to Die Edition is the way to go.
With its high difficulty, punitive checkpoint system, and trial-and-error gameplay, Dark Souls isn’t for everyone. But with the Prepare to Die Edition, PC gamers finally have a version of Dark Souls to call their own, and longtime fans of the game have some new content to work with. Graphical hiccups aside, that makes this port a success.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
They’re nice, but they merely recreate what was in the console versions. 3.5 Control
The scheme is easy enough to learn on a gamepad. Don’t even think about playing with the keyboard. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Decent voice acting and atmospheric music. 4.2 Play Value
If you don’t mind the ridiculously high difficulty and the lame porting, this will provide days of entertainment. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|