Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition review
Lordran changes people. Indeed, the world of Dark Souls does nothing if not leave an impression on anyone who steps foot into its kingdom. Lordan is cold, unfeeling, and uncompromising. It's skeletons will slice you to pieces, bores will impale your organs, and rats will infest you with disease. With the PC release of Dark Souls fresh in our minds, it was time to revisit this unforgiving land. I couldn't have been more excited.
My quest to re-enter Lordran was arduous. It seemed Dark Souls's reputation for being difficult had extended to simply launching the game. Every time I booted it up, the game window just hanged. Clicking anywhere on the screen would cause it to lock up and I would be forced to restart it. After about an hour of research, the shockingly appropriate solution presented itself. All I needed was patience. After letting the game's boot process take its course -- a course that lasts 2-3 minutes every time I start it -- I was finally prepared to die.
The problems with PC port are immediately apparent when you hit the title screen. The Windows default mouse icon hasn't even changed. No special Dark Souls icon for this port, but more importantly, the cursor never goes away. The entire time you play Dark Souls you'll be forced to notice the iconic Windows mouse arrow bouncing around the environment. Even during combat and exploration. It's a horrendous distraction that is indicative of the kind of port we have here.
As if the cursor wasn't bad enough, the controls themselves are a disaster. Dark Souls was designed for a controller, and the port must assume the player has a PC controller handy. Without one, the game is nearly unplayable. Dark Souls is all about precise movement, quick reaction times, and thinking on your feet. These techniques become nearly impossible when mouse movement seems to jerk around unevenly, menu navigation feels half-unfinished, and the default keymapping is nonsensical. The game plays fine with a 360 controller plugged in, but the keyboard and mouse controls appear to overcomplicate an already difficult game.
Dark Souls's trip to PC keeps the game nearly untouched, for better and for worse. The port leaves many of the problems of the original version in tact. The tiny bearer's ring, a gift you can choose at the start of the game, still erroneously states in the creation menu that it will regenerate health over time. In reality, The ring only boosts your maximum health. Covenants, arguably the most interesting piece of the Dark Souls puzzle, are still a mystery to anyone not combing the Dark Souls wiki for information. Important mechanics such as kindling, reversing hollow, and summoning players remain unexplained. Dark Souls is great because of the mystery and wonder it presents, but it's a shame that the developers didn't use this PC port as an opportunity to clean up the rough edges.
It's not all bad news, however. Perhaps the biggest difference between the PC and console versions of Dark Souls is the frame rate. In the console versions, there are several areas throughout the adventure that drop to unacceptable levels of fps; there are whole sections of the game that feel like slideshows. The PC version, while still not an entirely smooth frame experience, is greatly improved. Even in Blighttown, an area infamous on consoles for being sluggish, the PC journey is primarily a smooth one. The frame rate will drop occasionally, but only for a second or two.
Despite the port's issues, it didn't take long for me to get right back into the Dark Souls vibe. Rolling around the environment to marvel at the over-the-top ragdoll physics, planning escape routes as a black phantom invades, placing "Praise the Sun" exclamations after difficult boss rooms -- this is the heart of Dark Souls. For all of the problems the port has, it retains everything that made the original version great. Additionally, thanks to the improved frame rate, the complex landscapes no longer suffer from unbearable presentation.