Dark Souls PC preview
This article originally appeared in issue 241 of PC Gamer UK. For an update on the Dark Souls PC port, read our most recent update from E3. Sadly, it's not all good news.
Dark Souls doesn’t do happy endings. We should have known what to expect. After an avalanche of internet petitions, and much eye-fluttering from publisher Namco Bandai, a PC version with new content is in production. One of the best games in history coming our way? Hot stuff! But the game’s director Hidetaka Miyazaki soon popped up with a bucket of cold piss, and pointed all enquiries towards the publisher.
Miyazaki says that Namco want a “straight port” of Dark Souls’ console version to PC. That means that, aside from the new area, this will be an underwhelming PC version of a classic. There will be no graphics settings, no mod support, the console textures will look horrible on a monitor, it will be recommended that you use a joypad to play, and a general lack of optimisation suggests the original’s technical issues may persist. Asked specifically about the Blighttown area, which runs at a snail-like framerate on consoles, Miyazaki says: “From Software is aware of the issue in Blighttown, so let’s see what happens.” Which isn’t the same as “yes, we’ll fix it”.
There is one last, cruel twist of the knife – the decision to use our friend Games for Windows Live, which seems to have more to do with reusing Xbox Live network code than delivering the best possible PC multiplayer experience. Following yet more petitions, Namco Bandai have said they’re considering other possibilities, so we’ll have to wait and see.
With all of that said, what a prospect. Dark Souls is a ferociously challenging and original action-RPG that makes much of the genre feel redundant. Death and rebirth form the backbone of its journey, and experience is as important as skill – a tight but sprawling world of stories that tie into a breathtaking whole. There’s never been anything quite like Dark Souls on PC before, mainly because there just haven’t been many games like Dark Souls.
The game is played in third person, with a unique combat system and countless offensive options – melee weapons from spears to whips, giant bows, deadly magic or explosive pyromancy. But this is a very deadly game indeed, with common enemies capable of gutting you in an instant, perilous drops always just an evasive roll away, and humongous visionfilling bosses waiting to grind you into paste. They wouldn’t subtitle it Prepare to Die for nothing, would they?
After dying, your character resurrects at the last bonfire they rested at – but they are ‘hollowed’ by the experience, losing all their humanity and souls (basically, currency). Return to the spot of your demise to find a bloodstain that holds them, but die on the way there and they’re gone forever. Dying in Dark Souls is a bit about trial and error. But it’s also about tightrope walking.
The new PC content slots into Dark Souls’ world, a remarkable piece of architecture where everything is self-contained but still links together. Three new areas come with four new bosses (so far), a sprinkling of new enemies, a few more NPCs, and plenty of new melee weapons – but don’t expect to see any of it before reaching Anor Londo, quite a way into the game.
The new areas include Oolacile’s Tomb and the Old Ruins, the name of the first being a big link into Dark Souls’ abundant but hidden mythology. The knight Artorias, a major background figure who never appeared in the original, is lined up as the uber-villain tying everything together, with a story that apparently acts as a prequel to the rest of the game’s events.
Even more significant than the singleplayer additions could be the addition of a basic PvP matchmaking arena, although the developers have emphasised that this should be seen as a bonus. PvP in Dark Souls is brilliant, but it works like all of Dark Souls online – that is, often not very well. The concept behind how things should work is fantastic - involving a set of nine covenants players can join by speaking to certain characters, with crossed objectives and plenty of usurping tricks - but in practice it can be frustrating. Even a simple PvP arena would solve a lot of these headaches, and make finetuning a build that bit more appealing.
Hidetaka Miyazaki says the new PC content will live up to Dark Souls’ punishing challenge, and admits it is tempting to tinker. “There were many things I would have changed in the console versions,” says Miyazaki. “But if you change everything then it won’t be Dark Souls anymore. We’re not going to make any drastic changes.”
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? The Prepare to Die edition may not be exactly what we would have wished for, but the underlying game is a true classic. You end up head-over-heels in love with Dark Souls, even though it hurts you so bad. The PC version looks like it’ll get that much right, at least.