Dark Souls Prepare to Die Edition PC review
Another warning: Dark Souls feels unfair. This demon was nine or ten times my bulk. If I swung my mace, I might chip 28 points from his enormous health bar; if he swung his, he was capable of hacking off more than half of mine.
Some players will give in to the fear – understandably so, when the dark is only partially explored and already hides such terrors – and call for their parents.
I died the first time. I think everyone dies the first time. I was flung backward into stone columns that crumbled under the force.
Dark Souls’ combat has a weighty physicality to it: monstrously powerful foes can smash through all but the strongest shields, and different weapons feel markedly different in use. Spears are jabbed from behind shields, puncturing enemies with an audible pop. Clubs and maces feel heavy and powerful when brought down on heads – especially with a character’s heavy attack (mapped to right-mouse or R2 on a pad). Bows are quick to fire if you have high enough dexterity, daggers can be stabbed into exposed backs for devastatingly powerful and wet-sounding critical hits. Dark Souls’ combat is brutal, tactile, and always tense.
Stumbling to my feet, I raised my shield, but for nothing. My stamina bar was too low, my grip too weak. The demon’s weapon collided with my character’s frame and Dark Souls’ favourite words flashed up on the screen: “YOU DIED.”
Throw your hands up, walk away. How are you ever meant to beat that? With these dodgy keyboard controls that almost necessitate the use of a controller? No one can beat that thing, it’s too tough, it’s unfair. I’m going back to bed.
I don’t blame you. That feeling never goes away. Fifteen hours into Dark Souls, I fought a ten-foot bipedal goat man. He was armed with two vast cleavers, and supported by two vicious dogs. Raising my shield, I could deflect the goat demon’s blows, but staccato bites from his mutts raised my poison gauge to critical levels. Swinging my mace in a wide arc, I crushed the skulls of the dogs, but I was poisoned, losing health as I was backed into a corner. The goat demon reared back to strike. I darted between his legs, aimed a blow at his heel, and promptly keeled over, dead from the dog’s venom. YOU DIED. This is bullshit, I’m turning this off.
I did. And then 20 minutes later, I came back. If I’d rolled forward immediately on entering the goat demon’s lair, maybe I could kill the dogs before they could bite me. If I manipulated Dark Souls’ responsive combat system well enough, maybe I could triumph in the dark.
I died again. Ah, this is bullshit. One more go. I’m six years old and I’ve heard the noise. I can’t go back to sleep. I can’t stop thinking about it.
I’ve finished Dark Souls twice now, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. Remember what I said in my first warning, about the pronunciation of ‘PC game’? That wasn’t entirely true. Dark Souls’ port remains poor – and it uses Games for Windows Live, perhaps the biggest demon of all – but in all other respects, it’s a game with a natural home on the PC. I’ve compared reams of stats. I’ve planned my character build. I’ve ground out the game’s currency – souls from vanquished enemies – in favourable spots. I even worked out the best weapon to scale with dexterity, and killed strange-limbed shells in a giant underground lake for four, five hours at a time just so I could upgrade my Titanite Catch Pole +3 to a Titanite Catch Pole +4. It’s a game that tailors beautifully to the kind of glorious obsession we’re the kings and queens of on PC.
When I first played Dark Souls on console, I discussed my characters with friends. As a Hunter, I rolled away from combat, my bow in a two-handed grip that left no room for my shield. A friend never left the safety of the bonfires without his: a six-foot stone shield, tall enough to hide his Warrior character behind and tough enough to absorb all damage thrown at it. There’s camaraderie in these inevitable discussions: kids meeting on the landing, psyching themselves up to make the trek into the unknown, judging different approaches. Scream forward into the gloom and bash whatever it is with a stick? Sure, might work, but I’ll hang further back and bide my time before launching my assault, thanks.