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Dark Souls 2 – PC Impressions

19:0007/05/2014Posted by Dave Stuart3 Comments

The real Dark Souls starts here.

After over a month of anticipation, and much gloating from the console-owning players, those PC gamers who have been holding out for From Software’s hotly anticipated follow up to Dark Souls can finally see what all the fuss was about. The original game become well known for many reasons, one of the least positive of them was the state of the PC version that was initially released in August of 2012. Locked at a low resolution with no graphical options, and lumbered with the burden of Games for Windows Live, it was less than impressive (though to be fair was announced as much owing to From’s lack of PC development experience). Thanks to strong work from the community (and Durante’s DSFix in particular) the game was able to be modded and patched up to a reasonable standard. But all the while it left a lingering doubt about the capability of the studio to deliver on its promises for an improved situation with regards to the release of Dark Souls 2.

After more than a week with the PC version, after already putting 40+ hours into the PS3 version I am happy to announce that this time they have done it right. The PC version of Dark Souls 2 is the definitive version of the game, boasting numerous improvements right of the gate, some subtle, but others that have a big impact on the gameplay and overall experience.

The first thing you notice is that a wide range of resolutions are immediately available to you (even up to 4k if you have a monitor that supports it). There are also screens full of graphical options for you to tweak, and even on my ageing PC I was able to get it running at nearly maxed out settings in 1080p with no problems. Playing through the opening of the game the bump in texture details and resolution is immediately apparent, from the gorgeous coastal views from Majula to the architectural ruins of Heide’s Tower of Flame. Even the Forest of the Fallen Giants benefits from less muddy textures and clearer geometry. Now the game itself is so large and sprawling that the quality of its environments wavers throughout, and this remains. There is no magic fix for the underlying drabness of Brightstone Cove or the Gutter, and equally the torches, whose impact on the game was largely removed before the console release are equally benign here. There are perhaps some slightly better lighting effects, and the game continues to look better when the sconces are lit, but there is no return here to the use of darkness as a gameplay mechanic expect for in very specific sections.

One of the biggest graphical differences however isn’t actually the visuals themselves, but the frame-rate. Running at a solid 60fps the extra smoothness makes a surprising difference to the game. Not only does it make the gameplay experience nicer, but can impact how you play. Attacks are easier to judge, the control of the character more precise. For those dedicated to mastering techniques such as parrying and backstabbing then this is sure to assist. It also just ads a responsiveness to the controls and the camera that you didn’t know was missing until going back to the console version. It’s not completely game-changing, but stacked together these differences start to make a compelling case for the PC version of the game.

Arguable the biggest of these is the load times. On the PS3 warping between bonfires, or waiting to respawn after your umpteenth death, could take upwards of 20-30 seconds. Now this may not sound like a lot, but given the game’s difficulty and therefore frequency of death, and the scale of the world where warping between bonfires is encouraged (and necessary to come back to Majula to level up), it can be a rather frustrating aspect of the game. On the PC the loads are much faster. To the point that even without an SSD in my, nearly 5 year old PC, the game would load between bonfires in a matter of seconds. It’s a massive improvement and meant jumping around the world,a and returning to Majula became much less of a chore. In terms of the online component of the game I have had no problems being summoned, or summoning others into my game as per the console versions of the game, though I have not had any experience of the PvP yet.

So that is the main run-down of the differences in the main game, there are also much improved Mouse and Keyboard control options available when compared to Dark Souls 1 which should make those who favour this input method happy. However the largest question about the PC version of the game largely looks towards the future. In this (http://www.pcgamer.com/uk/2014/04/24/dark-souls-2-modded-durantes-gedosato-enables-downsampling-texture-modding/) article at PC game Durante has already been picking apart the DS2 code with an eye to future improvements, and whilst modding is not built into the game, you can guarantee the community will be working away on making this version of the game even better, and also more customisable depending on your play style.

So overall if you have been holding out for the PC version of Dark Souls 2 then you can breathe a sigh of relief and feel validated by your decision. This quickly became my preferred version and I was surprised by how the little changes to the graphics, frame-rate and load times added up to play a significant part in the gameplay experience itself. As per the first game I am sure this is only the start of a long road where people unpack, explore and update the game themselves in all sorts of interesting ways, and the only way to be a part of that is on the PC at the moment. From Software have more than made up for their past discretions and done the PC community proud. As to where we go from here, well I look forward to finding out.

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