Dark Souls is a game about overcoming challenges, despite very long odds and almost no hand-holding. It can be cruel, it can be harsh, and it can be uncompromising. The same can also be said about how the PC version of the game handles versus the console version.
After Dark Souls came out on PS3 and Xbox 360, gamers petitioned Namco Bandai to put the game on PC and succeeded. The result, despite quite a bit of new content, is a game that’s a challenge for PC players to enjoy at the best of times, or even a challenge to just play at others.
But like other challenges in Dark Souls, they can be overcome through a willingness to adapt and through the help of the game’s community. Whether that’s a failing or a strength is up to you to decide.
Prepare to Die
Many PC gamers choose that platform for two big reasons: better graphics from beefed-up rigs, and superior control and flexibility through the keyboard and mouse. The PC version of Dark Souls, however, gets both of those things wrong right off the bat. The raw image resolution is stuck at a paltry 1024×720, even though the game says you can change the resolution higher. On top of that, the keyboard controls are a nightmare: when you can’t even use Escape to access the menu, the most basic function that all PC gamers are aware of from birth, you know something’s wrong. To make things worse, the in-game help is entirely un-helpful because it tells you what console keys to hit to perform certain actions. How can I “Press A to Interact” when I don’t even know what key A is mapped to?
There are two solutions to those problems. For the controls, buy a gamepad. Don’t even argue. Like choosing to attack an elite knight with a butter knife, you’re not going to go anywhere useful with the keyboard and mouse. If you want to play Dark Souls on PC, the only sane way to do so is with a controller in your hands.
For the resolution problem, the PC modding community has already stepped up and delivered a fix. A mod by NeoGaf forum-goer ‘Durante’ was out within minutes of the game’s launch on Steam, and improves the visual fidelity of the game in a very smart way. The mod is very basic, easy to install, and has so far been rapidly updated to improve things even more. We talked about it here shortly after the game launched, and like buying a gamepad it’s worth it to put that on your to-do list for .
The Next Hurdle
If players overcome those challenges, it’s a good primer for how to handle Dark Souls‘ in-game challenges. If you choose to do things the hard way you’re going to pay for it with time and sanity lost, and if you choose to let the community help you’ll thank them for it later.
This is a game where fun is like a scavenger hunt: it’s out there somewhere and you don’t quite know where, but there are clues and tools that you can use to find it. Nothing is given to the player, outside of basic commands and a few items during character creation and the “tutorial” inside the Undead Asylum, which will still kill you in an instant if you take it for granted. You will at some point overreach what you’re capable of doing, either because the enemies greatly outpace your gear and level or your skills just aren’t up to snuff (the harder-to-admit reality), and the game will remind of your place with a swift and merciless “YOU DIED” screen. Those moments are there for a reason: this is a game built with a lot of structure, but that structure is intentionally hidden from the player to let them get into trouble all on their own, and figure out where they should go from there.
Picking yourself back up from that point is the second biggest challenge for the game. My first character, a sorcerer, was cocksure and lived life on the edge because of her Soul Arrow ability, which let her fire off shots from a distance and escape the bulk of many early enemies’ wrath. Soon I found myself getting into more and more trouble, and dying repeatedly. After taking a break I re-rolled a warrior, took things more cautiously, and started learning how to survive in Dark Souls.
The Dark Souls community has helped quite a bit, and PC gamers are in a much better position to take advantage of it than console gamers when Dark Souls first released. Detailed guides are available for free, many hidden secrets and shortcuts have been revealed, and more knowledge of the game overall exists if players want to take advantage of it. It might seem like taking the easy way out to some, but that’s another lesson: choosing to go the hard way is an option, but you’ll only have yourself to blame if you do.
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die is a challenging game, which some gamers will brush off as “not fun” or “too hardcore.” The challenges added by bringing the game to PC without taking advantage of the actual platform’s capabilities will likewise cause many to pass over purchasing it, and bring its overall worth (and score) down as as result.
As an RPG player, I’ve found the game worth the investment to overcome those challenges. Learning to survive and thrive is no easy task, but when you do drive your sword into your enemy for the last time and find yourself still miraculously breathing, it’s a great feeling.
As is the feeling you get when you go back to areas you’ve already been through, sneak up behind enemies who ambushed you or killed you before, and deliver some merciless lessons of your own.
Speaking of lessons, here’s a few I learned to help you survive along the way.
- You can get multiple heals from one Estus Flask swig by continuing to press the button.
- Talk to NPCs multiple times, before and after you “Un-Hollow” yourself. They have different responses, additional stories or tips to share, and sometimes offer to sell you things or join their covenant.
- You can earn humanity (the number next to your health) naturally by killing lots of monsters without dying, like farming Undead Burg or the Undead Parish, so consider saving humanity items to use like potions.
- Kindling your bonfire gives you more Estus Flask uses, so consider farming humanity to kindle it before taking on the area boss.
- Always fight on your terms. Pull enemies to locations where you have the advantage or escape routes when possible. Pick them off at a distance.
- If you get invaded by a spirit (another player), be wary: some are there to kill you for humanity, others may want to just wave and give you a gift to help out.
- Release date: August 23, 2012
- Genre: Action RPG
- Platform: PC (Steam)
- Developer: FromSoftware
- Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
- Rating: M
- MSRP: $39.99