Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition
AMD Phenom II X2 545
AMD Radeon HD 4870
Once upon a time there was a game called Demon’s Souls and it was as bleak as it was unforgivingly hard. So, of course, people loved it, because those people were console players, gimps every last one of them. Lo and behold, it got a sequel - Dark Souls! It was still a third person fantasy action-RPG that loved killing player characters, only a little less gothic in demeanor. Yet the publishers were under the delusion that they can make some games console exclusive. I’m mostly ticked off because of the third Call of Duty and all of Halo games since the second. But the thing that got the collective knickers of the internet in the bunch was the call to release Dark Souls only on consoles. Some neckbeard rage and internet petitions later, the PC gamer master race was graced with Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition.
In a surprisingly – for a Japanese game - clear and 15 year old feminine protagonist lacking intro it is explained that at the beginning, the world was a bleak and formless place. Much like Manchester. Dragons ruled the place, since, probably, there was no one to oppose them. Then a mysterious Flame appeared and with it came disparity: Light and Dark, Life and Death, Xbox and PlayStation... From the conflagration arose those who would become gods: Nito, First of the Dead and the father of metal album covers; Witch of Izalith and her daughters of chaos who spent their time wondering what exactly was that “Izalith” thing; Gwyn, who looked like king Arthur if he was God; and the furtive pigmy, so easily forgotten that he didn’t even merit capitalization. They killed off the dragons with the help of a traitor dragon and ushered the Age of Fire. Now the flames are dying and those marked with the Darksign come back as the undead. Congratulations! You are one of them, tasked with saving the world and stuff!
Even with all the exploits and strategies, this dragon is one of the toughest enemies there is. His tail, however...
Luckily, you’re not the corpse of some serf and your class definitely won’t be “washerwoman”. There’s a somewhat usual motley of fantasy RPG races. I chose the knight, tough at hitting and able to take a few hits himself, but mostly because his armor is extremely shiny and covers the biggest parts of the invariably butt ugly face. Classes differ in play style and difficulty, yet most are united by ugly clothing. If you can stand looking like a walking garbage pile or Hobo The Pyromancer until you get better duds, you are free to play them.
Your play style will largely depend on which class you chose. Warriors and knights are best at cutting the foes to ribbons with various pointy bits of metal and making angry faces at the enemy over the top of a raised shield. Though whoever thinks that a simple knight’s shield will protect them from an axe twice as big as the player is probably daft or watched too much anime (both?). Expect some dodging and rolling, especially with groups of enemies. Then again, a lucky strike might hit and fell a few of them at the same time. Swords do hit walls, yet I wasn’t that hampered by it. Bowmen are to expect a lot more dodging and rolling while mages should be careful - their uses of spells are limited and are regained by resting at the fireplaces... which bring their own bag of trouble. Also, mages look beyond silly, so that’s a major flaw in their design. Whatever class you choose, it always helps if you soften up your target with flame bombs, throwing knives and other weapons.
Argh! An extradimentional invader dick!
A lot of complaining and praise is heaped on the games supposed cruelty and difficulty, probably by weaklings who never set foot in a Paradox grand strategy game or the original Operation Flashpoint. Yes, the first enemy can kill you, but that is your just reward for being a drooling idiot. Yes, every enemy encounter has the potential to end you if you’re not careful, but after a few hours you’ll know just what to expect and nail down the tactics to approach the enemies. It’s not more difficult than playing Call of Duty on the hardest difficulty. And yes, the bosses will kill you, then again, that what bosses are for – and not keel over from the slightest heroic fart all the while disgorging Epic Loot +1. You’ll try, you’ll die and you’ll think. Eventually you’ll find a way to kill a boss without paying attention that his axe is bigger than you and would chew up half your health in one hit (less, if you had the foresight to play the knight or, you know, dodge). Bosses are made for beating, it’s just that modern gaming has lessened the difficulty of boss encounters.
So, what’s the most difficult thing in Dark Souls? Well, you know how in Dragon Age, you’d save just before the boss battle and reload immediately after you become dragon chowder? Dark Souls teleports you back at the last campsite you visited, only minus your souls (money and XP hybrid) and humanity (improves appearance, loot chance and enables coop). Sure, you can regain the souls if you reach the location of your demise, but! every time you set your undead ass down at the fireplace, the enemies respawn. And there might be a bit of the trek between you and another fruitless attempt to slay the demon/giant knight/eldritch horror. And, you know, a lot of usual, dangerous mooks. Like any gamer who has ever spent an hour constantly reloading a two minute segment in Call of Duty, you know that the more you play a segment, the more careless you get. And if you die before reaching the place of your previous demise, you’ll permanently lose those already lost souls.
This is an undead lady knight. Marvel at her shiny armor!
Luckily enough the enemies respawn so you can reap the money and the experience once more. Congratulations, Japan, you introduced grinding to the PC scene. It is quite annoying to sit down at the fireplace to level up (as boring a level up scheme as I’ve ever seen), repair your stuff, regain humanity or refill your Estus Flask (local health potions, used by the undead) and every undead, demon or worse bastard respawns. It gets tedious after awhile, much like in Groundhog day or that episode of Xena where the day kept repeating itself.
Of course, this will only affect you if you manage to clear the first hurdle of the game - Dark Souls being a very crummy port. Seriously, the amount of effort that didn’t go into making this a pleasant PC experience is staggering. They didn’t even bother to show keyboard keys in tutorial. Oh, sure, game, let me just find “left trigger” on my mouse... My advice is this - look up the control scheme before you play, but don’t try to change or even think about it too much because it will just cause you some major frustration. Just get the gist of it and figure the rest on the fly.
Another thing that signifies that game as the Crappy Port Of The Year are the butt ugly interface textures and the general graininess of the world. Then again, the folks the Dark Souls Nexus are working diligently to fix various issues that arose from the developer’s heads being stuck up their arses. Like, you know, actually texturing arrows. The world, however looks pleasant enough, especially the grand views and vistas. The sound is actually the only part of the game that I have no complaints about, even with the odd voice acting. I can’t call it bad, it is just extremely weird.
I'm not summoning anyone this crazy looking!
One of the things that doesn’t make it easier to like Dark Souls is the use of Games for Windows Live, which is quite annoying and obstructive. Then again, we wouldn’t have the multiplayer component otherwise (probably). Dark Souls is unique with its model of multiplayer. You see, if you have your humanity restored, you’ll find writings on the ground that display the holograms of the people who left them. Sort of like “Help me, l33tH4x0Rz3, you’re my only hope” and you can get the phantom players to help – only this won’t always work. Thank you, GWL. One thing that will work all too well is the Invasions, where another player invades (duh) your game as a black specter gunning for your blood. These can turn nasty real fast, since the other player can outrank you so hard it’s no longer funny. A more benign and much more common form of player to player interaction are the messages you can leave for others. They can be constructed using already given forms and words – since console players don’t have keyboards and free writing would only result in endless questioning of sexual orientation and inept proposals of intercourse. They range from genuine advice to malicious misdirection to the occasional case of humor. Good job, guys!
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is, despite being a textbook example of how no to port a game, a pleasant, unusual and interesting experience. This isn’t your usual western RPG and certainly not a silly JRPG. This is a mature game for hardcore gamers and you will treat it as such.
- Satisfying: Sure, the enemies are hard and can kill you, but this way it’s all the sweeter to see their lifeless bodies hit the floor.
- Long: Especially with all the trial and error.
- Fun combat: You can swing with one hand or both, defend or bash with shield, dual wield crossbows...
- Boss fights: They might be just the thing for you - or just too much to bear.
- Invasions: Might be the straw that breaks a casual gamer’s back.
- Porting: The porting quality is abysmal.