Dare I travel alone into the unmapped depths of Lordran yet again, in search of souls and to carry out my destiny? Last year Dark Souls handed me my arse on many occasion, though I still came back for more and even after completion I sought out the PS3 exclusive Demons Souls for even more punishment. So yeah, you could say I like pain. So with the extended PC version finally arriving I pick up my broken sword yet again and make my way through the Undead Asylum to free my soul and take on all matter of beasties.
Never before has a subtitle summed up a game so well; Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition, a game that will own and humiliate but will forever stay in my heart as one of the best games of a generation. Walking back into the dark and twisted world of Lordran felt like a homecoming, tight controls, an initiative upgrade and armour selection screen and of course, being felled by the first skeleton you come across as I try to remember the natural rhythm the game, all has been perfectly ported over from the console versions.
The story of Dark Souls is quite unique in that it sets up a very brief premise that the world of dragons was all but destroyed following the rise of humans and four beings of extreme power, leaving you, a recently deceased warrior to defeat them; but then leaving you to just plod on through the world's many areas, piecing together scraps of information and slowly unlocking new areas to finally carry out your destiny. It's a little unnerving at first, with so many deaths it's not clear if you are doing the right thing or even going the right way as there are numerous different directions to take from the game's "hub" Firelink Shrine, one of the only safe places you will find in this unforgiving land. But little by little, you make your way through the swaths of enemies, desperately hoping a bonfire is there to save your progress, but even then it's not so simple.
One of the earliest and hardest choices is right at the start of the game, the character selection; not really knowing what to expect, it is very hard to make your mind up from the selection from the likes of a warrior, thief, wanderer, bandit, hunter, cleric or pyromancer; they each have their own attributes to consider so in the end go for your usual play style, if you prefer swinging swords and axes go for warriors, ranged should try bandits and if you enjoy the more magical side, try clerics and sorcerers, there is no wrong choice. Even after your initial choice you still have plenty of opportunities to improve certain areas of your character by upgrading their stats.
Though initially starting the game with just some rags for clothes and a broken sword, you will soon discover a treasure trove of weapons to collect and upgrade. Armour and weapons not only look great but each has its own traits. Some offer resistance to poison or fire while others boost magical spells and health. Every weapon also has its own feel, some allow for piercing attacks, others large sweeping arcs and they come in many varieties, you don't just get a sword, you can have straight swords, great swords, broadswords, katanas, again each with their own movement style; add to that a huge selection of daggers, axes and spears you will never be left unarmed. It's not all up close and personal with bows and arrows, crossbows, throwing knives and explosives to hand and if you do not want to be all in the enemies face then you can try out the wealth of magic and miracles available, with catalyst or talisman in hand you can throw fireballs, poisonous clouds and homing soul arrows and also boost your health, become invisible or create magical barriers to protect yourself.
Dark Souls is all about exploration and opening up new areas, be it from defeating a boss, locating a hidden key or just finding a secret passage by luck, but you certainly won't get 100% of the game through the first play through, in fact it can take many to get to see every nook and cranny of the world, with every play though getting harder and harder but granting you even more wonderful weapons, armour and magic by way of visiting the many blacksmiths and master mages littered around the world. Just don't make the mistake I made and use a demons soul, or even worse, kill a blacksmith; it will hinder your chances greatly.
The strange nature that is the online aspect of Dark Souls returns, though it will be a little easier to understand as you now have the ability to use microphones made possible thanks to third party applications, so you you can now attempt to arrange teaming up and talk tactics against some of the more imposing bosses rather than use the game rather pointless and confusing gesture system. Early on in the game you earn specific stones and orbs that grant different abilities in the online world when you use them; orange stones let you leave hints and tips whilst white stones allow you to mark and request help from a phantom player to assist you. These start you off well, though the summoning can be hit and miss, but I have found if you join a specific covenant this rectifies most problems. Other stones and orbs allow for a player versus player (pvp) approach to the game, granting you the opportunity to invade another players worlds as a red phantom and try to kill them, fail and they get a nice bonus, triumph and you earn much sought after souls to assist with upgrading your character and again, depending on your covenant of choice, even more rewarding goodies.
Though the action itself is unchanged from the console editions, rather than a straight port of a year old game, FromSoftware have included a few extras to sweeten the deal for PC gamers in the way of additional content which is available much later in the game. There is reason for this, it is very hard, with a new area, boss and even a whole new PVP area, owners of the original Dark Souls will get a lot more out of this version. Console owners fear not as you have not been forgotten as these extra elements will be arriving in the form of DLC in the near future.
I have mentioned a few times that this is a port of the console game and this is sadly going to be an issue with many PC gamers as even with the extra content, this is no different in looks to the original. Surprisingly, from the box the graphics can't really be tweaked much further than what we are already seeing on the console versions. Not particularly an issue per-se as the game still looks and plays beautifully, but enough to upset a few. However if you search around the internet there are already fixes being released that will allow you to increase the resolution, making it look even better than before. Though I have had no issues with this in the past, I am aware of many naysayers when it comes to the Games For Windows Live requirement. I personally don't understand the issue with GFWL, I like the fact that it links up all my Xbox 360 achievements and friends lists but there are a lot of haters out there, so do bare that in mind when purchasing. Whilst on the negatives, being a port of a console game, there are no real decent keyboard and mouse settings so I strongly recommend a controller for this title.
Like I said earlier, all these little things are not really an issue with the gameplay itself as it is still an amazing title; the console versions were not perfect, struggling with frame rate dips at certain areas of the game, however I did not see this as a negative, but more like my old Xbox was taking a well-earned breath in-between the constant battles. Well the PC version takes it all in its stride, with no slowdown at all even in the action heavy areas, so to me, with this and all of the extra content, Prepare to Die Edition is the definitive version of Dark Souls.
PC gamers petitioned for Dark Souls to be made available on their home computers and FromSoftware have given us exactly that. A great game that now has the chance to be my game of the year for two years running.
Words by Ash Buchanan.
Review Policy (Version tested: PC)