Review by bionicman_3090
"A shoddy port that'd have failed miserably on the pc were it not for the community."
First off, let me say that the score would be in the negative if community-made mods didn't save this game's fate. Right out of the box, the graphics quality is below sub-par, mouse support is non-existent and tool-tips, even though you're using the kb+mouse, is displayed in accordance with the Xbox 360 buttons. The other big problem is the frame-rate. Not only is this game optimized by a bunch of walruses, the frame rate is capped at 30. To make matters worse, for some like me, this fps was capped at 15 and no matter which setting I used, no matter what I did in the graphics card control panel, nothing worked.
Thankfully, mods like DSFix for basically any issue and the DSMFix for mouse support instantly turned this game around for the better. The graphics, though they still look outdated, appear crisp, textures were given a face-lift, mouse controls didn't resemble an unicycle with a rocket engine without any stability supports and tool-tips actually had kb keys displayed in the menus. Thank heavens! So, consider this as an important recommendation - "Don't play the game straight out of the box without mod-fixes".
Once you have rectified all the problems through mods, which take about 15 minutes, the game is truly a marvel. The level design is intricate and very artistic. It's like a mix between medieval and Victorian eras and the marriage is quite dark, brutal, gritty and yet charming in an evil way. Every location that you look at puts a large helping of "Awe" in your gaping mouth and quickly turns into reality - a reality of, "Ok, this is amazing to look at but why do I get the feeling that I'm going to die in this level very soon?". Indeed, every level is so devastatingly sadistic, be it 'cause of the enemy spawn-points, dangerous foot-holds or traps. Without the graphics enhancement from the mod, all of the visual glory would've been lost.
Sound effects and tracks are sublime. You have everything from steel tearing through flesh to beefy, unnatural-but-very-pleasing chug-of-the-chest sound of a parry. The eerie, bleak locations boast of ambient effects that adds to the atmosphere and when you do hear the soundtracks at specific instances (like boss battles and so on), the music is quite the ear-candy and will leave a mark on you for a long time to come.
Dark Souls was applauded 'cause of its game-play. I'll tell you that it is very challenging. The combat deserves a lot of praise as it mainly demands full concentration from the player's end while making the equipment compliment which ever play-style that you choose. The combat feels realistic, versatile and very satisfying. Different weapons have different move-sets, even changing with which hand you hold the weapon in including shields. The weight of your equipped set of items will realistically slow you down, making you choose between combat effectiveness and survival. Armor and weapons are crafted to perfection in the sense that, they're highly detailed.
You get to play with an amazing number of equipment types ranging from Swords, Daggers, Spears, Whips, Maces, Axes, Light and Heavy armors, Robes, Talismans (which are used to cast Cleric-style spells), Catalyst (used to cast sorcery-based spells) and Shields. Some of them, like the Swords, have different variations like Curved, Straight, Great-swords, etc. There are thrown items like knives and crude bombs reminiscent of the Victorian era. In short, you have so many options here that you can easily build a character resembling any archetype. I managed to create a very close copy of Prince of Persia, full with dual-wielding curved swords and a dagger and the whole nine-yards. You have consumable items and Rings with different stats as well.
Role-playing-wise, apart from being able to create any type of character you want, there isn't much to speak of. Frankly, in a Action RPG, these rp elements are pretty weak. I can only think of The Witcher 2, from recent memory, for being an action RPG and still delivering rp elements through the story. Dark Souls doesn't match the caliber of The Witcher 2's story and rp elements but offers a few choices in that department in terms of the covenants that you can join but in the broad perspective of the story, it's pretty non-existent apart for the ending where you have two options. In terms of free-roaming, yes, you can go where you please but the claustrophobic levels and enemies in certain areas being very high level than you, those options are cut short but that's not to say that if you're skilled enough, you can go anywhere to do anything.
Game play wise, it's a typical action rpg where you level up, spend points on desired stats, buy and trade items, create your own weapons and so on. The whole game revolves around collecting souls. The souls act like exp points as well as gold. You get souls for killing enemies and you can loot them from the already-dead as well as from NPCs if you kill them.
The entire premise of the game is about learning the patterns and adapting to the enemies. Since you don't have quick-saves and the game is so unforgiving, every small mistake heaps a lot of misery on you. You lose your hard-earned souls but thankfully, you don't lose items that you've collected and when you get resurrected, you'll have a chance to reclaim the lost souls, provided that you don't die again before you activate blood-stain of your death. That said, YOU WILL DIE. A LOT. OVER AND OVER AGAIN. If you treat this game without patience, you'll naturally break something valuable and lose all the joy that you can get from playing Dark Souls. If you're willing to be patient, learn to read and memorize the patterns and be cautious, you'll appreciate the difficulty and at the same, smile at its simplicity.
The game can be played both online and offline. What I mean is, if you start the game in online mode, you can encounter other players, can invade their worlds or be invaded, summon them to help you with bosses and so on. If you start in offline mode, it's just you and the cpu. The online works sort of like a private dungeon in a MMO game. You join one of the game's covenants and invade players of the rival covenant or protect your turf from the rivals. You obviously get rewarded for such actions which you miss out on if you stay offline. The kicker is that this game uses the dreaded GFWL. Which in turn means most of the time, your desire for invasion fails, your wish to summon a friend to help you won't become a reality and you'll be subject to GFWL glitches.
As an ending note, please remember to install the must-have community-made mods before playing the game. Only then can you truly appreciate Dark Souls on the PC. That said, if you can't be bothered to be patient and learn the game, you won't enjoy it anyway. However, if you give it a chance, you'll encounter some wonderful levels, challenging boss battles, truly intuitive combat and a neatly unfolding story.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/11/12
Game Release: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition (US, 08/23/12)
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