Developer: From Software / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games / Played on: PC / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Violence]
I can understand the revulsion longtime PC gamers felt when reading the “terrible” news about Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. I’d hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as it sounded — internal resolution locked at 1024×720, frame rate locked at 30FPS, Games for Windows Live, etc. It’s all true, but it also doesn’t matter. Dark Souls offers an experience that is one of gaming’s most profound, against which port issues are trivial. Yes, Prepare to Die is a quick and minimal port, but refusing to play it on that basis is absurd.
One could, and many have, write volumes about the gameplay depth of Dark Souls. Instead of dealing with specifics, and especially since Prepare to Die is a port, I’ll just hit the high points. Dark Souls is a third person action RPG in which you’re not told how to play or what to do and you’ll probably die a lot. It sounds terrible, but the process of exploring the game’s world and gaining experience about the game’s mechanics is deeply rewarding. Additionally, the game’s combat and enemies provide ridiculous amounts of depth. Magic casters must use different tactics to fight bosses while heavy, slow characters need completely different skills. Simply put, it’s one of the best action RPGs ever made.
But you’re probably reading this because you’re either curious about the new content added to the game in Prepare to Die or you’re curious about the quality of the port. I’ll deal with the more dramatic issue first – the port quality. There’s no sugar coating it, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die is a crappy port. The aforementioned graphics options don’t make the game look bad, but it falls well short of the potential of PC hardware. The game does support mouse & keyboard controls, but the mouse support in the game is extremely awkward. When controlled with the mouse, the camera is extremely sluggish and jerky, and while you can rebind all the keyboard controls, it just doesn’t fit. Being a Games for Windows Live game, it has full support for a 360 controller (which is how the game is meant to be played anyway). Controller play is less awkward, but you can’t re-bind the controller at all. What you have is a nearly direct port of a 360 game on the PC, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
On a brighter note, the content added to Prepare to Die is exceptional. In typical Dark Souls fashion, accessing it is a mystery unto itself. It’s worth it though, because the new content not only gives you a good 3-5 hours (depending on skill) of new content and areas, but also a fascinating look into the past of the Dark Souls world. The new environments cover the spectrum: thick forests, derelict cities, and an especially creepy underground cave rival the best of Dark Souls. The new content is fantastically organized as well. Bonfires are spaced evenly and an efficient set of elevators provide shortcuts back to merchants and hub checkpoints. Both thematically and mechanically, the Prepare to Die content shows a maturation of content from the original game.
The new content also includes a PvP arena, and I’d like to tell you how it works, but with an hour of cumulative effort I never got a single match to start. You can participate in 1v1, 2v2, or four-player free for alls that take place in a small arena map. To start, you must walk on a glowing square and wait for the other spots to fill out. In keeping with Souls style, you don’t get any info about how many people are waiting in which area, or which glowy square you should stand on. It supposedly puts red glowing circles next to waiting areas where players are waiting, but it doesn’t help much in getting a match going. Ultimately, the PvP is negligible simply because it’s so wonky. Just stick with invading other players for your PvP thrills.
I’m no Dark Souls lore hound, but I can tell there’s a lot of fascinating story hooks in Prepare to Die that will give story buffs plenty to think about. The new content takes place in Oolacile and reveals the backstory behind Dusk and the knight Artorias, which is a really cool approach when most of the Dark Souls backstory is revealed through item descriptions. Rather than piece it together from story nuggets you get here and there, Prepare to Die lets you experience the backstory firsthand. The story itself is pretty cool too; watching Artorias sacrifice himself to corruption and meeting a new stone-cold badass is worth the price of admission. There’s even a completely mysterious new character that comes from a wildly different time in the Dark Souls-iverse that reminds me a lot of Boba Fett — one of those quiet assholes with an unknown backstory. All told, there’s a lot of story density in the new content that adds a lot of context and substance to the game.
As previously mentioned, the visuals in Dark Souls fall well short of their PC potential, but in a way, the PC’s potential is its saving grace. A member from the community has already opened up the rendering resolution on the game with an easy-to-install mod, and my god does it look gorgeous. Dark Souls scales fantastically and a true 1080p resolution brings the game’s environments to life. Prepare to Die also passes what I had personally called the “Blighttown” test. In the original Dark Souls, the frame rate dipped below 10 in certain areas of the game, but on a sufficiently power PC it cranks out an even 30 FPS the whole time. It’s the way Dark Souls is meant to be played.
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is one of the worst PC ports I’ve played. It’s also one of the best games ever made, so don’t let a few trivial issues push you away. If you play with a 360 controller and install the resolution fix, it’s every bit the game that you might have imagined when you first heard the game was coming to PC.