Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition Previews

A bunch of previews dedicated to the upcoming PC version of Dark Souls has been released today, and they're all courtesy of some hands-on time with the title.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun notes that the port isn't the smoothest, but still urges PC players to give it a chance:
But the PC version has all the problems of the console version. It's not that the game has somehow become worse in translation, it's that the power of the PC hasn't been used to make it any better. In terms of visual design, Dark Souls is stunning, but it's never been at the bleeding edge tech-wise, which is why it's so surprising to see it stutter and crawl on the PS3. In some areas it's not just annoying, it's functionally detrimental. In a game that challenges timing and encourages caution, the framerate can be a killer.

Although I didn't see any huge stutters I didn't see any of the areas that suffered in that way on the consoles. The framerate does fluctuate from place to place though, with some areas noticeably slower than others. There's no reason that a decent PC shouldn't be able to handle what's on screen but the port has been quick and apparently there wasn't a great deal of PC experience to draw on in the team. I'd rather wait longer and see everything outsourced if optimisation can't be achieved internally. Is this a literal case of '˜less haste more speed'?

Keyboard and mouse controls are in and can be completely reconfigured, although I have to admit to a fondness for the gamepad for this one. There's basic visual customisation but the game doesn't look any different to the console versions from what I could tell, though I didn't have them side by side. It's strange to be playing the game on PC at all because even when the petition took off and the possibility grew, it just didn't seem like something that would happen. I imported Demons' Souls back in the day because it didn't seem likely to receive a European release. Now the sequel is coming to Steam in a few days. That's amazing, but and it's the kind of '˜but' Sir Mixalot would admire this doesn't show dedication to our platform. It feels more like taking a look at the premises and deciding whether it's worth sticking around.

To cut to the chase, the frame-rate on consoles has always been a major area of complaint among Dark Souls fans, and the notorious Blight Town or New Londo Ruins areas are usually singled out as the big offenders. The implication of a PC release is obviously that all these problems can be tackled by the brute force of a faster CPU, and though there are very light hitches here and there, it's a relief to say Blight Town now plays without all the constant chugging. The improvement is staggering to those that endured the treacle-like pace of the area on PS3 and 360, already making this version a winning proposition.

There is bad news which could hit PC gamers pretty hit hard, though. While the frame-rate's rough edges have been filed down, you're still going to be playing at 30FPS out of the box, as widely rumoured. A graphics menu has been added in, but there are no obvious ways to raise the bar to the preferable 60FPS mark. In fact, options are pretty meagre overall on this front; you have the standard resolution and refresh rate settings (it does nothing to solve this), and also check-boxes to remove anti aliasing or motion blur. Barebones and to the point.

There's also something curious about the resolution too in that there's no change in clarity when attempting to crank up the settings. On close inspection, it appears that Dark Souls PC uses the very same 1024x720 internal framebuffer as the console versions, regardless of which resolution has been set in the menus. The option provided is for output resolution only; a simple courtesy to allow the game to play on most monitors, but the image quality will always remain the same. In short, PC gamers will very much be getting the genuine console experience here, right down to the pixel.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first thing you encounter upon being sucked into the past is an absolute jerk of a boss, the Sanctuary Guardian. It's a chimeric cross between a lion, a poison-tailed scorpion, a griffin, a ram and a really angry polar bear, and it will f*** you right up if you have it the merest opening. Oh, and it flies, and shoots killer paralysing lightning at you from its face. Even equipped with a fresh level-60 character and a couple of +5 weapons to pick from, it's a monster of a boss, so fast and aggressive that there's rarely time to catch your breath and down an Estus before the thing savages you with a headbutt-and-clawing combo after paralysing you with electricity.

As ever with Dark Souls, it looked almost impossible to beat him at first. After half an hour with the Prepare to Die edition I was facing the very real possibility that I might not be able to get any further. But the Sanctuary Guardian crumbled, eventually, with the help of a greatsword and some very well-timed dodges, and I was hit by that head-spinning wave of adrenaline and relief that every Souls player knows. I knew I'd been drawn back in.

The Sanctuary that the guardian was protecting turned out to be the Sanctuary of Oolacile home of a civilisation that's already been lost to the ages by the time Dark Souls starts. It's a forested area not unlike the hidden place in Darkroot Garden guarded by White Wolf Sif (the wolf with the greatsword between his teeth), with winding forest paths weaving over a yawning, pitch-dark Abyss that seems to be slowly swallowing everything around it. As you approach this cavernous void, there's a growing otherworldly rumbling in your ears that makes your heart rise into your throat.