Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition in the test - so beautiful can die!

Author: Florian Heider
Date: 2012-09-08 09:55:00
Four destroyed gamepads, two crashed monitors and a bitten keyboard cable. Giant rats in the editorial office? No, Dark Souls has finally been released for the PC! Our test shows why suffering is sometimes really worthwhile.

In the action role-playing game from the Japanese developer From Software, death is our constant companion, sits on our neck, lurks on every corner. We get caught every five minutes, sometimes the Grim Reaper takes his time, even makes us think we can escape him this time. Just to kick our asses so hard.

Ten months after the console version, this beast is now released by a game on the PC and bears the appropriate name Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition . In the luggage: A completely new, PC-exclusive area with new opponents, equipment, powerful bosses, as well as a new, second PVP mode.

The zombies are going on in Lordran

Dark Souls sends us into the world of Lordran, which is haunted by the curse of the undead. Anyone who thinks that we are going to fight as a bright hero to stop the walking dead is wrong, because we ourselves are a revenant. At the start of the game, we bumble in an asylum where the undead are crammed together.

However, our stay is not long, a mysterious stranger throws the cell key at our feet through a hole in our dungeon. After escaping the place of our captivity, we are tasked with ringing the two bells of revival to learn more about the fate of the undead. You already notice: Dark Souls tells its story in a minimalist way, doesn't offer it like a party snack on the serving plate. But attentive players can sometimes experience facets of the plot between the lines and in hidden details that hurried fighters remain hidden.

In contrast to games like Skyrim , in which we are literally flooded with information about the game world and its inhabitants, From Softwares work suggests a lot, but speaks little. How we interpret the sparse, cryptic details about what is going on in Lordran is up to us. This may have a negative effect in other titles, but here the unconventional narrative works excellently. Rarely before in a game have we had the omnipresent feeling of being completely on our own and fighting against the rest of the world with our backs to the wall.

Already during the character creation we are given only a little information on the way. There are basically ten different classes to choose from, from warriors to clerics. Although their equipment differs from the initial gameplay, in the course of the adventure there is the possibility to adapt the protagonists to our wishes. We can also choose a gift before the game starts that we will carry with us from now on. We have to find out for ourselves what the amulet or binoculars are and when they can be used sensibly.

Swap souls for stabbing weapons

During our escape from prison, staged as a kind of mini-tutorial, we take the first unarmed inmates of the asylum to our chests. We get souls for every enemy killed. We can later use these to either buy equipment and items from smiths or traders, or use them to improve our skills, which will help us to level up.

Enchanting natures rely on intelligence, if you prefer to swing a powerful two-handed sword, you should pay attention to your strength. So far, so classic. But with enough diligence, time and souls, we can individualize our character almost as we like and create, for example, a fireball hurling on the head.

Level increases are only possible on special beacons. These are distributed all over Lordran and also serve (among other things) as reset points - we can forget about free storage. Here our healing potions automatically refill.

Before we leave the asylum, there is the first boss fight. Even inexperienced and full of zest for action, we jump towards the giant demon with our weapon drawn - and fail miserably. This is so wanted by the game, there is no decrepit dragon here that we can rivet at level one. We have to find another way, in the fight the cattle is (still) hardly to be conquered. From the following beacon we set out again, murmuring vengeance, when we noticed that all the souls that we had collected had disappeared. Damn it!

Tough game elements

The missing souls, i.e. our experience points for exchanging and leveling up, are by no means a bug, but a particularly "mean" game element: When we die, our collected souls remain at the place of passing away and can be removed by us after we walked back to the place of our death, resumed. However, if we cross the Jordan again without reaching the souls beforehand, they will be lost forever.

No problem, we think, let's just go carefully, return to the beacon after every defeated enemy and save our progress. However, our idea is nipped in the bud, because after every rest, with the exception of the final bosses, all enemies can be found again.

Does it sound mean? It is! But that's exactly what makes the game so appealing. If you want to be successful in Dark Souls, you have to familiarize yourself with them, learn from the mistakes you have made and go to work with extreme caution. Where we initially blindly run into each trap, we take care after a while. We climb stairs with a raised shield, we watch every enemy, no matter how inconspicuously, before the attack with argus eyes and we even check the authenticity of treasure chests, because in this world without hope, the little that glitters is by no means always gold.

Fun dying

That Dark Souls is also a lot of fun is due to the precise and well thought-out combat system at all times. If you are not ready to block and evade, to wait for gaps in the opponent's defense, then to start with a well-calculated strike, but instead hope for success with a hammer, you will be doomed from the start.

But even with a tactically wise approach, caution should be exercised, because every block, every evasive role and every stroke costs valuable endurance, which has to be regenerated again. How often did we find ourselves at the beacon because we struck too often in the frenzy of fighting and had no more time left for retreating. The fights never degenerate into blunt beating orgies, but can only be survived with the right tactics.

It is particularly risky to intercept blows, to counter them and also to want to deal maximum damage. It rarely works without perfect timing and a cool head in the heat of the moment.

The absolute highlight of Dark Souls turns out to be the tough battles against the often huge and spectacularly staged boss opponents. If after ten minutes of fighting with a kite we still have to suffer a defeat, it may be devastating, but there is little to compare with the absolute euphoria that arises when we finally send the shed cattle into the eternal hunting grounds after a few attempts - Hallelujah!

Lonely together

Dark Souls also donates a multiplayer mode that could not be more suitable. Everywhere in the game world we come across small texts scribbled on the floor. These come from fellow players, can contain tips and hints, or - in particularly common cases - lay wrong tracks. Players?

Yes, because if we decide to switch from the undead to the human form during the course of the game, other players can join our game at any time. Either to play with us co-op against boss opponents, or to ambush us from behind. By the way, we can also write such information ourselves after buying a so-called orange soapstone.

Every now and then we also find blood stains that we activate and experience the last few seconds of a fellow sufferer's life. This can often be quite helpful, as it not infrequently draws our attention to traps that we might otherwise have missed.

Beautiful new world

In addition to the content already known from the console version, the PC port of Darks Souls offers a completely new, optional area with new opponents, equipment and bosses, which integrates perfectly into the dark world. This expansion extends the already lavish playing time from around 60 to 80 solo hours by another five to ten.

Here we also find the new PVP area, where you can put each other on the hat via duel, deathchmatch or team deathmatch mode. During our (early) test phase, however, no human opponent was seen there.

This may also be due to the fact that the PVP mode cannot be selected directly from the main menu. If you want to use the battle arenas, you have to go there incomprehensibly. Incidentally, the new section is also not accessible from the start, but only opens at a relatively later point in the game.

PC port from hell

Dark Souls may be an incredibly dense, gripping and atmospherically outstanding game, on the technical side it is not exactly covered with fame. Control with the mouse and keyboard can only be described as catastrophic, even with good will.

The camera controls imprecise, the Windows mouse pointer is a constant companion, the standard key assignment can be safely forgotten and on top of that, only the gamepad buttons are shown in the game instead of the keyboard commands. Without (Xbox) gamepad little or nothing works here. Then, however, the control works famously after a short familiarization period. Above all, we can conduct the varied and sophisticated fights with the pad precisely and quickly.

PC porting also has clear deficits in the graphics area. The maximum resolution can be increased to 1920x1080, but the image only scales up to the native resolution of 1024x720. This makes the textures extremely muddy and the low sharpness of the surroundings is noticeable. An absurdity, precisely because the title actually looks very coherent graphically.

Interestingly, a community patch has now been released that addresses the resolution problem. However, we wonder why From Software couldn't fix this error itself.

In addition, the game now and then makes strong frame rate drops. Particularly annoying because Dark Souls, on the other hand, refuses to run faster than 30 frames per second.