By – John Williamson

Dark Souls II PC Review Th

Video Games have matured over the years to provide an experience which revolves around a enriching narrative through more accessible gameplay.  In the early days, home consoles contained nothing more than rudimentary versions of arcade games designed to procure every penny in your wallet.  As video games grew in popularity, it became apparent that the unfair difficulty spikes would alienate new players and frustrate them before they became infatuated with a particular series. The industry today is awash with titles which are far too easy on the standard difficulty setting. However, there are developers out there aiming to shake up the market and reintroduce punishingly difficult games.

From Software, makers of Demon Souls and Dark Souls specialize in masochistic titles that are brutally difficult but also remarkably fair.  This combination makes the gameplay exceedingly satisfying and rewards a persistent approach.  Dark Souls was originally a console exclusive which eventually came to the PC after a successful petition. The final version though was plagued by technical shortcomings and inadequate controls. Ironically, the gifted modder, Durante managed to fix most of these problems within 24 hours. Thankfully, Dark Souls II has a much better PC release and builds on the aspects that made Dark Souls magical.

In Dark Souls II, you are afflicted by a dastardly curse and must accumulate as many souls as feasibly possible to overcome this grisly disease.  These souls are scattered throughout the realm of Drangleic and require you to defeat minor enemies and gargantuan bosses.  This concept lends itself to exploration as you uncover every orifice of the Dark Souls’ kingdom and scavenge for souls in remote places.  The unyielding desire to find each and every soul adds a feeling of tension and heightens the atmosphere during fighting sequences.

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Dark Souls II’s landscape is desolate and spine-chilling when you explore dark and unfamiliar areas. This often disorientates you and creates an increased feeling of vulnerability. This is not the complete picture though as every so often you will encounter an incandescent part of the world.  Areas such as The Forest of Fallen Giants are beautifully lit and incorporates reflections which emanate light into your field of view.  Unlike its predecessor, Dark Souls II adopts a less unified approach and attempts to vary the scenery.

The diverse setting is less intimidating in comparison to Dark Souls I. The kingdom of Lordran in Dark Souls 1 was murky and evocative through its sombre lighting model.  In contrast to this, Drangleic feels almost like a safe haven as the world appears more upbeat.  The illuminated areas negate a sense of pessimism and creates an experience which isn’t as daunting.

Throughout Dark Souls II, you will encounter a wide range of devious hazards designed to quash your character when you least expect it.  There are a whole host of traps hidden in treasure chests which will either kill or incapacitate you.  For instance, an arrow chest reveals a crossbow when opened that instantaneously fires a five-way spread of crossbow bolts in 3 separate waves.  Poison trunks are disguised as regular chests that can be empty or filled with undesirable items.  Each poison chest releases a sudden burst of toxic gas when opened and has the ability to kill you as its impact lasts for a significant amount of time.
The only means to survival is through curing items which constructs an effective antidote. You also have to be wary of hidden enemies who blend into the shadows and wait for your arrival.  The game keeps you on tenterhooks as your character constantly feels threatened by the eerie surroundings.

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There is a greater sense of interactivity in Drangleic which brings the kingdom to life and reiterates a perception that you are exploring an evolving world.  For example, you can forcibly knock over tree trunks to create a bridge and access areas that seemed inaccessible  Small touches such as the blades of grass slowly moving against your footsteps emphasises the need to move in a gradual and astute manner.  Your enemies are desperate hunters and attuned to any major differentiation in volume levels.  The world can be claustrophobic which requires you to carefully assess the perils of a specific area.  Attacking a group of enemies in an enclosed space is foolish as you are quickly surrounded and become an easy target.  Large and cumbersome weapons are rendered ineffective within tight spaces because you tend to hit a surrounding wall during heavy strikes.

The agonizing difficulty level has been somewhat curtailed as enemies no longer infinitely respawn.  In the original Dark Souls, there was a savage failure state which forced you to keep replaying sections until completion.  Dark Souls II rewards players who persevere and eventually removes enemies if you fail enough times.  This allows players who aren’t as skillful to progress in the game without prolonged frustration.  However, Dark Souls afficionados will be fairly disappointed in this decision because it detracts from the need for perfection. Other changes include the ability to fast travel between previously discovered locations.  Initially, I was dismayed by this as it appeared to discourage exploration.

This seemed a peculiar move because the game is based upon exploration and using the player’s inquisitive nature to find lost souls.  However, after a few hours, you quickly realise that the vast and open world requires a fast travel feature. From Software designed this in mind so you could freely move to every minute aspect of the map without being slowed down through long, arduous journeys on foot. Subsequently, this makes you more inclined to investigate remote areas and secrets hidden throughout Drangleic.

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Despite this more casual approach, dying shouldn’t be taken lightly and still massively impacts on your overall progress. Dark Souls II takes a sadistic pride in punishing you for repeat mistakes. If you keep dying on the same section, your maximum health will deplete by a silver.  It is possible to partially reverse these effects using a Human Effigy item. These special potions are frightfully uncommon and should only be used in emergencies. As such, it is imperative to learn from your mistakes and attempt a different tactic.  However, one could theorize that this may jeopardize later moments in the game that are designed to be a major test of your skills and require multiple attempts to complete.

From Software has taken this into account and restricted the extent to which your health can decrease.  This is a cogent mechanic which is extremely balanced and keeps the gameplay flowing for players of various skillsets.  Dark Souls II employs a larger map size which makes the experience feel more solitary as enemies appear in sporadic bursts.  In my opinion, this heightens the your anxiety and increases a sense of being isolated with unparalleled danger around every corner.  You often experience a feeling of the unknown that sends your brain into a state of irrational paranoia.  From a psychological point of view, what your brain perceives is often worse than the reality.  In brief, the reduction in enemies accentuates Dark Souls II’s horror elements.

The combat system has been slightly modified but still requires a clinical and precise strategy.  You have to make each strike count and counterpunch any huge swings from your enemies.  Dark Souls has always adopted a slower fighting model than most RPGs and rewards players who find the balance between offensive and defensive tactics.  This eliminates the luck factor as button bashing is rendered ineffective.  One major change from Dark Souls is the ability to dual wield which adds a lot of versatility to your attack patterns.  However, this added weight makes it virtually impossible to block oncoming strikes unless you use a parrying weapon such as a rapier.  The only other means of defense comes from sidestepping and dodging enemy attacks through your movement.

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Dark Souls II’s stamina meter has been refined and makes your character behave in a more realistic fashion.  In the original game, you could easily swing one handed weapons for 6-7 times without depleting your stamina gauge.  Dark Souls II takes a different approach and reduces the amount of strikes to 3-5.  This increases the importance of each attack and teaches you to improve your timing and accuracy during a menacing battle.  Blocking or rolling also reduces your overall stamina to a lesser extent.  Even casting magic will have a negative impact on your stamina so must choose a wise strategy and take into consideration the effects of your decision.  This can be a little daunting at first, but almost becomes second nature with experience.

In total, there are 31 boss battles littered throughout the Dark Souls 2 universe designed to test your wits in herculian bouts of courage.  Each boss has a set weakness which you must exploit at all costs.  For example, the Flexile Sentry is vulnerable against lightning and poison attacks.  In contrast to this, another boss entitled, “The Royal Rat Vanguard” is extremely weak against fire strikes. In fact, dishing out a large dose of fire attacks makes this boss incredibly easy to defeat.  This a problem that extends to other bosses too as they can be far too easy if you adopt the correct approach.  The bosses also lack variety and become a bit monotonous towards later stages of the game. Frankly, I was feeling a little dejected mid-way through Dark Souls II because of the aforementioned issues.

The original Dark Souls game was notorious for being a woefully inadequate port which at times bordered on being unusable. Thankfully, Dark Souls II fairs much better in terms of higher resolution support and optimization.  There are options for Texture Quality, Shadow Quality, Effects Quality, AA, Motion Blur, Camera Motion Blur, AF, SSAO, Depth of Field, Water Surface Quality, High Quality Character Rendering and Model Quality.  As you can see, the game features a highly proficient set of options.

Darks Souls II Review 5

Nevertheless there are still a few grievances in regards to the settings and their presets.  The AntiAliasing can only be turned on or off with no specific choices to select the type of AA you want to use.  Obviously, you can manually force your preferred method of AA via the graphics card control panel. The AF is increased in three obtuse increments from low to strong. I would have preferred a more standardized system containing options for x2-x16.  On a brighter note, the game does support 2560×1400 and has a windowed mode. The performance levels are rock solid at 60fps on maximum settings and most semi-modern PCs should be able to attain this without any problems. Dark Souls II is locked to 60fps so users with a 120hz or 144hz monitor will not be getting the optimum from their hardware.

From a graphical standpoint, Dark Souls II is underwhelming and fairly inconsistent at times.  The colours can look a little washed out and lacking in definition.  Also, I found the texture quality to be fairly disappointing and not what you would expect from a PC game in 2014.  Oddly enough, there are certain moments especially in well lit areas that look absolutely stunning.  Hopefully, with the right mods, Dark Souls II could be a beautiful game.

The previous game was marred by horrendous controls on launch and was unplayable without a controller.  Unfortunately, the same issues persist in Darks Souls II which makes playing with the keyboard and mouse a chore.  First of all, the menus and prompts show Xbox 360 controller buttons instead of keys which you have already preconfigured. Finding the correct key requires you to enter the options menu and look at key bindings. This is a ridiculously over complicated system and shows that the controller was designed in mind.  Moving your character with the keyboard is very awkward and unnatural. There are even problems with the controller acting in an unresponsive manner. You can improve the controller’s responsiveness by increasing its deadzone value.  According to PCGamingWiki, you can alter the deadzone through a 3rd party tool called Durazno’s XInput Wrapper.  Please follow the instructions listed below:

Download the Dark Souls 2 Deadzone Fix.
Navigate to <path-to-game>\Game\ and extract the contents of the archive.

Darks Souls II Review 5

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Dark Souls II is an excellent sequel which builds on previous games’ melancholic theme. There is a certain aura and tense atmosphere throughout that makes the experience undeniably unique. The combat system has been modernized and redesigned which creates a greater emphasis on balancing your strategies.  The gameplay is more accessible and rewards lower skilled players who adopt a tenacious approach.

However, these alterations will displease Dark Souls veterans as the game is more forgiving than its predecessor.  Furthermore, the 31 bosses are mostly devoid of any identity and can be defeated more easily than I would have anticipated. Other alterations such as the removal of infinitely respawning enemies detract from Dark Soul’s hardcore feel. Despite these reservations, Dark Souls II is a tour-de-force RPG with enough content keep to keep you intrigued for a long time.

Dark Souls II Technical Summary:

  • Time Played – 42 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes (Flawless Widescreen Tool to remove letterboxing.)
  • Resolution Played – 2560×1440
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard and Mouse, Xbox 360 Controller (Highly Recommended)
  • DRM – Steamworks
  • System Specs – Intel i7 4770k, 16GB RAM, Sapphire 290 4GB
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam
  • Demo – No
  • Save Game Location – %APPDATA%\DarkSoulsII\
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Extremely poor keyboard and mouse controls, only Xbox Controller button prompts and Controller deadzone/sensitivity problems.
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  • DreadPirateR

    Another game i need to play the first one before buying. Great review again 🙂

    • John Williamson

      Thank you! That’s a problem for us all with the never ending list of games in our Steam library. The only issue with the previous game is Games For Windows Live. Namco Bandai haven’t issued a positive statement yet saying they will make the game Steamworks. However, Ace Combat : Assault Horizon was patched so maybe there is a chance.

  • trincetto

    The review was very interesting! I’ve heard many good things about Dark Souls but never got around buying it, mostly because of Games For Windows Live and the need to use a controller — which I own, but I’m terrible with. I was waiting for the sequel to try it, but unfortunately it’s plagued with the same problem (poor mouse and keyboard support), maybe I’ll wait for a discount in the future.

    As far as I understand, the murky, hopeless atmosphere was one of the selling points of the first Dark Souls. But — from the point of view of someone who hasn’t played it — having brighter, lit areas would be a good thing, making you perceive the dark parts as darker by contrast.
    Has the less oppressive setting diminished your enjoyment of the game world? Or does it make the game better?
    I hope that’s not a dumb question! I love exploring well-made, coherent game worlds and I was curious about Dark Souls’ universe.

    • John Williamson

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, I’m fairly terrible using a controller for specifics genres like FPS but they are a requirement for racing games and platformers. Personally, I think it makes the game less atmospheric and reduces that feeling of being in a hopeless unforgiving world. Obviously, this is a subjective matter and I think it shouldn’t bother you too much. Dark Souls I and its sequel is fantastic but I would probably recommend the latter due to GFWL (it’s that intrusive).

      • trincetto

        Thank you for the answer! I’ll check out the sequel then, and maybe the original if Games For Windows Live is removed in the future.

  • Zax19

    I was looking into playing Dark Souls 1 but given the poor port quality and soon to be closed Games For Windows Live I’ll just wait and play the ton of games I already have (damn you Humble Bundle x) )

    • John Williamson

      Yeah, I have almost 600 games on Steam and it sometimes takes me 20mins to decide what to play. I am hopeful that the original game will be patched and made Steamworks as Ace Combat Assault Horizon was patched and that is by the same publisher. Another often overlooked bundle is the “blink bundle” so you might want to check that out.