Without having to wait for long, the PC version comes just over a month after the console release. And without question, it is the definitive release to play and enjoy. But beyond that, and more to the point Dark Souls II is pure excellence. There’s a challenge around every corner, lore hidden within conversations, and secrets begging to be revealed in the environment. It can be frustrating, but it can also be extremely satisfying too. It’s a deep game that demands your attention, and won’t let it go for long after you’ve put the controller down.
The opening to Dark Souls II is much more forgiving than the first Dark Souls, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. You’re lulled into a false sense of security – but if you know anything about the Souls games, you’ll be prepared. Upon awakening in an unknown place, covered in tattered cloth, you speak to a few people, and begin creating your character. This is where the game opens up and you are given complete freedom of choice.
The world of Drangleic is misleading. While drab, dingy, and uninviting, appears peaceful and serene. This is feeling is solidified when in Majula, the hub of the game. The music here is distressing and lonely. And the area around it is as well. Over time, through your travels, this place slowly fills in with the friendly vagrants and wanderers you encounter.
Dark Souls II lets you have your own mind. It only teaches you the necessities for survival, but there are no waypoints, breadcrumbs, or actual quests. You forge your own path, how you please, when you please. This unyielding freedom is what makes the game so enjoyable.
When you encounter an enemy or a group of enemies, decisive attacks with careful thought and methodical pacing get you to survive. Ensuring you manage your stamina to block incoming attacks, and knowing when to strike is essential to survival. Death is a learning experience. New to Dark Souls II, where death reduces your maximum health, for a maximum penalty of losing half your maximum health. Among a few ways to undo it, the easiest being: burn a human effigy.
Bonfires are a way to save the game. As you come across additional bonfires, they create a link. And from any bonfire, can you teleport to another. You can attack this change as “too easy” or “dumbing the game down”. It’s not, as it is entirely possible to walk everywhere in the game. Being able to teleport form bonfire to bonfire, is simply as an option for convenience and time saving. Torches can be lit to carry with you and illuminate dark hallways and caverns. They have a time limit of use, but can also be used to light sconces around the world to give permanent light, and never have to be relit.
FromSoftware had learned many lessons from the awful port of Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition on PC. While the game functioned, it used Games For Windows Live (which did allow you to earn Xbox achievements), but had many bugs and missed core features. It definitely looked and performed better, but it was very limited in graphical options. FromSoftware did admit this was their first PC release. A modder by the name of Durante saved the game from being just another “bad port”.
Fast forward to 2014, and Dark Souls II on PC improves everything over the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions. Now you can run the game at 1920×1080, as well as achieve over 60 frames per second quite easily. The improved textures give a richer fidelity, and the lighting is improved so that the shadows cast on objects behave more realistically, and vertical sync makes screen tearing nonexistant. It’s a gorgeous game in art style, but the enhancements here take the game to new visual heights that almost take your breath away.
Dark Souls II on PC is best enjoyed with a controller in-hand, the lights turned down low, and only your wits to guide you. You’re only limited by your willingness to explore. It is one of the finest action RPGs to be released, and also one of the most difficult as it has a strict set of rules that you must follow. With an increased framerate, better looking textures, improved lighting, and faster loading times, the Steam version of Dark Souls II is superior to that of its console counterparts. Whether a returning Souls player, or a newcomer to the series, this is a title that simply cannot be missed.
A Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes