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Dark Souls 2 on the PC: Has From Software Learned its Lessons?

I have a proposition, if you have a moment.

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If you’ve been looking forward to Dark Souls II on the PC, you're likely more than aware of what a troubled port its predecessor was. Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition was not welcomed by PC players with wholly open arms, given its low rendering resolution, limited frame rate, and poor mouse and keyboard support. Community members immediately set about rectifying the perceived slights, releasing modifications that unlocked the frame rate, increased the resolution, and added high-resolution textures that enhanced the original release while keeping the game’s spirit intact.

It’s no surprise that PC enthusiasts should expect better--and that they remain wary of the impending release of Dark Souls II. And so I bring some good news: Based on the preview copy I’ve been immersed in, Dark Souls II is a notably better port than the original Dark Souls was. When you set the resolution at 1920 X 1080, the image you see is actually rendering at that resolution, in contrast to Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. The game runs at a brisk 60 frames per second, even on modest PCs. Unfortunately, the game still bombards you with Xbox 360 controller button prompts, even when you do not have a controller plugged in and are navigating with a mouse and keyboard. On the bright side, playing with a mouse and keyboard is absolutely viable, though you must dig around in the menus to come to grips with the default keybindings. It would never have crossed my mind to press shift and tap a mouse button to interact with objects and open doors, for instance, though once you’re used to this unusual approach, you may not miss the controller.

Given the higher resolution and brisker frame rate, it should be no shock that the PC version of Dark Souls II looks better than the console versions. The higher resolution and sharper textures give places like Sinner’s Rise and Huntsman’s Copse greater visual definition. Details on armor are easier to admire, and subtle touches like the intricate runes carved into the monument in Majula, and the mosaic artwork of the Tower of Flame’s stone pathways, stand out all the more. This is all well and good, and in the world of PC gaming, expected.

Unfortunately, if you were hoping for the PC version to showcase the impressive lighting we saw in pre-release video, you’ll be sad to learn that the lighting remains as flat on the PC as it did on consoles. Carrying a torch through the dim hallways of The Lost Bastille brings with it a few moody moments, but nothing on par with the way lightning pierced the bleak darkness as it did in early previews, in which we traversed Drangleic Castle in pursuit of the Looking Glass Knight. I have no doubt that modern PCs could have rendered the elaborate real-time lighting that characterized the game’s early builds without trouble, but it appears that From Software sought platform parity, which is a shame. After all, the community has already proven how beautiful these games can be with a little extra development effort.

Of course, the PC modding community is likely to tackle Dark Souls II in the way it tackled the original, and so I went one step further and asked myself just how Dark Souls II stacks up to the original Dark Souls when community mods are applied to it. And so I downloaded two popular Dark Souls mods: DSFix by Durante at Nexus Mods, and Toology86’s high-definition texture pack, also from Nexus. Dark Souls II looks more impressive than the modded original in certain respects, featuring topography that looks more organic and less severe than in Dark Souls. The draw distance, too, offers more clarity in Dark Souls II than in the original. On the other hand, Toology86’s excellent textures make the crumbling stonework seen in Undead Parish look more weathered and chipped than do similar textures in Dark Souls II’s Lost Bastille. Additionally, in the modded Dark Souls, the dark is darker, and illumination without obvious sources is less common.

It goes without saying, of course, that Dark Souls II on the PC feels just as it did on consoles, and in that respect, it seems likely that the game will be enchanting a new community of players come April 25th. On that day, I look forward to joining each of you in a show of jolly cooperation, though I don’t know that you could describe any element of this tense and exhausting adventure as “jolly,” with all respect to Solaire of Astoria, who clearly felt otherwise.

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