Port Inspection – Dark Souls 2

Dark Souls 2: pretty tough, and now pretty with it.

Dark Souls 2 is out and we’ve given it a verdict in our Dark Souls 2 review.

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition was a good game that was nearly crippled by being rushed out of the door without a single bell or whistle one might expect from a PC title. From Software has been adamant that this would be the case with Dark Souls II. The studio was taking the PC port seriously, it said. 

I’ve been fiddling with it for the last week. I’ve killed hordes of undead, tangoed with bosses bigger than a house and died so many times that I make Rasputin look like he was half-arsing it. This has not been a repeat of the Prepare to Die Edition debacle. 

Tested on a Intel i5-3570K @3.40 GHz, 8 GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 670, Windows 7

The first sign that Dark Souls II is on the right track is the solid selection of graphics and display options. While the previous game merely offered terrible AA and motion blur, Dark Souls II has most of what you’d expect from a AAA title on PC.

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As you can see, the usual suspects are there, along with water surface quality and two types of blur effect – motion and camera. AA is simply on or off, but the FXAA is a significant step up for what passed as antialiasing in Prepare to Die Edition. Anisotropic filtering is also a bit limited when it comes to tweaking. It’s a healthy list of options, but the range of control you have over the options is not stellar.

Gone is Prepare to Die’s single 1024×720 resolution, as Dark Souls II puts no restrictions on resolution. This means non-standard resolutions beyond 1920×1080 are also supported.

Dark Souls II is a gorgeous adventure. From Software wisely hasn’t relied on graphics quality, and the game is filled with stunning vistas; detailed, terrifying enemies; and imposing, foreboding ruins. Art direction and atmosphere are two weapons Dark Souls wields very well.

But, and it’s a relief, graphical flair elevated the art direction and across the board this version looks significantly more impressive than its console counterparts. Even on the lowest settings, little lighting touches bring scenes to life, and the lowest texture setting is medium, which still offers detail and only on close inspection is noticeably lower in quality when compared to the high setting.

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On the right side, the bark looks a bit stretched, shadows aren’t as sharp or abundant, the tree’s leaves blend together, and the seams between bricks in the wall are less pronounced. In static scenes the differences are negligible, though. It’s in motion, with the shadows moving and light playing off various objects that the discrepancies become apparent.

God rays and improved water textures are two additions that have a significant impact on Dark Souls II’s visual allure. The dynamic lighting is used to maximum effect, with light streaming through crumbling arches or through gaps between the columns of elaborate temples.

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There’s quite a bit of water in Dark Souls II. The hub zone is surrounded by it, rivers meander through areas, punctuated with the occasional waterfall and there’s a pirate cove. Yep. Lot of water. So From Software has added a couple of water reflection settings, which has an immediate impact.

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Even on the low setting, the crashing waves and dark blue expanse looks like, well, the sea. Appropriately. But cranked up, the reflection of the sun creates a more impressive view. The surf, however, is a little clearer with the reflection setting down at low.

The depth of field is also apparent here. It’s a subtle effect that softens the distance without making it look incredibly blurry or almost glowing, a problem that stronger DOF can cause.

Other than for testing purposes, I’ve kept both the motion and camera blur turned on. It’s extremely convenient that the option exists to turn off one or not the other, since camera blur can cause a spot of nausea.

I found the camera blur to be understated, however, and the motion blur is exceptionally spiffy, making combat feel quicker, and chases more intensely cinematic. Speaking of chases, here’s me running for my life:

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Using the highest graphics preset I got a consistent frame rate of 60 FPS throughout Dark Souls II dipping only very occasionally for a second, and only then to the high 50s. It’s been a pleasantly smooth adventure through forsaken fantasy lands while being hunted by the undead and demons.

Again, this is a significant improvement over Prepare to Die Edition and the console versions of Dark Souls II.

So it looks good, it’s not held together with glue and sellotape and it runs like a dream – even the load screens are quick and painless, and that’s without it on an SSD – but those weren’t its predecessors only problems. Prepare to Die Edition was only made for gamepad controllers. Playing with a mouse and keyboard was out of the question. In Dark Souls II? Well, it’s still not great. But it’s a lot better.

One definitely can play the game using a mouse and keyboard exclusively. But it still feels less optimal than using a gamepad. When I switched, I noticed that the key prompts did not, so the game was telling me to press “A” on my 360 controller when I needed to press “enter” on my keyboard.

Lamentably, Dark Souls II is absent mod support. While Prepare to Die Edition was lacking in the same way, modders found a way around this. Most notably there was Durante’s DSfix which made the shoddy port tolerable. I would have liked to see From Software recognise the impact of modders on their game by adding some support, but alas, the developer has no plans to add it.

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While not flawless, Dark Souls II on PC is a more than competent port. There’s the lack mod support and some assets have clearly had less work done on them, making them look blocky and out of place, but it’s the best looking, smoothest the Souls series has ever been.

From Software kept its promise not to cock up a second time. This is the version of Dark Souls II you should get. And the minimum requirements are low enough so that the bar for entry is quite low.

But is the game any good? Our review will be up early next week, so keep an eye out for it.

Passed Inspection