“Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition” PC review

Dark Souls Prepare to Die Edition

Thanks to the recent Steam Summer Sale, I finally own a copy of Dark Souls. Unfortunately, I own the worst version of the game. 

It’s my own fault for not looking at reviews of the port before purchasing.

Dark Souls on the PC is almost a straight port of the Xbox 360 version. The game assumes that you’re going to be using a 360 controller – even if you’re using a keyboard and mouse, all button prompts show the icons from the 360’s controller, which only increased the already steep learning curve.

Despite my computer’s vastly superior hardware (the 360 did come out 8 years ago, after all), there aren’t any noticeable improvements to the graphics in the PC version. It also runs in a windowed mode by default, and at an awkward resolution at that.

In addition, the game’s innovative multiplayer is stifled on the PC by requiring the use of Games for Windows Live. I haven’t used the service in so long that I couldn’t remember my account details, so I decided to forgo multiplayer altogether. That’s a shame, because the online experience on the PS3 is unlike anything I’ve seen before. You can either summon friends/random players to assist you on your quest, or “invade” another player’s game world, essentially becoming another mini-boss for them to deal with. Here’s a video demonstrating the co-op play.

Thankfully, I was able to fix most of the issues with the help of mods and a helpful community on the Steam forums. The game now runs at my screen’s full resolution and I was able to rebind the keys (something you can’t do in the game!) to something more usable.

Once I got past those issues, the game is still fantastic. Insanely difficult, but fantastic. “Prepare to Die” isn’t just marketing language – you die over and over in even the earliest segments of the game. 

Dark Souls strikes an interesting balance between frustrating and rewarding. Each kill earns you souls, which you can spend at checkpoints to level up your various attributes. When you die, all of the souls that you carry are dropped where you fall. At times, this can be devastating. Conversely, the fact that you can retrieve them gives you a reason to press forward one more time

Every enemy encounter in Dark Souls can be deadly. Giants rats and skeletons, fodder in other RPGs, can  easily kill you if you let your guard down at the wrong moment. You have to be constantly aware of your surroundings and be ready to block, parry, or dodge attacks.

The bosses in Dark Souls are all impressive sights to be seen and challenging to boot. While each has a set of attacks that can be learned and adapted to, you will die several times before you figure out how to do so. Don’t expect Zelda-style bosses where you figure out their weakness and spend another 10 minutes repeating some pattern.

The game lets you combat your enemies in a wide variety of ways, with no particular play style seeming particularly overpowered. One can use a single-handed weapon of choice and a shield, two-handed weapons, bows, and magic. While the game certainly lets you become a “jack of all trades,” I’d advise focusing on one gameplay style per character and becoming really good at it.

The game doesn’t offer as many options when it comes to the story. This isn’t an Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect. The plot is sparse and if you want to learn about the world’s lore, you have to spend some time exploring to find it. That’s not to say that the story is boring – it’s just not what most gamers have come to expect from role-playing games of similar length.

If you’re the type of gamer who doesn’t quit because of a few hours of frustration, I can’t recommend Dark Souls highly enough. Just be sure to buy it on PS3 or Xbox 360 so that you can have decent controls and experience the multiplayer elements.

Steam remains a player in the age of the Windows Store

Age of Empires 2 HD edition announced, will Rome onto Steam next month

Microsoft has announced Age of Empires 2 HD Edition, a re-release of the historic RTS exclusively for Steam.

The new version is due to launch worldwide on 9th April.

aoe2hd

Microsoft is going to be releasing a remastered Age of Empires 2 exclusively for Windows through Valve’s Steam distribution platform. For all of Gabe Newell’s recent pandering that Microsoft is moving in the wrong direction with Windows 8, Microsoft has not decided to make the upcoming re-release exclusive to the Windows Store on Windows 8. In fact, the company has even opted to replace their own Games for Windows technology with Steamworks integration.

Next Xbox to use online DRM to block used games?

Report: Next Xbox will use persistent ’Net connection to block used games | Ars Technica:

A new report from insider sources suggests that Microsoft’s next video game console will require a persistent Internet connection to lock out second-hand games from being played on the system.

Edge is citing “sources with first-hand experience of Microsoft’s next generation console” saying that games for the system will be available via download or as Blu-ray discs with a capacity of up to 50GB. The disc-based games will reportedly all ship with an activation code tying the game to a single user account, making the disc essentially worthless on the second-hand market.

No more trading games in at GameStop or lending to your friends if this is true. That’s pretty stupid, but given the way DRM has been moving in recent years on the PC, not completely out of left-field. I’m fine either way, thanks to Valve’s Steam Summer/Holiday sales and a Dell XPS desktop that should last me a solid 4 years or so if I update the graphics card in a year or two and don’t mind running less than max-quality graphics.

(Via @ajyasgar)

Valve and Xi3 unveil ‘Piston’ game console

From Polygon:

Xi3 brought an early version of Piston to CES, but was tight lipped on details about the hardware currently in development with Valve. Xi3 chief marketing officer David Politis told Polygon that Piston will offer up to 1 TB of interal storage and offer modular component updates, including the option to upgrade the PC’s CPU and RAM.

Xi3 wouldn’t discuss price for Piston, but commented that the Steam Box is based on its “performance level” X7A offering, which is priced at $999. Xi3 declined to comment on what would differentiate Piston hardware-wise from a standard X7A.

Xi3 also offers the entry level X5A, which is priced at $499 with a Linux operating system.

Unfortunately it appears that the announcement brought down the Xi3 homepage for now. A quick Google search found this PR release from a few months back detailing the specs of the X7A, which the Piston will be based on:

A quad-core 64-bit, x86-based 32nm processor running at up to 3.2GHz (with 4MB of Level2 Cache),
* An integrated graphics processor (GPU) containing up to 384 programmable graphics cores (or shaders),
* 4GB-8GB of DDR3 RAM,
* 64GB-1TB of internal solid-state SSD storage (with up to 12Gbps throughput speeds),
Three display ports providing maximum resolution of 4096×2160 (including 1 DisplayPort v1.2 and * 2 Mini-DisplayPorts v1.2),
* Four eSATAp 3.0 ports,
* Four USB 3.0 ports,
* Four USB 2.0 ports,
* 1Gb Ethernet port, and
* Three audio ports (1 input and 2 outputs: 1 copper and 1 optical).

By the time this comes out, better-looking Mac Minis equipped with Haswell quad-cores will be out and selling for $800 and have greater compatibility with games on Steam. I don’t see how this thing does well.