“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.

Check out the first Grand Theft Auto V gameplay video

This game just became a must-buy for me. The character switching – both between and during missions –  makes the game seem much more dynamic than previous offerings in the series.

It also seems like the different personalities for the characters will remove some of the cognitive dissonance that happened in GTA IV when you’d take Niko, a character trying to make a new life for himself, on a massive killing spree. Now, if you want to play “responsibly,” you can switch to Michael or Franklin and if you want to cause chaos you can switch over to Trevor and not feel like you’re not playing out-of-character.

Don’t become a Sony fanboy just yet

Please Don’t Bring Back The Console Wars:

I mean, come on. Let’s stop pretending Sony is valiant. If they were so committed to the idea of used games, why didn’t they announce this policy in February? Microsoft made a move and Sony reacted; fine, it was the smart thing to do in context.

But did you notice how every time Sony referred to “used games” they made sure to include the modifier “disc-based”? Did you also notice how Sony, much more than Microsoft, has emphasized the game-streaming capabilities of its new console? If you think that Sony is going to let you freely trade digitally-downloaded and streaming games, which are going to be all games in the near future, I have a piece of swampland in You’re a Fucking Moron to sell you. Sony is not some noble underdog. They are the company that won the last console generation by selling SIX TIMES as many PlayStation 2s as Microsoft sold Xboxs, and the one before that by selling three times as many PlayStations as Nintendo sold N64s. (And, less than 24 hours after receiving an internet handjob for his company’s supposedly benevolent used game policy, Tretton is already walking it back.)

I don’t plan on buying a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One. They’re both basically PCs – most games will be available on the PC at or around the same time and with Steam I’ll be able to get them at significant discounts.

Eliminate used games, lower prices, make more money

Study: Killing Used Games Could Be Profitable, or Suicide | Game|Life | Wired.com:

The study found that if the used game market were to be eliminated and nothing else changed, game publishers’ profits per game would drop by about 10 percent. However, it found that if game publishers were to adjust the prices of new games to optimal levels, they could expect profits per game to rise by about 19 percent.

“We find that the optimal price would be on average about 33% lower than the current price level, if the used game market were eliminated,” said Ishihara in an email. “So roughly speaking, in the US, game prices should go down to about $40.”

I’ve only purchased one game at $60 in recent memory, and that was SimCity (a decision I’d regret if I hadn’t gotten Mass Effect 3 for free – the multiplayer is addicting). At $40, I definitely wouldn’t feel bad about buying a new game every month or two.

Xbox One: all or nothing?

microsoft-xbox-one-4842_610x407

CVG:

Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One at a press reveal event in Redmond yesterday to a mixed critical reaction, their tentative first step into the eighth console generation and a surprisingly loaded portent of how they plan to establish themselves in today’s economic current. The console entitles its user to a variety of simultaneous activities such that he can play a game while watching live television, throwing on a movie, or chatting with friends on Skype, all processes that can be controlled through voice command. Much of the press release focused on the One’s intended goal of supplanting all entertainment-related functions, with more specific games coverage likely being reserved for an event that generates more gamer hype (read: E3). Microsoft’s desired first impression based on the positioning of their product is clear: this is a machine designed for the majority of their consumer base, a set of casual gamers who will idle in front of any given AAA release until they get a video call or Monday Night Football rolls around.

The company has approached this one-black-box-fits-all attitude carelessly, implementing policies that will alienate devoted gamers and limit appeal to less informed audiences. The former didn’t necessarily stop the Wii, which was subject to dwindling third-party support and loss of interest from many longtime Nintendo fans but still claimed victory in every notable market. However, Microsoft is not enjoying the same reputation that Nintendo did when they stepped into the seventh generation – gamers are a wary lot now, and one might look to the currently dismal performance of the Wii U as a cautionary tale about willingly displacing one demographic to accommodate another. A glance at any given forum or comment thread suggests widespread dissatisfaction with certain elements of the One, such as Microsoft’s draconian DRM enforcement. Here is a system that claims to be a video gamer’s new best friend, and yet it won’t even let you loan your games to your real friends without forcing them to pay a console licensing fee? (This is, in diplomatic parlance, “a potential scenario.”) A required Internet connection once every 24 hours? No backwards compatibility? No importing your old downloaded games? The latter two are particularly galling because they constitute a transparent bid at stifling the obsolescence of the Xbox 360, but the devaluation of gaming technology is inevitable, especially when it’s so poorly constructed. If Microsoft expects gamers to bounce back and forth between their uber-machine and their old RROD factory just to have full access to all of their titles, then they’d better continue to furnish free maintenance for their old systems, which seems like an unwieldy expenditure for a consumer landscape that they project to be inundated with these wonderful Ones. “Fundamental architecture differences” my ass.

To address the system’s potential difficulty with reaching a casual audience, we can return to the Nintendo parallel. Much of the Wii’s success came from its celebration of family gaming and the shared living space, prioritizing software that was accessible and fun for players of all ages and skill levels. There were some fluffy features like the Weather Channel that granted it more flexibility than a dedicated gaming machine, but the intent behind the platform was always clear. Far less so with the Xbox One, which is in the precarious position of acting as a unifier of common entertainment services where there hasn’t yet been a proven need for one. Anyone with the means or desire to buy an One likely has all of the gadgetry they need to perform each of its vaunted tasks – a laptop, smart phone, and their previous-generation game console for television and movies if they don’t already own a cable box, or a Roku, or the million other similar peripherals. There is something wrongheaded AND disturbingly cynical about Microsoft’s assumption that, if given the chance, people will toss to the side all of these other electronic devices for the chance to sink into the couch and fulfill all of their digital needs through one system alone. At a less intimidating cost, the One may be able to acquit itself at least partially, but this seems unlikely given that a) the processing power is reportedly “eight times greater” than that of the Xbox 360, b) Microsoft claims that there will be over 300,000 servers to host the console’s need for, at least, that mandatory once-a-day connection, and c) a low price point for this system would probably force Microsoft to sell the console at a loss, which is a huge risk in this market. This is a multi-billion dollar industry operating in a culture of excess, where “doing less” has never been the answer the public is looking for even as it struggles to make ends meet.

With all this said, the question of the Xbox One’s library hangs in the balance, and the titles announced at this event are more or less what you’d expect from a Microsoft press conference. Lots of emphasis on their sports content, a Forza title, a new IP from Remedy and, naturally, another installment in the Call of Duty franchise. Quantum Break might be interesting, but everything else we’re seeing here looks like so much of the risk-averse chaff that gamers are growing increasingly dissatisfied with. If these games are your thing, more power to you, but  a gradually more conservative collection of titles, combined with roundly derided copy protection measures and a lot of redundant functionality, all align to make Microsoft’s next move feel a lot less important to watch than it was seven years ago. To me, this reveal reads as the scared baby steps of a company struggling to assert itself for a fractured set of demographics. (You can bet Sony’s keeping an eye on them, though, what with that 9% stock increase after the conference.)

Drew Byrd-Smith – drewbyrd.blogspot.com

The PS4 will be 33 percent faster than the Xbox One

AnandTech:

On the graphics side it’s once again obvious that Microsoft and Sony are shopping at the same store as the Xbox One’s SoC integrates an AMD GCN based GPU. Here’s where things start to get a bit controversial. Sony opted for an 18 Compute Unit GCN configuration, totaling 1152 shader processors/cores/ALUs. Microsoft went for a far smaller configuration: 768 (12 CUs).

Microsoft can’t make up the difference in clock speed alone (AMD’s GCN seems to top out around 1GHz on 28nm), and based on current leaks it looks like both MS and Sony are running their GPUs at the same 800MHz clock. The result is a 33% reduction in compute power, from 1.84 TFLOPs in the PS4 to 1.23 TFLOPs in the Xbox One. We’re still talking about over 5x the peak theoretical shader performance of the Xbox 360, likely even more given increases in efficiency thanks to AMD’s scalar GCN architecture (MS quotes up to 8x better GPU performance) – but there’s no escaping the fact that Microsoft has given the Xbox One less GPU hardware than Sony gave the PlayStation 4. Note that unlike the Xbox 360 vs. PS3 era, Sony’s hardware advantage here won’t need any clever developer work to extract – the architectures are near identical, Sony just has more resources available to use.

This isn’t an advantage that will show up four years down the road when developers have figured out how to program for the PS4. Their architectures are nearly identical – Sony just went with faster parts. 

What readers are looking to get from video game reviews

Mammon-Machine – The Case for Never Talking About AAA Games:

What the readers are looking for is also very different. They are not reading because they are curious about this game they have never heard of. They have been already told by a multi-million advertising budget exactly what their emotional response to the game should be and are mostly looking for validation of that feeling. That’s not to say readers of AAA game reviews are completely uncritical, just that they’re generally not going to think outside of the promises the ad campaign made. If the ad campaign says something and doesn’t deliver that’s a problem, but it’s not very common for an audience to actually be interested in questions like “well I don’t even know if this concept is interesting in the first place…” because they’re already interested because they watched all the trailers and previews. More to the point, they already know how the game is supposed to play and what’s it about: the only thing they don’t know is how it actually works in practice.

One of the major problems of video game journalism is that writers want to talk about the intellectual and moral issues that games touch upon, while readers just want to know if AAA games live up to the hype or not. Based on this premise, the Mammon Machine makes a pretty good case for video game writers to simply skip talking about AAA titles altogether.

The Wii U is doing way worse than Nintendo predicted

Nintendo makes second consecutive annual loss as Wii U misses expectations | The Verge:

The Wii U has sold 3.45 million units worldwide to date, missing Nintendo’s goal of 4 million units for the financial year — itself a lowered expectation after the company initially predicted it would sell 5.5 million systems. Three months ago, Nintendo announced worldwide Wii U sales of 3.06 million.

I just started using my 3DS again after not touching it for nearly a year. While the games are more expensive and it sucks to have to carry a second device, having the dedicated buttons made playing a better experience than what I’ve gotten used to on my iPhone. I hope Nintendo isn’t forced to get out of the hardware business this generation.

How Metacritic affects video games

Metacritic Matters: How Review Scores Hurt Video Games:

If New Vegas had hit an 85, Obsidian would have gotten their bonus. And according to one person familiar with the situation who asked not to be named while speaking to Kotaku, that bonus was worth $1 million. For a team of 70 or so, that averages out to around $14,000 a person. Enough for a cheap car. Maybe a few mortgage payments.

Those sure were some costly bugs.

That is rough. Developers are tasked with making games that get reviews as stellar as those for games with triple the budget. Meanwhile, you can’t just blame publishers because they’re trying to keep their money safe by betting on winners. 

No wonder indie games are taking off. Developers get to make what they want while publishers either aren’t involved or don’t face nearly as much risk as they would backing more expensive “AAA” games.