My PC port analysis for Dark Souls 3, and impressions overall

My initial plan was to first finish Dark Souls 3 and then do a proper review, but after spending around 6 hours getting stabbed, chomped on, and thrown off every scenic vista Lothric can provide I've come to realize that I really need to a share a bit of my enthusiasm, or I might just burst.

So here are my current thoughts on Dark Souls 3, from the perspective of someone that has spent far, far too much time playing the Souls series, as well as an analysis of the PC version and its technical qualities. For those of you that are purely interested in the analysis, you can skip to that point by pressing here.

 

Video version of this article (14 min)

[Update]: You can find my detailed Dark Souls 3 review by heading over here.

If you are worried that Dark Souls 3 might be going soft on its players given that it has become a gigantic franchise over the last few years, your concerns are thankfully unfounded as Dark Souls 3 is the most brutal Souls game yet. Even the very beginning of the entire game, the ~20 minute long tutorial area, contains three challenging fights that will mercilessly beat down even the most veteran of knights. The first one of these you'll probably encounter is the big daddy of all crystal lizards, a veritable monstrosity that's filled with righteous rage for all of the lizards that perished so that our swords may remain shiny, and unlike the Ogres in Dark Souls 2, its a lot harder to cheese these guys given their varied move set.

The same line of thinking applies to the first boss as well, he doesn't rip off his damn arm to club you with it, he grows a new one which is a much more sensible option. While the first boss is a great introductory fight, it does have one rather annoying issue, the fact that you can't see diddly-squat when he goes full-blown monster mode and cowers the entire screen in shadowy snakes of doom. I eventually beat him by baiting out jump-attacks as everything else felt like doing combat in a tumble-dryer, but I'm still not disappointed in the whole encounter as it had an appropriate amount of "OH SHIT" moments, moments that make for some great memories down the line.

Dark Souls 3's first boss is a tough nut to crack

When a boss defies the law of conservation of mass, you know you're in trouble!

The third and final fight I want to highlight here is the one where you face off against a scrawny, homeless-looking guy, and I'm not exaggerating here, even the in-game descriptions call him out on his ragged visage. While he might look like a vagrant, his skill with the Uchigatana is frightening, and he is apparently so buff that he can take 6 parries in a row, and still somehow survive to slice me up in to ribbons.

Luckily, he doesn't have much poise, so through some very brave and constant tactical-retreating I've managed to whittle him down and receive the ultimate prize, a bunch of dirty rags! Also, the Uchigatana itself which never really was my style given that I prefer swords with a bit more heft behind them, such as the always lovely Murakumo, but getting a katana early in the game is still a most welcome sight, especially since Dark Souls 2 hid most of them ~7 hours in.

Dark Souls 3's uchigatana is not an easy thing to obtain

That is the face of a man who has long since stopped giving a damn

The best part of these challenges, if you conveniently ignore the mandatory boss, is that they are both optional, and rewarding. It reminds me of all the times I've ran to Havel in Dark Souls 1 on Soul Level 10 in order to get that sweet, sweet ring, only to get pounded in to the ground, over, and over again. But it never bothered me, much like how it didn't bother me in Dark Souls 3, because I knew the effort was worth something, and that if I persevered for long enough I would taste the sweet nectar of victory, and the items that come with it.

It also helps that the soundtrack is so inspiring, and so memorable, that it might just distract you from the fact that you've just spent the past 15 minutes dueling someone that doesn't wear pants, and losing. My favorite theme so far is the main menu one, which I've been listening to on loop for what feels like hours now. That thing can make scratching your back as you idly look around the room feel like a world-shattering event, which is an excellent excuse for when you just want to be lazy.

Dark Souls 3 Vordt is an intriguing second boss

I also recommend Vordt's theme, it sets the mood just right for the boss fight ahead

Besides the music, which is very much Dark Souls with its booming orchestral sounds, and a bunch of women softly yelling 'aaaaAAAAaaaaAAAAaaa', everything else feels like an evolution of Bloodborne, from all the run-down hamlets and insane villagers you will run across, to the combat mechanics which have been sped up significantly, but not significantly enough to remove the tactical aspects of Dark Souls 3.

However, I've never played Bloodborne on account of not owning a PS4, so these observations come from someone that has only watched playthroughs, but it certainly does feel like Fromsoftware has decided to settle somewhere in between Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne for Dark Souls 3, which as it turns out was an excellent idea given that the combat has so far been absolutely thrilling.

Part of the reason behind that is that unlike most other Souls games, Dark Souls 3 gives you the ability to chose from a variety of weapon types really early on, so I didn't have to wait for 5 hours like in Dark Souls 1 to finally get to the weapons I liked because they were locked away "just 'cause"

In Dark Souls 3, you will get a whole bunch of mainly one-handed weapons early on, but as soon as you start leaving the first few zones the massive two-handed swords and axes will start showing up as the game knows you'll only now actually have enough strength, or dexterity to wield them. Its such a simple little feature, but its going to make my future playthroughs of Dark Souls 3 much more enjoyable, so consider me pleased.

Dark Souls 3 gives you a variety of weapons early on

I almost never play with an axe, but in Dark Souls 3 I got a really nifty one early on, so I had an actual reason to mix things up

The final thing I wanted to touch upon was the level design, which is far, far superior to the one found in Dark Souls 2, but still nowhere near the inter-connectivity Dark Souls 1 offered. Don't get me wrong, Dark Souls 3 still features the same thrill of running around for 30 minutes only to find yourself returning to a previous bonfire via shortcut you never even noticed, but its world isn't as connected as it was in Dark Souls 1, its more of a linear series of large, open-ended levels than a cohesive world.

Again, I'm not saying its bad by any stretch, but to see Dark Souls 3 improve upon nearly every aspect of Dark Souls 1 & 2, yet somehow not capture the same feeling of a realistic world as the first one is a bit of a conundrum. 

To its credit, however, the zones I've been through so far have been leagues above the ones found in previous games, with each one oozing its own particular brand of atmosphere. As a massive fan of the Undead Burg, and other zones like it, I was thrilled to see that the High Wall area is essentially that, just magnified a couple of times, and with even more bloody dogs that refuse to stand still. There's even a complementary douchebag Dragon perched on a bridge!

Dark Souls 3 dragons are scary

Here there be dragons, though this one is just sliiiightly dead

To bring this piece to a close, allow me to just say the biggest praise one exclaim about a video game: Dark Souls 3 is fun. Its not often these days that I sit down to play a game, and hours later realize the Sun has gone down, I haven't done any work, and my friends are worried I might be dead.

I'll have a full review up in a couple of days, but if what I've seen so far continues on to the very end, I think I can safely say that you should be very excited about Dark Souls 3. Now then, onward to the technical aspects of it!

PC Port Analysis

Controls & Menu Options

First things first, I'm using a combination of an Intel i5 CPU and an Nvidia GTX 970 4GB GPU, or in other words, a fairly mid-ranged gaming PC that is still capable enough of producing some rather pretty pictures. Its also worth pointing out that I am by no means an expert in this field, so even though I believe I've covered everything you might be interested in, I may have skipped over some of the more obscure elements, in which case I recommend you send me a message on Twitter, and I'll make sure to check it out for you.

With that said, let's hop through the options menu and see what exactly PC players will be able to mess around with, among a few other features I want to point out:

Dark Souls 3 controller options detailed

Whether you want to play Dark Souls 3 on PC with a controller, or mouse & keyboard, you will be fine either way. Personally, I prefer the controller given that I've spent years playing the Souls games with it, but I've had zero issues adapting to the mouse & keyboard loadout as soon as I rebound the keys, a feature that is thankfully supported. In other words, no matter what your input preference is, you'll only have yourself to blame when you accidentally roll off a cliff.

Dark Souls 3 camera options detailed

These are your standard camera control options, with two very important features you can adjust. Depending on how comfortable you are with controlling the camera I would recommend turning off "auto-wall recovery" as it will cause you more than a fair share of deaths when the camera spazzes out in close quarters combat. It might feel a bit annoying to manually adjust the camera at first, but once you get used to it, you will be able to have a much better grip on your character.

The second feature deals with cinematic effects that occur when you're backstabbing enemies, parrying, and all that good stuff.  I don't mind the screen being slightly busy, and the camera zooming in a bit during these moments, but if this is something that bothers you, make sure to keep this option in mind.

Dark Souls 3 multiplayer menu

If you plan on PvPing, or playing co-op with a friend, I have some great news as the Dark Souls 3 network options are simply stellar. You can adjust whether you want to play with players outside of your region ( US<->Europe for example), set a password so you can only be matched up with your buddy for some jolly cooperation, limit summon sign visibility, and stop annoying people from talking.

All of these options are self-explanatory, so I won't spend time talking about them, but believe me when I say, they help a ton when it comes to meeting up with people who don't warp around constantly like they're Q from Star Trek.

Dark Souls 3 keybinds menu PC

As I've mentioned previously, you are able to rebind every aspect of gameplay to your liking, both to the keyboard and the mouse. The PC keybinds in Dark Souls 3 are much more sensible than those you might see in Dark Souls 1 or 2, so odds are you won't even need to look in to this menu.

On the topic of mouse options, you're able to adjust general sensitivity, and invert both the X and Y axis, for those moments when you feel that Dark Souls 3 just isn't challenging enough.

Dark Souls 3 pc graphics menu

And now the most important menu if you're a PC gamer, the advanced graphics settings. As you can see, the settings are all fairly standard, and that is a very good thing because they are standard for a reason. By using the settings you see here I've managed to mostly hang around 60 FPS when not recording, with the occasional drops to 40 FPS in some of the less optimized areas.

Interestingly enough, however, changing up the majority of these settings (both up and down) did very little for my FPS, which leads me to believe that Dark Souls 3's performance hinges heavily on the power of your CPU. While that is unfortunate for those running old CPU models, the benefit is that you can seemingly increase the graphics far beyond what your GPU would usually be capable of, and that is a good thing because Dark Souls 3 is quite the sight to behold. While I can't tell you if your CPU will be strong enough to run Dark Souls 3, I can tell you that I've only had FPS drops in around ~5 areas so far, and all of those were of the "look at the pretty scenery" variety, not combat-zones.

[Update:] As of today's patch (April 9) only one of those areas still tanks my FPS, the rest have been completely optimized and now run at ~60 as expected.

As far as suggestions go, I would advise you remove motion blur as it just makes fights a mess, and frankly, it looks ugly because all of the beautiful cape physics, and dust effects that kick up when you roll get covered by a blurry trail that's supposed to simulate speed. I'm obviously not a fan, but you might be, so hooray for there being a slider!

Stability, In-Game Experience & Visuals

Let's start with the bad news. Much like Dark Souls 2, some gameplay features in Dark Souls 3 are linked to FPS, which means that the better your rig, the worse off you will be. Thankfully, they are rather minor issues that are easily ignored, as they're not related to weapon durability or something important this time around, but its still well worth mentioning as it shouldn't be happening in this day and age.

The biggest problem is that when your FPS is near 60, its almost impossible to use a Homeward Bone to teleport out of a sticky situation without mashing the button like a neanderthal as the animation goes by so quickly the game ends up being confused, and your character literally goes "huh", and nothing happens. It might sound silly now, but when you're stuck in a cave where the only exit is a Homeward Bone, and the damn thing doesn't work, you might deduce that your character is bugged and simply try to delete it, not that I would know anything about that...

[Update:] As of today's patch (April 9) all of these issues have been fixed. As for the text above, I've decided to not edit it, instead I will let it remain as a testament to From's willingness to take community feedback seriously in order to deliver an amazing update.

Dark Souls 3's homeward bone is bugged

To Bone, or not to Bone, that is the question...

I've also heard rumors that fall damage is related to FPS, but despite my best efforts I haven't found any conclusive proof, so consider that myth busted for now. 

On the extremely positive side, there is very little to talk about when it comes to stability as I've had a grand total of 0 crashes, bugs, or even glitches with Dark Souls 3. Its quite impressive when you consider how big the game world is, how completely filled it is with enemies and loot, how many ways you're able to interact with it, and how well-crafted the visuals are.

By abandoning the old console generation Dark Souls 3 has managed to improve its presentation on every single front: character models have more detail to them, textures have received a significant face-lift and actually look like they belong in a modern game, animations have been spruced up to look even smoother now, and the lighting system from Dark Souls 2 is back with a vengeance.

Dark Souls 3 beautiful graphics

Ignore the bloodstains of all the people that believed the "Try Jumping" sign

Out of all the elements I've mentioned, I would say that the lighting deserves the most praise as it feels both subtle, and well integrated in to the world itself, which is most easily noticeable at one of the numerous bonfires that lie nestled on top of cliffs, and constantly bathe in the Sun's glorious incandescence. \[T]/

As for the textures, they have also been improved across the board, and very rarely will you find a wall, or a rock within playable territory that look like they were rejected from a PlayStation 1 game. The player armor, weaponry, and enemy models are about as detailed, and well textured as you might imagine, with a special mention going towards the new fiery effect that gets added when you chow down on an Ember (bonus hp until death).

Not everything is honky-dory, however, as those with a keen eye will notice that quite a few of the 'hidden' background textures are of extremely poor quality. Its a necessary evil in order to keep performance up, but there are a few that are completely in-your-face with their ugliness, and it detracts from the otherwise beautiful locals you get to enjoy. Still, this is a minor complaint in a game that is otherwise a visual treat.

Dark Souls 3 has occasionally bad textures

No, that is not a screenshot from the original Counter Strike, this is actually in the game

Closing Thoughts

This will come as no surprise to anyone that stuck around through the entire article, but Dark Souls 3 doesn't just sport an excellent PC version, it is an excellent game in general. The menus allow you to control everything from visual fidelity to small quality-of-life changes, the performance holds up really well on a mid-ranged gaming PC, and most importantly, it manages to do all of that while still looking beautiful, and playing like a dream.

There are some big issues, and a few niggling little annoyance, but I have to say that I am more than pleased with Dark Souls 3, and I look forward to skipping dinner again as I continue on with my journey of self-flagellation via zombie dog.

The full review will be up in a couple of days, as soon as I can experience being thrown off every single tower Lothric can provide, but until then you can check out my gameplay showcase of the first zone, its boss and the two challenging, but optional, mini-bosses:

 

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