Dark Souls on the PC

I watched some very amusing "Let’s Play" videos of two of the GWJ guys playing Dark Souls, and decided that I finally needed to get this "killer" game. By killer I mean it has a reputation of being mercilessly difficult. So I got the "Prepare to Die" PC version from Steam.

Okay. So yeah, it’s hard. But it’s not hard in the way you might think. It’s hard because the controls and camera management are impossibly obtuse for a PC game, at least initially. I’m used to playing with mouse-and-keyboard, but the mouse-and-keyboard controls for this game are just horrible. It doesn’t even hide the Windows pointer. So you really have no choice but to play with the keyboard only, where in addition to the normal WASD controls on the left, your right hand has WASD-style controls on the right side of the keyboard, which controls your camera view and target-lock. It’s a bit awkward, to say the least.

So of course you tend to die a lot – not because the first encounters are particularly hard, but because you can’t figure out which key or combination of keys to press to dodge, swing your sword, run, block, turn around, or whatever. The built-in hints are no help at all since they are all for the Xbox 360 controller.

And actually, the first boss is pretty hard. During the brief tutorial section while you’re learning which buttons to press, you run into a boss almost right away. At first you think, okay, well this guy looks tough, but even though he looks big and formidable, he’s probably one of those massive bosses with only a tiny health because if the game puts me here so soon, then I must be able to defeat him with my meager skills and equipment, right? Nope. He smashes you in one or two blows, and your fist punches do not even scratch his health bar. It turns out you’re supposed to run around him to a side door.

But then after you pick up a shield and weapon and go through a few more tips and tutorials, you end up facing that boss again. You might think you’d have a better chance to kill him, but no, not really. On the second try you at least have something besides bare fists, but basically you have to keep dodging him and plinking him with your ranged ability. At least, that’s what I did with my sorcerer. I can’t imagine surviving a melee encounter.

Since the keyboard-only controls are pretty awful, I decided to see if I could get a PS3 controller to work. I did – eventually, using a slightly dubious, ad-riddled driver thingy called MotioninJoy – but I’m not sure if it’s an improvement. Movement is much more intuitive, but I don’t know if the buttons make things any easier. I should probably just stick with the controller.

I’m not sure why I want to keep playing this game, other than the perverse challenge of it, and just to say that I did. It is a neat-looking game, and it does have a very old-school RPG feel to it.

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