From Software's efforts to bring Dark Souls to PC in 2012 should have been met with excitement: A version of the cult hit for the "PC master race"? Praise the sun! Unfortunately, a combination of From Software's inexperience working on the platform and the game's last minute jump to PC led to an ugly port, which was devoid of even the simplest graphical customization options. It was a barebones port, which is all that Namco Bandai originally promised.
For Dark Souls 2, Namco Bandai promised "increased texture resolution and an enhanced frame rate option." The details are included in the PC version, I learned after spending some time with the port this weekend. The video options don't dive as deep as PC gamers often desire, but the upcoming version of the game does offer increased stability. While textures look sharper, however, Dark Souls 2 for PC isn't a colossal graphical leap ahead of the console versions already available.
Video settings for Dark Souls 2 on PC include the ability to select basic quality presets for textures, shadows, effects and water. Toggles for antialiasing reduce pixelation around edges, anisotropic filtering for increasing texture quality at harsh viewing angles, and screen space ambient occlusion for approximating ambient light in real time. All of these options, while fairly standard, allow the game to put its best graphical foot forward.
In comparison to the Xbox 360 version, the PC game running on the highest settings looks sharper. Dark Souls 2 on console has a slightly washed and gritty appearance, which generally works well with the game's environments.
The most obvious differences become clear when you examine complex textures up close, such as the clothes worn by all characters in starting areas.
(Video comparisons are used for general reference. YouTube compression will reduce overall quality.)
The PC version enhances the game already available in stores with cleaner textures and more detailed lighting, but it doesn't drastically change its appearance. What is drastic, and what makes the PC version a much more appealing offering this time around, is the framerate stability. While the framerate in Dark Souls 2 for console tends to dip in tight spaces when multiple rendered characters appear on screen, I didn't find the PC version to suffer the same fate in the five hours I spent with it. I did notice stuttering and pauses at points, but was unable to replicate those specific issues in the same areas.
Dark Souls 2 on PC lacks the additional improvements available to the original Dark Souls using the community-developed DSFix mod. Created by modder Durante, the fix adds the ability to unlock the framerate and a host of other options, such as the option to toggle additional smoothing with fast approximate anti-aliasing, multiple ambient occlusion algorithms and more.
Even with its lone AO option, light and shadow is smoother and more realistic in Dark Souls 2 for PC versus the console version.
PC players will be happy with cleaner textures, especially in dreary environments, and the version's lighting presentation. Additionally, Namco Bandai claims the final PC version will run at 60fps, versus the 30fps on console. The graphical fidelity difference is by no means staggering; the game still doesn't look as pristine as some promotional screenshots have attempted to claim.
Dark Souls 2 on PC looks to be the best looking and performing version of the game. As a reformed fan of the series, the six week wait has been grueling. But my decision to wait was made to ensure I landed the best version of the game, to ensure when I die again and again, I leave one helluva pretty corpse.