I've been playing Dark Souls 2 long after my review because -- let's face it -- you're never really in control of when the Dark Souls experience ends. And having recently passed my eightieth hour within the game, it's hard to avoid taking pity on those with far more self-control than me, who chose to wait over a month for Dark Souls 2's inevitably superior PC port. Seeing as how the original's move to the PC resulted in a much better-looking and better-playing game (with the help of a fan-made patch, of course), it shouldn't come as any surprise that Dark Souls 2 PC outperforms its console brothers by leaps and bounds, easily justifying the painful wait since the console release. And with the PC version having spoiled me so after just a handful of hours, it's becoming an increasingly unthinkable proposition to play Dark Souls 2 in any other form.
I should note that while this preview is meant to explore the technical improvements of Dark Souls 2 on the PC, I'm not exactly a techie. My PC, built in 2010, is fairly modest, which makes it somewhat superpowered in terms of console ports, seeing as the standard for last-gen graphics was set in stone circa 2005. Still, it's starting to show its age, and I can't always run new games at their most extreme settings. Before I even jumped into Dark Souls 2, I turned all of the graphics settings to "high" as a test, unsure of what would even happen, not to mention how different it would look from what I'd grown used to. Jumping back into Drangleic for those first few minutes actually felt shocking -- the difference is really that drastic.
Dark Souls 2 on PS3 isn't an ugly game, but the way it runs can be wildly inconsistent. The frame rate only jumps past 30 when you're alone and in confined spaces, and introducing co-op partners can often make the game chug, thanks to all of the extra geometry it has to keep track of. In my experience with Dark Souls 2 on the PC, the frame rate consistently sticks at a rock-solid 60 (or thereabouts), which made it feel eerily smooth until I grew accustomed to this newfound fidelity. You can run through wide-open spaces without a single hiccup from the visuals, and this increased visual performance also makes it easy to read the many small environmental details that lend much to the narrative and atmosphere of the game; a door-opening pull-chain I previously overlooked on the PS3 version stood out in stark contrast to the wall this time around. And since fighting enemies involves reading their animations and reacting with split-second timing, the higher frame rate helps make battles more manageable -- especially for huge bosses who once made the console versions chug.
Even if you're willing to overlook Dark Souls 2's visual improvements on the PC, it's impossible to deny that the severe reduction in loading times doesn't make for a more enjoyable experience. Since the loading in Dark Souls 2 PS3 annoyed me so much -- I often kept some kind of distraction handy to help me through these periods of inactivity -- I did a little test, and compared just how long I waited between the two different versions. Loading a saved game and jumping into the world takes 32 seconds on the PS3, and 17 on the PC, while teleporting between two locations takes 33 seconds on the PS3, and only nine on the PC. That's in no way a negligible difference, especially since the design of Dark Souls 2 encourages frequent teleportation -- you can't even level up without returning to a central hub. And, needless to say, since Dark Souls 2 will have you dying multiple times, it's much less frustrating to be thrown back into the fray after nine seconds when compared to the half-minute it takes your character to return from the dead in the console version.
If you already own Dark Souls 2 and are thinking about dropping a similar amount on the PC port, this stands as one of the few examples of justifiable double-dipping. True, there's no new content to speak of, but the cosmetic and functional improvements make the console versions feel like the laserdisc to the PC port's Blu-Ray. So if you've been biding your time for Dark Souls 2's PC release, don't worry: You made the right choice. And I can only hope I didn't just make things worse for you.