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PC Report: Dark Souls 2

By LDK on Apr 29 2014 10:05 PM in Port reports
PC Reports are a series of quick first impressions regarding the technical aspects of a PC game. This report was written by PCGamingWiki contributor LDK. For an up to date account of Dark Souls 2 fixes and improvements, please visit its respective PCGamingWiki article.

Dark Souls 2 is third installment of the "Souls" series but only second game on PC platform. First Souls game on the PC, Dark Souls, has been very rushed port with some controversial limitations, locked 720p resolution, locked framerate and awful mouse and keyboard support. Developer From Software promised proper PC version of Dark Souls, we are going to look, if they succeeded this time.

Dark Souls 2 was released on April 25, 2014 for Windows and is available through several digital distribution channels.

System requirements


Minimum

  • CPU: Intel Pentium Core 2 Duo E8500 3.17 Ghz, AMD Phenom II X2 555 3.2 Ghz
  • RAM: 2 GB
  • HDD: 14 GB
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT, ATI Radeon HD 5870

Recommended

  • CPU: Intel CoreTM i3 2100 3.10 GHz, AMD A8 3870K 3.0 GHz
  • RAM: 4 GB
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 750, ATI Radeon HD 6870
The game is asking for a rather old components in its minimum requirements so it should run on a variety of older machines. Even recommended hardware specifications are not very menacing.

Testing methodology


Testing was done on a system with Core i7 clocked to 4.5 GHz, 32 GB RAM and AMD Radeon HD 6870 in 2560x1600 resolution. Unfortunately the game has framerate limiter set to 60 frames per second and this system is fast enough to run stable on 60 FPS regardless of settings thus making standard FPS measuring rather inconclusive.

To circumvent this problem I was forced to abandon framerate measuring and measure GPU utilization which is in percents.

In normal conditions (framerate not limited by the game, fast CPU) GPU is utilized close to 100% and framerate is fluctuating on complexity of the rendered scene. In this case however, maximum framerate is locked and my machine is able to keep framerate on maximum value of 60 FPS. To keep this framerate, GPU has to wait after it finishes a frame and this is lowering utilization.

For example low end GPU is able to barely keep 60FPS so its utilization is 100%. Much faster GPU hasn't got many problems to achieve 60 FPS and it has to wait after each frame making its utilization only 60%.

Keep that in mind when reading graphs in this article as lower value means better performance.

Measuring was done by utility GPU-Z, version 0.7.7, with sensor refresh rate set to a half a second. The game lacks internal benchmark so test run in game was done in the main hub called Majula by running from obelisk to the camp fire, then to the pit and back to the obelisk. This run takes around a minute and produces roughly 120 data points.

Recently released new Durante's utility GeDoSaTo wasn't used in this test as I was unable to produce consistent results with it and using it created game instability. And since game started using VAC as anti-cheat solution, there is a slight chance, that you can get banned. Developer of this tool considers that highly unlikely though.

Video settings


Basic video option consists of resolution, full-screen mode and auto detection. Windowed borderless mode is not supported out of the box and external utility, such as Borderless-Gaming, is needed. Again be careful of using any third party application as Dark Souls 2 is using VAC.

List of available resolutions is taken from operating system, so vast variety of single monitor resolutions are supported (presumably even 4k). Unfortunately the game is again locked to 16:9 aspect ratio so multi-monitor support is achieved only by using Flawless Widescreen utility, which can get you in trouble with VAC.

menu video


Additional graphics settings can be found in the next menu. List grew quite a bit since its predecessor which contained only anti-aliasing and motion blur toggles. Dark Souls 2 features settings for variety of popular effects, some of them can be set in a different levels.

Almost every effect can be adjusted directly in game apart from texture quality and high-quality character rendering. These two are applied after reloading your save.

Unfortunately there is no field of view setting but default field of view is set rather reasonably and didn't cause me any discomfort even after few hours of playing.

Mute on focus lost cannot be set and is disabled by default and the game simulation is not even paused when alt-tabbing, which is highly unusual behavior. Although alt-tabbing is working perfectly from fullscreen mode and is not very slow.

Performance


Dark Souls 2 performed on my system very well as it has been outlined on methodology paragraph. CPU-wise the game is working on simulated dual-core system without any performance impact, however when limiting it to only single core the game was unplayable.

Allocated RAM never exceeded 900MB, same with VRAM, even on max details. Loading a level is fast, although cold start has several annoying notifications requiring user's input.

graph preset


The game features three presets: Low, Medium and High. Again bear in mind these numbers are not representing frames per second, but rather GPU utilization. On Low preset the GPU is working only 50% of the time. High preset comes with 30% performance cost as the GPU has to work at 82%.



Apart from massive background blur and ocean quality, image difference is not very apparent. Frankly I got a feeling, that some of featured graphical effects are there just to mask horrible objects in the distance and other low resolution/low polygon assets (see rocks and castle in this screenshot). PNG screenshot of preset in higher resolution: Low, Medium, High.

Texture quality


Texture quality can be set to Medium (presumably a console resolution) and High. There is very little (2%) performance impact when setting it on High. VRAM utilization also rose only by a 40 MB (620 MB on everything Low, 660 MB with TQ on High).
graph texture quality




Surprisingly there is almost no image quality difference between Normal and High. Textures are significantly better on character models when viewed from up close, but that only happens on cut-scenes or very rare instances in the game. Some textures are very nice and seems to be in high resolution but many other textures are not which created bad contrast when these two resolution assets are placed close to each other. Tiling one texture on a large area is also very common unfortunately. Screenshots in full resolution: Medium, High, placement.


textures different resolutions


Shadow quality


Shadows are the most performance heavy in the game taking almost 20% of performance when turning on High. There are also Medium, Low and Off states.

graph shadow quality




Higher setting means higher resolution of shadows, but only characters and few objects are casting shadows and only few items are considered light sources. I haven't found specific pattern what qualifies objects for shadow casting and lights as a light sources. Generally characters are casting shadows, but I've encountered few torch stands and pillars that also casts shadows. One pillar is casting shadows correctly, but pillar just next to it does not. And this inconsistency is prevalent also with light sources. Sun is considered light source, same with player lit torches, but camp fires and many other torches are not. Screenshots in full resolution: Off, High, inconsistency.

slider shadows inconsistency


Water surface quality


Water surface quality is very performance cheap but very nice looking effect. With quality set to low, ocean is just dark and bland. Increasing quality to Medium or High increases GPU utilization just by 2% and ocean surface looks tremendously better.

graph water surface quality


Unfortunately this effect is applied only to ocean and I haven't noticed any difference on any other water bodies. Screenshots in full resolution: Low, Medium, High.



Model quality and HQ character rendering


I haven't noticed any difference in model quality settings, performance impact was only 1%.

High-quality character rendering is turning on cloth animations, otherwise there is no noticeable difference. Performance impact is below 1%.

Anti-aliasing


The game features only FXAA which is low quality post process blur filter. There is some jaggies reduction, but also fine details on textures are lost as whole picture is blurred. It is the cheapest anti-aliasing solution performance-wise, turning it on costs only 7% performance. Samples on the right are anti-aliased. Screenshots in full resolution: Off, On.

Aa comparison


Ambient occlusion


Ambient occlusion setting has only two states - on and off. Implemented solution is not performance demanding (costing only 3%), but also doesn't look particularly good.



Again I've noticed some inconsistency with this effect. On some scenes ambient occlusion is hardly noticeable, in others it is disturbingly strong. Screenshots in full resolution: scene 1 On, Off; scene 2: On, Off.



Depth of field


Dark Souls 2 is perfect example how depth of field effect should never be used. Depth of field can be nice and very powerful effect that adds realism to binoculars, camera viewfinders, gun sights and other devices, that uses lenses. Here we have blur filter on everything little bit too far or close without any context. Unfortunately Dark Souls 2 is not the only game, that is using DoF completely wrong. At least it does not affect performance very much.



By that comparison it is apparent, that this effect is used mainly for masking low resolution textures and object on the skybox. For better comparison open these screenshots in full resolution: On, Off.

graph misc effects


Controls


Dark Souls 2 has been developed with controller in mind and Xbox controller works quite nicely right away. There are some problems with controller autodetection and multiple HID devices but that can be easily resolved by disabling every controller but one. There are few settings hidden in Game Options menu such as X, Y axis reversion, sensitivity and vibration strength. The only controller rebindable action is Jump, no other buttons can be changed.

menu game


Keyboard and mouse support is much better than its predecessor, but it is still light years from perfect and miles from just usable. First of all there are Xbox button prompts regardless of having the controller or not. That is making learning the game extremely difficult as tutorial offers only information like "Pushing RB LS makes triple jump". You can use our guide for some of the prompts.

Every menu and option screen is screaming controller and is very hard to navigate with mouse as there is zero consistency. There are hidden sections that are activated by just hovering mouse cursor over them and getting from that section properly is also a nightmare. Let me give you an example with key mapping menus:

menu nightmare 1


Hitting escape key frees mouse from camera control and shows first menu and cursor. Hovering over icons shows drop-down sub menu. Clicking on Key Bindings brings appropriate menu. This menu consist of two sections: top selector of action groups and bottom section with actions and assigned keys. Hovering over top icons is switching between them nicely, but hovering over assigned keys locks this section and hovering over top icons is no longer working.

menu nightmare 2


So how to escape this menu a save changes? Logical solution would be hitting escape key with hopes, that would bring a dialog asking for saving any changes. Unfortunately escape key immediately shuts down every menu and all the changes are lost. Properly closing menu with saving is by action called "Cancel" or by clicking right mouse button and selecting back.

This confusing behavior is prevalent in every menu screen. Technically you can use your mouse to navigate through them, it is just extremely frustrating.

Another lovely new feature is double click binding. Some actions can be assigned to the mouse button double click. Interesting idea, horrible execution. Light left and right arm attacks are assigned to single click left and right mouse button respectively. Unfortunately after the game receives single click, it waits for potential second click, that could never come, thus delaying actions assigned to single clicks by a significant amount of time. Combat with these delays is very imprecise and again very frustrating.

This issue has been briefly mentioned in the Official Bandai Namco Support Thread on Steam Community forums, but it has been since deleted from the first post. That suggests this will never be officially fixed, but few fixes are available in our Wiki article.

Camera control with mouse is precise, and I haven't had any problems with it at all. Mouse acceleration is disabled by default and the game even ignores acceleration set by operating system so at least something is finally done right.

Audio


Audio options are accessible only from the game and not from main menu. The game features voice chat, that is thankfully disabled by default. Volume of music, sound effects and voices can be adjusted separately.

Surround sound is supported by default, however there is no fine tweaking. On my system the game took surround sound setting from the operating system and correctly used 7.1 configuration. Sound mixing is little bit iffy, some effects are sent only to front speakers and ignores position of camera or player. Overall surround sound is implemented very well.

Conclusion


Performance in the game is very good but that comes with cost of not very striking visuals. Graphical settings offers only disputable visual changes. Resolutions are working correctly. Keyboard and mouse controls are barely usable and require extensive tweaking to work right so controller is again highly recommended. It seems that From Software haven't learned much from first Dark Souls and offers classic port from consoles.

PC Reports are a series of quick first impressions regarding the technical aspects of a PC game. This report was written by PCGamingWiki contributor LDK. For an up to date account of Dark Souls 2 fixes and improvements, please visit its respective PCGamingWiki article.



5 Comments

Moving the mouse very slowly or zooming in with a bow shows mouse acceleration is active.

 

It's a bit jittery with certain movements, but otherwise it's alright. At least it feels like a mouse this time instead of an analog stick.

Great port report. Thanks for your efforts :)

Great job LDK! Just getting started with Dark Souls II so this will come in handy.

DAOWAce: I haven't experienced that at all. Zooming with bow has the same sensitivity as normal camera so it is faster then it should be but definitely no acceleration is there for me. Could you try this test please?

Disappointing news about the m kb controls still being poor. I've been trying to get into the first Dark Souls but the controls are just woeful, and I don't feel like spending £20 on a controller for a game I bought for £5 in a sale.

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