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Report: Dark Souls II was ‘unplayable and broken’ before visual downgrades

Posted on March 21, 2014 AT 03:12pm

According to Forbes, a source close to the development of Dark Souls II has talked about how the game was having huge technical issues before changes to its visuals were made late in development.

As From Software’s much-anticipated Souls sequel started getting into the hands of eager fans around the world, players started noticing something: graphical elements that were promised in promotional videos and demoes for the game, especially in terms of lighting, had at times either been seriously toned down or removed entirely.

Since that point, what exactly happened in the final months before the release of Dark Souls II has become a topic of conversation on message forums and online gaming communities. Today, over on the Forbes website, they ran an article reprinting comments that supposedly come from someone “close to the development of the game.”

Here is the first part of that testimonial from the anonymous source, reprinted exactly as not to misrepresent any of the person’s opinions:

“This is what it comes down to: a playable framerate. The early builds that the screenshots came from were playable but only just so. The game was not in a state where it could be sold at that point. I strongly suspect that they were focusing heavily on delivering a top-notch experience on PC and underestimated the challenges the new systems would pose on PS3 / Xbox360. That’s my analysis, anyway. But, factually, the early builds played like Blighttown the entire game.”

When asked about the change in visuals and lighting in the game, some of my fellow colleagues in the industry have seemed to think little of the “controversy”, chalking it up to common differences between preview and final builds, or simply not understanding why it’s a big deal in the first place. For my part, let me take you back to one of the comments I made in my Dark Souls II review:

“There’s a curious footnote to all of this, however: the game’s lighting engine. Having had access to various snippets of Dark Souls II at previous Namco Bandai events, the portions I played don’t feel as dynamically lit as they did before. This is most notable with torches, one of the major new gimmicks added. The idea—so far as I always understood it—was that some locations would be so dark that torches would be needed, and players would be at a disadvantage, given that a hand that once held an additional weapon or shield would instead be busy holding aloft a source of light. At Tokyo Game Show last year, I played a specific segment where I had to do just that; in the final build, that exact same section was now well-lit enough that doing so was no longer necessary. In fact, as they stand now in terms of their effect on gameplay, torches in Dark Souls II feel like a curious feature that was once meant to be part of some much larger gameplay concept, but now often sit as little more than a memory of what could have been.”

The problem with talking about what’s gone on with Dark Souls II’s lighting is this: even though I did get a handful of opportunities to check out how the game was coming along, what I was seeing was indeed early, and just pieces of a much bigger whole.

When it comes time to review a game, the only thing we can really do is review it based on what exists on the disc we put into our machines or in the digital files we download to storage media. I knew that the specific part of the game I’d played had definitely been downgraded in terms of the need for a torch—from “needing one” to “not needing one”—but that was the only factual example I had for where such a major element of that new mechanic had been neutered.

Playing Dark Souls II, there were numerous times where I encountered sections of the game that I was sure had originally been meant to feature the need for a torch much more prominently than they do now. The problem is, most of that was speculation on my part. Right off the bat, Drangleic’s initial training area seemed to be built around the idea of lighting a series of sconces, but as that area stands in the final game, doing so is totally optional—and I can only assume that it once wasn’t, having no direct knowledge or experience to go on.

What isn’t assumption is that by going back and looking at various pieces of media that show off Dark Souls II over time since its announcement, the game’s overall lighting has absolutely changed. Castle hallways and wooded groves are lit nowhere near as dynamically as they were before, to the point that some locations feel almost flat compared to how they look before.

Because of that, the comments offered up in the Forbes piece feel totally believable. For me, however, the bigger question now above what happened to the console versions is what will we get in the PC version? If so much of the tech and ambition being put into Dark Souls II was focused toward that version—no doubt to make up for the very disappointing PC port of the original Dark Souls—will players with powerful rigs get the full, intended experience? Will the lighting and graphical engines be substantially different between the PC and console revisions? If so, that’s great for fans on the PC side—but a huge letdown for console players who, up until release, were still being shown visuals that wouldn’t be possible on their versions.

If the PC version of Dark Souls II does present the game the way it should be presented, then I can’t help but think this thought: From Software and Namco Bandai should have targeted the game for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, not PS3 and Xbox 360. Or, at the very least, it’d be nice to get ports of the game for those platforms, for those of us who don’t splurge on graphics cards and RAM upgrades.

Last but not least, I want to be clear on something. I lay some blame on both From Software and Namco Bandai for not being upfront with Souls fans and acknowledging that some elements of the game, such as visuals and the torch mechanic, would be downgraded in the final release from what had been shown in (or to) media—at least in terms of the console versions. Finding out that had taken place once you’ve purchased the game can lead fans to feeling as if they were deceived. At the same time, I don’t think there was any nefarious plan on the part of either company. Game development isn’t an easy task, and we’re constantly hearing accounts of how the best of intentions can go awry, or seeing how games need to be downgraded from earlier plans because what was in place was too ambitious or too much of a strain on resources.  If we stopped to take a look at how games end up changing (or getting downgraded) during the development process, we’d have a list a mile long of titles to wade through.

Fans are disappointed that Dark Souls II doesn’t match up to what was expected or promised, and for good reason: it’s a fantastic game. We gamers are the most vocal when we care, and both From Software and Namco Bandai should be thankful that so many people care so much about this series. Elements like braving oppressive darkness thanks to the warm glow of a torch looked to add a new dimension to the Souls universe, so it’s a shame that the idea didn’t come together in the way it was originally intended to.

For the full comment from the Forbes source on what happened during Dark Souls II’s development, hit the link below.

Source: Forbes

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got started via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as can realistically be crammed in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk Eric on Twitter: @Eric_EGM. Meet the rest of the crew.

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