Graphics Analysis: Dark Souls 2

Maximum PC Staff

We compare the game’s low, medium, and high settings with comparison pictures and video

Welcome to Maximum PC's new "graphical analysis" feature where we do a deep dive analysis on a video game's graphics options comparing its low, medium, and high settings along with any other graphical bells and whistles it may offer. In this on-going feature we will provide picture and video comparisons to the PC's biggest games. We know you’re probably either equipped with a bad-ass rig or on the cusp on upgrading so we wanted to give you a visual glimpse of what your system/future system might be able to handle playing certain titles.

For our inaugural story, we decided to go with the recently-released Dark Souls 2.

It's no secret that the original Dark Souls on the PC was a terrible port. The game easily made our 10 Worst PC Ports list in large part due to its lack of graphical options. It's default resolution was 720p (yuck!). Furthermore, you had to pretty much hack the game to get it working in 1080p. Namco and FromSoftware said they were going to change that with the PC version of Dark Soul 2, so we wanted to take it for a visual test drive to see for ourselves.

Dark Souls 2: Graphics Analysis Video Comparing low, medium, and high settings.

Testing Methodology:

We wanted our tests to be easily replicated, so we ran the game in 1080p, using Dark Souls 2's preset graphics options, which include "Low," "Medium," and "High." These are the only presets the game offers, there is no "Ultra" preset in Dark Souls 2. We should mention that the point of this test is to analyze image quality and visual fidelity. This is not a frame rate performance test.

We captured our screenshots and video with a modest gaming rig, which sports an Intel Core i7 4770K CPU, 8GB of 1600MHz G.Skill RAM, and a GTX 680 video card.

The settings we used for each test are shown in the screenshots below:

Low Preset

Medium Preset

High Preset

On a related note, the game's minimum and recommended specs are listed here .

Video Scene Analysis:

Note: You can click on the images below to see an animated GIF comparing the scene running across Low, Medium, and High settings.

Ocean Scene

Our first scene has the game rendering an ocean, located near the game's hub city, Majula. When the scene is rendering on Low settings, it barely renders the ocean's waves. After we cranked it up to Medium, the waves became much more pronounced, finally, on High you can see the waves start to foam up a little more. We also noticed that the cloth on our character's trousers were less jaggy at Medium and High settings. Overall, there is a big difference between Low to Medium, but the disparity is less between Medium to High.

Note: You can click on the images below to see an animated GIF comparing the scene running across Low, Medium, and High settings.

Indoor dark dreary dungeon scene

In the second scene in our video, we captured footage from a dark dreary dungeon. This time, it was hard for us to delineate a difference between any of the game's presets. Our character’s particle effects looked the same in Low, Medium, and High. We did see a difference in the dungeon’s walls, however, which featured more detail at Medium and High settings. If you look at the arch way, you can see more textures on the rocks when the game is running in Medium and High.

Note: You can click on the images below to see an animated GIF comparing the scene running across Low, Medium, and High settings.

Outdoor castle courtyard scene

The last scene from our video shows our character in a castle courtyard. As we went from Low to High, it was again difficult for us to tell the difference between the three presets. Our character did look more detailed when we cranked up the setting from Low to High, but other than some minor shadows underneath the grass, we couldn’t see many major visual upgrades in the environment. The castle's gray walls had a few more textures and shadows when going from Low to High settings, but these are very minor enhancements.

Extra Scenes not in the Video:

Castle vegetation scene

In this scene we see a castle wall covered in green vegetation. We see a consistent increase in detail going from Low to High. As we went up in graphical fidelity, the moss on the castle’s exterior becomes greener, crisper, and filled with more shadows.

Boulder scene

Another area that we took a peek at featured a few boulders outside. As you can see it was difficult for us to tell the difference between the game’s presets. We found that the rocks became more detailed going from Low to High, but there wasn't a huge difference within the rest of the environment.


In doing our graphics test we saw the biggest difference in image quality when we had our character in highly-lit areas, or surrounded by water. When we were in dark or low-lit areas, the differences were quite negligible. For the most part, there doesn't seem to be a huge difference between Medium and High settings. The Medium preset in some cases looked almost identical to the High preset, with but a few minor missing textures and shadows. Ultimately, if you're playing Dark Souls 2, you probably won't see a huge disparity in image quality going from Medium to High, and this game isn't one that is likely to impress your console-loving friends with the game's highest settings.

Did you like this feature? If so, which game would you like us to do a deep dive graphical analysis on next?

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