Dark Souls II Tweak Guide: Improve Image Quality Quickly & Easily

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In 2012, Peter "Durante" Thoman created the popular DSfix mod for Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition, greatly enhancing the PC conversion of FROM Software’s phenomenally popular action role-playing game. With the sequel launching worldwide tomorrow, Thoman has returned to the world of Dark Souls to evaluate the technical proficiency of the Dark Souls II PC conversion. In short, Thoman concluded that the Dark Souls II PC conversion features almost all of the options PC gamers expect, and that it runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second on even modest systems.

Subsequently, Thoman highlighted several quick and easy NVIDIA GeForce GTX GPU tweaks that bolster the visual fidelity of Dark Souls II, further improving the PC conversion of the multi-million selling sequel. With the tweaks applied, Dark Souls II looks like this:

Dark Souls II - Tweaked PC Game Screenshot

What exactly did Thoman do to improve image quality so considerably? Read on to find out:

We have multiple options for improving image quality in the game. Since Dark Souls 2 supports arbitrary resolutions, one option is to use downsampling, either as a replacement for, or in addition to, the in-game anti-aliasing setting. However, there is another, even better option for those of you with NVIDIA graphics cards: a NVIDIA Inspector “compatibility flag” (0x004412C1) which works with Dark Souls 2 and enables the use of any level of SGSSAA (Sparse Grid Supersampling Anti-Aliasing).

Dark Souls II - SGSSAA Comparison
SGSSAA drastically improves image quality, and reduces temporal aliasing in comparison to the in-game post-process anti-aliasing option.

As you may have noticed in the earlier article, one effect in the game I haven’t discussed in depth so far is its integrated ambient occlusion setting. Ambient occlusion is a screen-space post-processing effect which aims to simulate global illumination. The basic idea is that less light reaches places which are behind objects, or inside fissures and gaps, so these locations should be darkened.

The in-game effect is a quite basic implementation, which sometimes gives more of a “2D drop shadow” effect than an approximation of how real light would behave. It’s still preferable to not having ambient occlusion at all, but modern methods can do much better. Perhaps the best real time ambient occlusion method currently available is NVIDIA’s HBAO+. It can be forced in a variety of games using NVIDIA Inspector, and after a long search I found that the compatibility flag “0x0000001F“ works almost perfectly in the game.

The picture below compares no ambient occlusion, the in-game method, and HBAO+. Note how HBAO+ gives a much more smooth, natural and detailed lighting effect, without the “halos” and errors common in simpler AO methods.

Dark Souls II - Ambient Occlusion Comparison

One additional advantage of HBAO+ which is not visible in screenshots is that it is much more stable in motion, and does not “flicker” around small objects such as hair or grass.

Thoman’s tweak guide walks you through the steps to apply these anti-aliasing, Ambient Occlusion, and anisotropic filtering enhancements, and also offers a custom SweetFX profile that adjusts the game’s aesthetic in a way that some may prefer.

For the best experience in Dark Souls II make sure to download the GeForce 337.50 beta driver via GeForce Experience. If you’re unsure of which in-game settings to enable, switch over to GeForce Experience’s ‘Games’ tab and auto-configure Dark Souls II with a single click.

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