Written By: Sarah Kommer
Publisher: FromSoftware Inc, BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
Genre: Action RPG
Series: Dark Souls
Released: May 23 2018
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows
Review Platform: Microsoft Windows
Around seven years ago we, as massive gaming enthusiasts, were treated to one of the hardest games ever to be released: Dark Souls. Difficulty in video games has long been elusive, the trend evolving to more cinematic experiences that were open to a wider audience, all in the name of profit. Looking back at the history of video games, difficulty was restricted to being something reserved only for games that found their way onto platforms such as the Commodore 64 or the ZX Spectrum. Games back then were catered to those who were considered ‘nerdy’ or ‘geeky’, a moniker that stuck right through until the late 90s before gaming diversified to include a wider audience.
Skip forward quite considerably and 2011 comes around. In comes FromSoftware Inc. In a year where Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Batman: Arkham City were released to massive critical acclaim, FromSoftware bucked the trend and delivered something that most hadn’t seen before. I say most, because this wasn’t the first time that they experimented with what was deemed as impossibly difficult and most gamers won’t remember the old days. From’s reputation to deliver difficult games is something that they’ve been doing since their inception. Their very first game series, King’s Field, is in many ways a spiritual prequal to their Souls series and is also frightfully hard. After King’s Field there was Demon’s Souls, the first in the Souls series and now regarded as a cult classic that found its home on the PS3. The difference here is that Dark Souls was really the first game that struck a chord. Persistence finally paid off for FromSoftware.
So, what is Dark Souls and what does someone need to know about it? Firstly, and most importantly, it’s hard, cruel, and unforgiving. Patience is required as dying is a learning technique for both mechanics and boss fights. Now that that’s out the way, secondly, it’s a third person fantasy action RPG. You’re an undead in a world that is about to be plunged into darkness. All the player must do is link the final bonfire and the world will return to light. The story seems simple enough, if a little deliberately ambiguous, sometimes even abstract. It leaves it up to the player to use their imagination to connect the dots, mostly from the environments that they encounter and the very few NPCs that they speak with.
For 2011 the graphics were great. There were some notable slowdowns, notably in Blighttown and there were other teething problems. But no one particularly cared about the small issues that Dark Souls had. What blew everyone away was the fantastic gameplay matched by excellent level design. Each ‘stage’ brings dread to an unskilled and unlearned player. Unsure of what they are about to face, they wonder when they’ll find the next bonfire which acts as a check point, especially since everything is out to kill them, environment and traps included! This is where Dark Souls excels. Each level loops back into one another and shows some intelligence with the way they were developed. One moment a player can be forgiven for thinking they’re miles away from the next bonfire only to open a shortcut to one they visited previously. Any back tracking that would have taken place is no longer an issue, the open shortcut now provides progression through the game and the next area.
Experience points are found in the form of souls. Souls are received either by killing enemies or consuming souls of the fallen along the way. They are consumed at bonfires to level up a myriad of usual RPG stats from Vitality and Strength through to Intelligence and Attunement. Inevitably levelling these attributes will make the game a little bit easier for an unskilled player. Unfortunately, dying involves dropping said souls. Don’t fear! There’s a way to pick them back up. Returning to the area where a player died and touching your blood pool will restore any lost souls in addition to any more gained along the way. However, there’s a catch. Die again and all souls will be lost permanently. Therefore, Dark Souls rewards players who are cautious and skilled rather than those who are easily frustrated and likely to rush through the experience.
At the end of every area there is a boss fight. They’re all highly unique yet brutally cruel and unforgiving. There’s no doubt that most players will die at least once per encounter as they learn the moves that a boss can use and the other unique parts of each fight. This is something that repeats throughout the game and never becomes stale. There’s a real sense of isolation and loneliness in the game even with the multiplayer element to it. Everything learned comes from experimentation and the very limited tutorial given at the beginning. This turns the game into one giant learning experience. It’s a challenge, but Dark Souls is one that constantly and consistently delivers. Each fight feels like a genuine accomplishment, not one fight feels as if the mechanics diminish or cheapen them. Every time the message ‘YOU DIED’ appears on screen, it’s something that the player missed and could have done better with. It’s the piece of the puzzle that’s missing, the telegraph from the boss that was missed. Next time the player has learned and will do better.
The multiplayer in the game takes shape in the form of co-operative play or player versus player play. Both are triggered by reversing hollowing at a bonfire which trades off the risk for the reward. Co-operative play will make boss fights and encounters far easier but that leaves a player susceptible to those who are willing to take advantage of unwitting adventurers. Back in 2011, the game was notorious for having a lot of hacking going on in player versus player. It made fair fights unrealistic and pointless for the most part. Unfortunately, this is also important to the remaster.
Ah, yes, that. The elephant in the room, so to speak. There’s a reason why I’ve been reviewing a game from 2011 and that’s because the remaster, for all intents and purposes, is the same game. I can’t really emphasise that enough. It’s identical to the 2011 game, even down to the UI, which now can be scaled down to an appropriate size. The graphics are not exactly up to 2018 standard, in fact, most still have the same low-quality textures that were used seven years ago. In fact, the only clear differences I could see were that some places that were meant to be damp looked wetter and that fire looked a bit better. As a part of the graphical upgrade, the FPS was changed from 30 to 60, something that was achievable using the mod DSFix with the original game. All things considered, it’s difficult for me to say that this constitutes a decent remaster graphically. That also extends to sound and music too, which is identical to what was used in the original version.
Some other gameplay aspects have been tweaked, more for ease of use than anything else. Covenants (think of them as mini-guilds with different purposes and mottos) can be changed at bonfires. Multiple souls can be consumed from the inventory as opposed to one at a time. The same is also true for hand ins to covenant leaders. However, the main aspects of gameplay, such as parrying, riposte, backstab and rolling through attacks all remain intact. There are some bug fixes here and there, most notably to that of the Gravelord covenant which didn’t even work in the original game, but to most beginner players the fixes will all go unnoticed. Even some seasoned players may not have encountered some of the original bugs in the game. I know I didn’t! Even worse is that there is still a large slew of bugs that exist. It’s unacceptable for a patch that is masquerading as a remaster.
Most criminally, the old inventory system from yester year remains intact. It’s one of the most cumbersome inventory systems I’ve ever had to thumb my aging fingers through. It was fixed to something far more usable in later games, but given that they know this, it shows that there was minimal effort put into this remaster. Again, having recognised the benefit in using multiple items from the inventory, one would be forgiven to think that they would put some effort into using the UI from the later games as a replacement for the old system used here. The game even goes as far as keeping the old ‘roll system’ in place. Later games implemented a system where you could roll in virtually any direction you wanted and was a vast improvement. Dark Souls Remastered still uses the antiquated system from 2011. There are so many instances of this mind-boggling laziness and cashing in that to list them all here would bloat this review unnecessarily. I don’t know how many times I have to say this at the end of a paragraph, but I’ll say it again. It is a patch, not a remaster!
I’m a massive fan of the Souls series. I was one of the people who jumped on board from Demon Souls and kept up with it right through until now. I can’t state enough how much of a disappointment Dark Souls Remastered is. Having established that it’s essentially a patch, the biggest insult here is that they’re making everyone pay for it. I’m sure that I don’t need to mention how absurd this is, but I feel like I must. It’s quite frankly a disgraceful business practice. To add insult to injury, for Microsoft Windows, a discount was applied to those that already own the original game. It appears they already know that they’re ripping people off by making that decision in the first place.
Now, had Dark Souls Remastered used the engine that was present in the third instalment of the series, I don’t think anyone would complain. What makes this even worse is that an area called Anor Londo is featured in both games. Surely they could have re-used some of the assets from Dark Souls 3 to put into the Remaster? But then these days making a quick buck out of the consumer is vastly more important than delivering original content (or as close to as possible in this case).
There is, of course, an upside to these downsides. If you’ve never played Dark Souls, then this is the perfect entry to start doing so. You won’t have missed out by not playing the original and the Remaster is essentially all that with a few bug fixes and embellishments here and there. Also, if you have played Dark Souls in the past but only on console, then the transition to any version of the game will yield a significant improvement compared to what you were playing seven years ago. For original Microsoft Windows owners, however, it makes no sense to buy it. Stick with the Prepare to Die edition and apply the DSFix mod if 60 FPS is a requirement to you.
Admittedly, perhaps I’m being a little bit harsh. There may be other reasons that someone would wish to purchase Dark Souls. Most notably the addition of password matching in multiplayer, the aforementioned fixes to mechanics such as the Gravelord covenant and the ability to have more players in your world at the same time. Unfortunately, this doesn’t excuse the fact that bugs in multiplayer exist and that hacking is prevalent, making the player versus player side of the game a complete joke that isn’t worth investing any time into. I mentioned before that some bugs can remain elusive to even the most seasoned of players. But if QLOC were actively working on the multiplayer side of the game to add new features, then they must have known the original bugs and potential for hacking. In the original game this was certainly something that got the attention of many players, so it isn’t as if they could just miss it if they received feedback from the community at large.
In conclusion, Dark Souls Remastered is bit of a mix and a lot of disappointment. It’s a classic game with a patch on top of it that should have been free after purchase. That’s all it is. If you’ve never played the game in your entire life, then I implore you, buy it! It’s one of the best and most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have in video gaming, providing the difficulty doesn’t put you off. If you already own Dark Souls, then you should probably hold off unless you’re an avid fan of the series like I am. Even then, I have to prepare you for the disappointment that is coming. Better yet, my advice would be to stick to Dark Souls 3. Sure, it’s no Dark Souls, the pace of the combat being more frenetic than patient, but at least it’s not trying to rip you off with a façade and leaving you questioning ‘what could have been’.
In the spirit of this review, I think it would only be fair to offer two different overall scores. One for the original game and one for the Remaster. Hopefully this will put everything stated above into perspective whether you are a complete beginner to the series or a Souls’ veteran.
Dark Souls (2011) – Overall Rating: 9.5/10 – Classic
Dark Souls Remastered – Overall Rating: 6.5/10 – Okay