Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: May 25, 2018
Available on: Nintendo Switch (coming Q3 2018), PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Two words that have become all too familiar with the players who have delved into From Software’s Souls series. The dark fantasy series, renowned for its challenging gameplay and deep but obscure lore, began in 2009 with the release of Demon’s Souls on the PS3. Its spiritual successor, Dark Souls, arrived in 2011 on the PS3 and Xbox 360, and then later with the “Prepare to Die” edition on the PC. Two more sequels followed in 2014 and 2016, with the second game getting an upgrade to current gen consoles in 2015. Now the first game of the series joins its brethren (and the similarly themed 2015 title Bloodborne) on the PS4, Xbox One, PC, and, later in 2018, on the Nintendo Switch.
Let’s get what’s new out of the way first. Dark Souls Remastered, ported by Polish developer QLOC (developer Virtuos will be handling the Nintendo Switch version), brings with it all of the DLC from the “Prepare to Die” edition, along with enhanced visuals, support for 4K resolution, and running at 60 frames per second (the Switch version will run slower). Multiplayer changes include having the game run on dedicated servers, have increased the number of players onscreen from four to six, and have added password matchmaking so you can play and die with friends. There’s also reportedly an extra bonfire to be found in your travels (always helpful to have an additional save/respawn point).
As with any remastered game, the question invariably comes up “Is this worth getting if I own the original?” As this is ported to current gen consoles, the answer would be yes. This is an enhanced version, it contains all of the previously released DLC, including “Artorias, the Abysswalker”, so if you didn’t dive into that before now you can. The enhancements do show, as the game looks better than its PS3/Xbox 360 counterparts, and often runs smoother (there are still some graphical hiccups present). The question to pick this up is easier if you were a fan of the series before. If you were not a fan (you tried it, but didn’t like dying over and over), this will not win you over, as things haven’t been made any easier. It is a nice place for newcomers to hop on board, especially if you’re seeking out challenging gameplay similar to Nioh or Bloodborne.
For returning fans, they’ll get to relive or, in my case, finally reach bosses they hadn’t previously tackled before. All of the boss fights are here again to enjoy or frustrate. I won’t spoil any here for the newbies, as the first time seeing some of these bosses (“What the fuck is that thing?”) is best experienced on your own. Dark Souls has always been just as much about exploration and uncovering the world’s lore as it has been surviving the brutal combat from bonfire to bonfire. For those willing to dig beneath the surface and speak to every NPC, there is a rich, satisfying world to uncover, even if the game’s main story plot seems thin. But this is not so much a story driven game as a world discovery game, so that’s something to keep in mind before diving in.
As before, the highlight of the game is jolly cooperation in addition to challenging gameplay. Once you get your soapstone, you can place a summons sign down to help others or (one of my tactics) learn the lay of the land while accumulating souls to help you level up. As long as you have humanity, you can summon others to aid you in your quest. Just be kind and repay the favor. I’ve always found the Souls community to be a primarily good bunch, which makes playing online with strangers more pleasurable. If you want to stick with just friends, you can use the password matchmaking feature to die alongside your buddies. Of course, you still will have those who leave trick messages (many a “Try jumping” message can lead to certain death), and there are those who relish in playing invading dark spirits. These folks can definitely ruin your run through an area, but it makes it quite satisfying when you take them out.
The flaws from before sadly also return. There are occasional camera issues, where you don’t have the best of views or even get an obstructed one. Some hit boxes are off in spots, and both camera issues and poor hit boxes can sometimes lead to some cheap deaths. There are some graphical issues, with pop in being the most prevalent. And then there’s Blighttown (returning vets will understand; newbies, good luck). None of these issues overall ruin the enjoyment of the game, though many can try your patience at times.
And if there’s one thing I’ve learned (in addition to accepting death) from my time with the series, is that patience is key. It may take you a long time to reach the end of the game. Or you may not see the credits roll (This is my third time playing the first game of the series, and I still haven’t reached the end. One day I’ll get there.). But I’ve always found, for myself at least, that no matter how much the game kicks my ass, it still has an allure to keep me returning for more. Each time I’ve gotten at bit farther, and have gotten to revel in new discoveries. Taking down a boss, whether alone or with help, is always satisfying, and these victories just make it all seem worthwhile. Some may argue (and with good reason) that there’s something wrong with me to willingly go back time and time again to get killed in horrible fashion. But there is something to be said about perseverance, and my acceptance of Death, both as a consequence of my actions and as a teacher, has helped shape my attitude for gaming in general. There may be frustrations, but the joy of conquering one more boss or getting to a new area provides a level of satisfaction not found in many other games. And that is what makes Dark Souls Remastered worthy of your time and money. So dive in. And die. And join in some jolly cooperation.