Prepare To Die Again…
Game: Dark Souls Remastered
Publisher: Bandai Namco/FromSoftware
Available on: PC, PS4, XBox One
Reviewed on: PC (Personally purchased by reviewer)
Five hours into my return to Lordran, I could only think of Star Wars. This might seem like an odd comparison given that one of them is a jolly space adventure about wizards and laser swords and the other is a dour medieval styled fantasy RPG (although it does still have wizards), but that’s not the reason that the comparison popped into my head. In 2004 the original Star Wars trilogy hit DVD. While it wasn’t the HD version we would get several years down the line (given that Blu Ray was very much still in its formative years and going head-to-head with HD-DVD) this was the first time we’d seen these films get a loving digital touch up. I remember sticking A New Hope in my player and being awestruck at the detail that popped up on the blockade runner in the opening sequence, the details I missed in the cantina, the texture on the surface of the Death Star. It was still the same film I loved, but the extra attention made it feel fresh and, to a degree, a new experience. That’s what Dark Souls Remastered is like.
But that comparison works in more ways than one. The Star Wars DVDs were not perfect. Far from it in some instances. Colour correction was off in some scenes, things had been added that sometimes elevated the films but sometimes were detrimental to the overall experience. They were fantastic, but there was an underlying feeling that the people working on the remaster couldn’t quite decide whether to overhaul the experience completely, or leave it as it is and settled on a middle ground that left some elements disjointed. This is also what Dark Souls Remastered is like.
I’ve been looking forward to DS:R way before it was announced, back when it was rumoured for the Switch (that version is still coming, but not til an unspecified time in the Summer) and I’ve always tried to temper my expectations for what such a remaster might bring. Regardless of your personal opinion of the series, the original Dark Souls is a true cornerstone of gaming, a title that wasn’t afraid to push players to their limits while creating a real, living world with its own rules and lore. As the series visual fidelity has grown, so too has the ambition, but left in the wake of this evolution is the genius world design of the first game. In all these respects, Dark Souls is a true masterpiece.
Remastered doesn’t lose any of this. It is, to all intents and purposes, Dark Souls. You start in the Undead Asylum, make your way to Firelink Shrine and begin your adventure by tackling the Undead Burg. Enemy and item placement, NPC’s, the shortcuts and interconnecting paths through the world – they’re all there, just as you remember them. Welcome to Dark Souls – it’s like you never left. You can still farm the rats in The Depths for humanity, still trick the Taurus Demon into jumping off the bridge for an easy kill, and still get invaded by players cosplaying as Giant Dad, only now it’s all in glorious 60fps and 4K (where available). It’s brilliant that the game is now running so damn smoothly, although there is an undeniable nag that perhaps this could have been a ground up reimagining, using the Dark Souls 3 engine, with new enemy placements and items ala the Scholar of the First Sin update for Dark Souls 2. In that respect it hardly seems like an essential purchase. So, say you’re happy with the janky old Dark Souls – why would you want Remastered?
The easy answer is – the online. Yeah, yeah, I know – Dark Souls online can be more than a little intimidating, but there is literally nothing like playing multiplayer in these games. Need a hand with a boss? Pop some humanity and summon another player. Fancy helping out? Throw down your summon sign. And if you’re in a mean mood, go do some invading. Your victim best hope they’ve got gud. While there was certainly a community of sorts on the original version from 2011, it was, in recent years, mainly made up of the hardcore few – people looking purely for PvP, rocking high end gear. Summon signs were rare for casual (casul?) players which meant, if you wanted some online action, you’d DEFINITELY best git gud. Yeah, online is an acquired taste and the way that it’s handled does raise ire – people playing co-op resent invasions (although they’re easy to avoid if you want to completely solo the game) but with the rejuvenated community that the remaster brings, the game has never felt this alive! Looking for co op partners has become fun again, the sheer number of summon signs scattering each location is incredible! Add to this the increased player cap of six in any given session and the action is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in this game.
But that all comes with a caveat and that is the darker part of the Dark Souls community. This is specifically aimed at the PC version of the game. Invaders are one thing, hell even invaders with a low level who use highly buffed weapons to be able to invade equally low level players and one shot them are bearable to an extent, but Dark Souls Remastered on PC has a hacker problem. This isn’t just players who fiddle their game data to add infinite health or high speed – from day one there has been a wealth of people who are invading the games of others and using hacks to corrupt their save files, essentially ruining their characters and potentially getting them banned from the servers. That isn’t cool but it’s an issue that’s been plaguing the series on PC for many years now and it’s a shame that this doesn’t seem to have been plugged up for the remaster. The PC version is a hard enough sell as is given the existence of game improving mods for the original Prepare To Die release (now pulled from Steam) and an aggressive hacking community can only push players to consoles.
On top of the extra sparkle and improved online, though, there are one or two quality of life adjustments made to the game. Multiple items can now be consumed at once, so popping souls for levelling up and offering up gifts to covenant leaders is now a far less laborious task. Covenants themselves (in game groups which can be joined to give the players benefits and rewards for going online) have also seen a boost, with the ability to switch them at bonfires, however this does seem to come with the old disadvantage that abandoning one covenant for another will penalise you. There’s also a couple of minor adjustments such as the Dried Finger (allows the full six players for online but increases the risk of invasion) being available at the start of the game, as well as an extra bonfire next to a late game NPC who can improve your weapons meaning that you won’t have to do quite as much backtracking.
Like watching a film in HD for the first time that you’ve only ever seen on VHS, Dark Souls Remastered sparkles with enough clarity to feel simultaneously both new and familiar. For some this may seem like a shallow cash grab, but the rejuvenated online for players across all systems is a huge reason to pick up what is undeniably a genre classic.