Dark Souls Remastered is the Dark Souls of remasters. Please don’t click off this review, I’m sorry. Seriously, it’s the remaster of the 2011 release of From Software’s action RPG Dark Souls. However From Software hasn’t returned for the remaster, they have a consulting role only here. Development was in the hands of Chinese studio Virtuos, who handled the ‘Return to Arkham’ series and the ‘Ezio Collection’. The game has had two sequels and essentially invented the ‘Soulslike’ genre that led to inspired clones like Nioh and less inspired clones, like Lords of the Fallen. The game has amassed a very hardcore fanbase due to its famed difficulty and has become renowned in the gaming community. Every time a challenging game releases, even when it’s as unique as 2017’s Cuphead, it is likened to the Souls series. So much so that ‘the Dark Souls of…’ has become a meme that even Bandai Namco are referring to on the box art. Well, let us hope this isn’t the Dark Souls of reviews and get right into analyzing this fantasy action RPG.
Release Date: May 25th, 2018
Size: 7.3 GB
Genre: Action RPG
Developed By: From Software originally, Virtuos for the remaster
Published By: Bandai Namco
Dark Souls has a very cryptic story. The game only has one real cutscene with any dialogue and it’s the opening cinematic. It does an excellent job of setting the stage of the game and introducing key characters. You know that the world has seen a devastating war and that Lord Gwyn is desperate to stop the fire fading and halt the decline of humanity. When the fire burned brightest the world was in its most prosperous state. Now that it’s fading it is vulnerable. The apocalypse is drawing near and it has multiple faces. For Gwyn, this apocalypse is the end of the Age of Fire, the age that gave him his great power. For the world of Lordran where the game takes place, the true apocalypse is the encroaching Abyss (As this remaster includes the DLC, it seems fitting to include the DLC story as part of the main narrative).
The DLC actually takes place in the past and stars Manus, Father of the Abyss. The Abyss is an all conquering darkness that is moving in on Lordran. Gwyn is fully aware of this and sends one of his greatest knights; Artorias, to quell the threat of the Abyss in Oolacile. All of this is fed to the player through clues sprinkled across the world. Small details hidden away in item descriptions, the placement of corpses in the world and some lines of dialogue from NPCs all work together to form a narrative for the player to become immersed in. It really is a beautiful way to tell a story; on one hand, you have a game that focuses entirely on gameplay and never removing the player from the moment to moment action. On the other hand, you have this incredibly layered narrative that doesn’t distract a player from the immense tasks at hand.
The whole story really screams epic. As the ‘chosen undead‘ you know it is your place to save the world and really take Lordran and humanity’s fate in your hands. The inhabitants of Lordran have lost their humanity, desperate to cling on to the remaining embers of the first flame and they’re willing to protect that with their lives. However, not all hope is lost. Luckily there’s a spectacular group of characters who haven’t yet gone ‘Hollow’ and are willing to aid you on your quest. This ranges from the serpent Kingseeker Frampt to the gloriously incandescent Warrior of Sunlight Solaire. They all have brilliant dialogue that brings them to life as well as mystery surrounding their characters that makes them interesting to get to know. The enemies are the same. Almost every boss has stories just waiting to be uncovered and as the player, it’s your privilege to learn what genius From Software’s writers have crafted.
The heart of any Souls’ game. For the veterans it is fantastic news, this is the same combat you know and love. Everything works just as you remember it, with one added bonus: 60 frames per second. Everything is more responsive, your movement is more fluid, it feels so much smoother.
It really is fantastic. Even in areas of the game well known for their poor performance this remaster really steps it up to make sure those areas run perfectly. Not once did I have a single frame drop playing on PS4 Pro. Even in Blightown, surrounded by enemies, it was locked at 60. In the original, on PS3 this area chugged along at about 10 frames per second. It really is a game changing enhancement. To top it off there’s a 4K shine, 1080p on base consoles, that really shows. The whole game appears sharper. Everything stands out just a little bit more than it used to and objects are more defined. Even character models feel more real than they did in the original. The volumetric lighting is an absolute game changer. Small details like fire around Bonfires and candles really bring burst into action and look alive. These visual improvements are really appreciated and really do a lot to ensure that this package is the definitive way to experience Dark Souls on console.
Now that we’ve discussed the differences, it’s time to talk about what remained the same. This is an action RPG. The game relies heavily on combat, fighting is what you’ll spend 95% of your time doing. The combat is quite slow and tight rather than over the top like a hack and slash. Blocking and dodging is vital, this is not a game that can be brute forced. It is a game with a ton of variety though. Like any RPG you have stats that you can level up with ‘Souls’ that you earn from killing enemies. These stats offer you that variety with your build. Want to play as a tank with a huge hammer held in two hands? Easy. Want to be a fast spell caster who is capable of healing themselves and allies? Easy. There are many different weapons that all require different mixes of stats in order to effectively wield them, as the combat is integral to the game, the variety adds a lot of replay value. Playing through with a different build can feel like playing an entirely different game. The boss fights are the stars of the combat. Every time it’ll be a real battle, you’ll come close to losing and definitely lose more than you’ll win. The challenge of the game ensures this. Eventually you’ll conquer these challenges one at a time and you’ll feel incredible. There are a ton of moments of celebration to be had in this game, whether it’s finally defeating a boss on your 20th attempt or reaching a checkpoint known as a Bonfire after a grueling level.
Bonfires are the safest zones you’ll find in Lordran. When you rest at one, you can spend you Souls to level up, manage your inventory and a couple more things you’ll learn in the game. Another mechanic of the Bonfire is resetting every non unique enemy you’ve defeated. Bosses remain dead, as do NPCs. With only a handful of exceptions, every other enemy in Lordran will come back to life to do battle with you all over again. This is what creates the gameplay loop. When you die you’re sent back to the last Bonfire you visited minus your XP. By making your way back to your point of death you can recover this XP and keep all the XP you gathered on the way. This helps to counter the game’s difficulty as you can potentially double your XP with a death. Of course, making it back to your point of death will not be easy. The challenge really ramps up as well. After you finish the game you unlock New Game Plus, allowing you to replay the game with the same character but increased difficulty. You can do this multiple times.
The game will genuinely terrify you. The risk and reward gameplay combined with the challenge really make the player feel vulnerable at all times. When you do start to improve at the game you’ll notice and you’ll feel incredible for it. However, if the challenge is getting to you then don’t fret. Multiplayer is here to save the day. Technically the entire game can be played co-operatively. Thanks to some additions to the Remastered version you can use passwords to specifically matchmake with friends making for a true co-op experience. Even solo there will always be random players online offering their assistance around boss arenas. It ensures that you’ll always have an option to help you get through the tougher sections of the game. The other side of multiplayer is PVP. At any time when you’re ‘Human’, you can be invaded by an enemy player. Being Human is required for co-op play, so if you’re looking for people to help you then beware, an experienced enemy could hunt you at any time. It really emphasizes the theme of risk reward and attributes to you never feeling safe in Lordran.
“The game is a genuine feat of architectural design”
The final aspect of gameplay that needs discussing is Lordran itself. The world is marvelous. Each area is unique and bursting with lore, from the glorious city of the Gods Anor Londo to the dark atmospheric catacombs below Firelink Shrine. The Remastered version’s slight improvements really work in these area’s favor, the textures are sharper and this makes the game feel less like a game and more like a world. The other big advantage of Lordran is the interconnected aspect of the world. You’ll be about to fight a boss, feeling it has been a long time since the last Bonfire. You’ll look to the side and see a door or a lift and bang, you’ll be back at an area you already visited. You’ll wonder how it’s even possible. How do these areas connect? Then you’ll think about it and the way the world is crafted makes it so obvious that the placement of each area and corridor is exactly where it should be. The game is a genuine feat of architectural design.
Feel free to check our beginner’s guide here:
Graphics and Sound
Overall this is the weakest part of the package. That isn’t to say the graphics are bad, they just aren’t special. The improvements are brilliant but Dark Souls has never been a particularly beautiful game and it shows on current gen hardware. Some vistas are spectacular, like the first time you see Anor Londo with the sun shining down on the city or Seath’s glistening Crystal Caves. Then you reach the Demon Ruins. Basically unfinished and messy, there are textures missing and it generally has a PS2 feel to it. Luckily the gameplay is so smooth and enemies look so great that you won’t notice the muddy textures in the background.
In terms of sound again the game does nothing special. Boss fights are scored well, it really sets the stage for epic moments throughout. In particular, the final boss has a wonderfully somber score that really helps it to become memorable. Throughout the rest of the game, the world is quiet. This lack of music is atmospheric and keeps the focus on the combat. Enemy noises are what you expect, grunts and moans from all manner of beasts. The voice acting is superb though. You feel the positivity and naiveté from characters like the Onion Knight and Solaire. You feel the evil and deviousness from a certain other NPC whose name I will not be mentioning. As an overall package, Dark Souls Remastered is a marked improvement on the original but an opportunity to make some more drastic graphical overhauls has been sadly missed.
Dark Souls Remastered is a special experience. With almost no narrative or direct story the game somehow utilizes combat to force the player to feel true emotion, you’ll feel victorious, devastated, inspired, distraught, confused, powerful and so much more. The world really works well with the story that’s available to convey a quest of epic proportion. You know what you’re doing is important. You feel the stakes. It’s this gauntlet of emotions that a player feels that makes Dark Souls so unique. There’s no doubt that this is an incredibly challenging game, but it’s a challenge well worth undertaking. There is no way to describe the sense of personal achievement this game will give you, experience it yourself and you’ll feel an addiction creeping in that you won’t be able to escape. This Remaster really is the definitive Dark Souls experience and a brilliant way to make one of the best games as accessible as possible.