Dark Souls: Remastered Review

By Marc Hollinshead,
The later months of 2011 saw a game that garnered abundant amounts of attention and continued to maintain a large fanbase through the years that followed. No, I'm not talking about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I am of course referring to Dark Souls. Acting as the spiritual successor to the PS3 exclusive, Demon's Souls, Dark Souls was heralded as a game that revitalised the element of a true challenge in modern games. With punishing gameplay and a beautifully designed world and story, many became enamoured with it, but plenty more were also repelled. Nonetheless, it is now considered to be a classic game that has had varying amounts of influence in the industry since its initial launch.

Fast forward a number of years and we are now in a generation that, while offering wondrously advanced titles, desperately wants to score a quick buck with shiny new releases of older games. It was just a matter of time until Dark Souls had its turn, and now it is a reality in the form of Dark Souls: Remastered. As far as remasters go, it is fairly basic, but this also goes to show just how brilliant and relevant this game was and still is.

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To refresh the memories of returning players and enlighten new players, you play as a lowly undead character in Dark Souls who is befallen with a terrible curse. All those who carry this curse are doomed to slowly lose their sanity every time they die, eventually hollowing into a mindless shell who remembers nothing of their previous life. This is all in thanks to Gwyn, who overthrew the Ancient Dragons and began the age of fire. The game begins when this age of fire is on the brink of fading away, and you are essentially chosen to journey out and reignite the first flame, thus prolonging the age of fire and continuing the cycle.

Of course, this overarching story is only alluded to in the prologue, and it is up to you to figure out the rest of it. The entire Souls franchise has prided itself on this cryptic, yet surprisingly deep method of storytelling through all its games, but the original Dark Souls achieved something else that future games were never able to replicate.

The interconnected world and level design is what enthralled so many players back in 2011. Bonfire warping wasn't immediately available, and even when it was, you weren't able to fast travel to every bonfire in the game. This remains the same in the remaster, so travelling back and forth between zones is mandatory for the majority of your time in Lordran. However, due to the copious amount of shortcuts and winding paths, Firelink Shrine ends up being essentially connected to every area in the game. Dark Souls II and Dark Souls III were noticeably more linear in their design due to the immediate availability of warping between bonfires, so returning players will feel a welcoming sense of nostalgia as they travel through the world.

Everyone's favourite bridge, still has horrific as ever.Everyone's favourite bridge, still has horrific as ever.

The fundamental gameplay of Dark Souls also remains untouched, so series veterans may need to reacquaint themselves with the clunky combat after the much faster third instalment. In the months before its release, players were speculating whether mechanics from later games would be incorporated such as omnidirectional rolling, but this is not the case. While much of Dark Souls’ core gameplay was retained throughout the series, a few mechanics unique to the original are now much more obvious in comparison. Kindling bonfires in order to both cure your hollowing and increase the number of estus flasks you can use was only ever present in the first game, so returning to this may be a little jarring in the remaster.

In terms of general changes, the remaster focuses on a few quality of life changes. While these aren’t major, veterans will be happy to see them. Consuming multiple items at once is a welcome addition, so if you have a bunch of souls to eat up, minutes will now only be seconds. However, even when you just have one of a specific item, the game will still always ask how many you would like to consume, which is slightly unusual. Bonfires are also even more useful than they already were this time around. Covenants can now be switched as you see fit whenever you rest, thus erasing the need to run all over the world whenever you wish to align with a different covenant. This definitely helps to stabilise the overall pacing of the game, keeping you focused on moving forward instead of performing menial tasks out of necessity.

The biggest selling point of the remaster, though, is its updated resolution and smoother frame rate. These are both certainly improved upon, as bonfires provide a much fiercer flame, loot shimmers intensely to entice you into potential traps and blood splatters from an enemy as you stab it in the back. Much to many players' delight, the appalling frame rate that plagued Blighttown is also no more. It now runs just as smoothly as any other location, although it will still be the bane of many playthroughs however you approach it. Despite all of this, there was a consistent dip in frame rate when fighting Sif. As a boss who ensnared many with the slashes of his sword, getting under him to attack always caused the game to struggle. Whether or not this affects everyone is unknown, but it is best to heed the warning.

The bosses are also just as we remembered them.The bosses are also just as we remembered them.

Online content is a key part of the Dark Souls experience, and in the remaster, it has been updated to reflect its overall influence over the course of the series. Six players can now be present at once in a session, opening up far more opportunities in the game’s PvP element. Summoning for some classic cooperation is also plentiful, with many players crying for help on a multitude of boss encounters. Aside from keeping the online portion of the original Dark Souls relevant in this evolving franchise, the game now feels alive once again. Messages of help or hindrance litter the ground, the threat of constant invasions looms over you and help is readily available when Ornstein and Smough destroy you. It’s Dark Souls as it was intended to be played.

Although there is a visual upgrade, it is clear that the game has a few years on it. Dark Souls III and Bloodborne were beautiful games with an incredible eye for detail, so the original, while remastered for more powerful consoles, still has blemishes that simply come with age. Upgraded lighting effects have helped to pierce through those blemishes, though, satisfying those who pine for a gorgeous view.

Time for some jolly cooperation!Time for some jolly cooperation!

Despite the challenge that the series presents, the achievement lists of FromSoftware’s punishing games have never been particularly creative. Dark Souls: Remastered offers an identical list to its counterpart, requiring you to do everything that it originally demanded of you with its 41 achievements. Although the DLC is included in this package, it has been reported that none of the extra content within the land of Oolacile is required for the collection-based achievements. However, due to the constraints of the original Dark Souls, you still need to be extremely diligent when hunting down sorceries, miracles, pyromancies and rare weapons. Returning players will know the drill, but new ones may need a few guides to get the full bunch.

Summary

Dark Souls was a brilliant game in 2011, and it is still a brilliant game in 2018. As a returning player, copious amounts of nostalgia will wash over you as everything comes back to you, and new players get to jump in with the best version of the title. There are no radical changes to alter gameplay as the majority of in-game items and mechanics are just as the developers left them a few years ago. However the smaller updates to particular features are welcome additions, along with the overall smoother running of the game, albeit with a few hiccups on the odd occasion. With publishers regularly being satisfied with only the most basic of upgrades in remasters, it's not too surprising that the developers have scrimped on some of the potential that this version of Dark Souls could truly accomplish. Despite this, it's still a fantastic game and it is well worth reliving once again or experiencing for the first time.
4 / 5
Dark Souls: Remastered
Positives
  • Quality of life changes eliminate needless time wasting of the original
  • Frame rate is mostly smooth, even in Blighttown
  • Brilliant world design and unique gameplay mechanics still feel as wonderful as ever
Negatives
  • The game's age can still be clearly seen when compared to the rest of the series
  • Returning players are in for an almost identical experience
Ethics
The reviewer spent approximately 21 hours journeying through Lordran as the Chosen Undead, embracing death at every turn. 17 achievements were earned in the process. A code for the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Marc Hollinshead
Written by Marc Hollinshead
To summarize Marc in two words, it would be "Christian Gamer." You will usually find him getting stuck into story heavy action-adventure games, RPG's and the odd quirky title when he isn't raving about Dark Souls and Mass Effect. Outside the world of gaming, Marc attends and helps out in his church on a regular basis and has a not-so thrilling job in a supermarket.