Dark Souls: Remastered (PS4) - ReviewPaul Broussard , posted on 10 June 2018 / 2,716 Views
If 2018 has demonstrated one thing thus far, it’s that the trend of remastering video games isn’t likely to end anytime soon. The remake/port/remaster train isn’t slowing down, either, with Dark Souls: Remastered, an updated version of 2011’s Dark Souls, releasing earlier this month. Does Dark Souls hold up seven years after release? Read on to find out.
If you’ve never played Dark Souls, you probably know it best as a series that is very difficult. That, while certainly true, sells the games short (perhaps the second entry notwithstanding). The Souls games are a mix of Metroidvania-esque exploration and RPG elements, with a heavy emphasis on resource management. Players are required to make effective use of stamina and a limited supply of healing items that refill at certain points in order to survive, and failing to do so will almost assuredly guarantee a swift death.
It’s not unfair to say that a significant portion of the Souls games' reputation as brutally challenging comes from how the game forces players to adapt to a new type of playstyle; one that is very cautious and careful. Overextending yourself in Dark Souls almost always results in death, meaning that the games require a certain degree of patience to get through. It’s an experience that’s often both immensely frustrating and deeply satisfying: frustrating when you are having trouble getting past a difficult segment, and satisfying when you finally overcome it.
The other aspect that makes Dark Souls so difficult is that it will pretty much leave you to discover half of the vital game mechanics by yourself. For first timers, it’s very easy to stumble into an early mistake, like consuming too much of a limited resource or not finding an important NPC, which can ultimately make it very difficult to progress later on. To that end, the online component of Dark Souls is particularly important.
Metroidvania might not sound like a genre particularly reliant on online features, but the Souls games make it work quite well. Players can leave messages for other players to find, which is almost critical to have given how little info the game gives you about its world. The lack of direction is both a blessing and a curse, as the feeling of progressing using only your wits and the words left behind by other travelers feels great, but it can also lead to annoyance when you’re killed by a trap or some such that you could not have realistically been prepared for and which had no warning message left nearby.
Furthermore, players can be both summoned to another player’s world in order to help with exploration or even killing a boss, or they can invade another player’s world and attempt to kill its resident. It’s a very unique and engaging system, but it’s unfortunate that, for console users, it’s locked behind the paywall that is XBL Gold or PS Plus.
The summoning/invading features are perhaps understandable (or, at least, as understandable as charging an additional fee for internet usage can be), as that is direct online play with multiple players, but having player messages be restricted to users paying for online seems unnecessary. It’s doubly unfortunate given how important these messages are for new players who are just getting their bearings. If you don’t have online services, you’re almost assuredly going to need a walkthrough to get to grips with your first Souls game, which is disappointing for a game about exploration and player discovery.
But this is a description that applies to the original Dark Souls just as much as it does the remastered version (minus the internet fees for PlayStation users). For players new to the series, Remastered represents a relatively solid jumping off point, especially if you no longer have a 7th gen console to play the original on. For those who have played Dark Souls before, however, does the remastered version do enough to justify purchasing it again?
Right off the bat, there are a number of improvements. The biggest and most notable is the framerate; whereas the original Dark Souls’ framerate frequently dropped below 30 FPS on console, Remastered targets 60 FPS (30 FPS for the eventual Switch version) and, with the exception of one boss where it tanked really badly, usually hits that target. Online now supports six players instead of four, and there are a number of tweaks to online PvP such as limiting the types of healing items players can use. Some convenience changes have been made as well: multiple items can be used at once from the item menu, making item usage a bit easier, and covenants can now be swapped at bonfires. There’s even a new bonfire designed to make getting to an important NPC much easier, which is a really useful addition.
However, there are a number of points where From Software opted to not make improvements, and it certainly shows. While some of the game’s textures have been redone to better accommodate the increased resolution, others simply haven’t, and look really bad and out of place as a result. Enemy AI pathfinding still has issues and will occasionally simply run endlessly into walls rather than chase players through doors or stairs that would require them to move to the side. Some enemies will inexplicably clip and fall through the world, and playing co-op will cause certain bosses to cancel attack animations for no seemingly no reason.
Pretty much any problems with the core gameplay that existed in 2011 are back for this version as well. Admittedly this is a remastering, so I’m not expecting them to substantially change the central design of the game, but for a $40 remaster with seven years since the original’s release to smooth out problems, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a few of the easier to fix design problems to be addressed (especially when they have since been tackled better by later Soulsborne games). Character customization is absurdly lacking compared to subsequent titles, magic is still incredibly overpowered in PvP, and, really, something should have been done to make Lost Izalith, widely regarded as one of the worst areas in any Souls game, more than just a generic lava plain with early game boss fights copy/pasted in as standard enemies.
On top of this, there are a few instances in which the changes made to Remastered actively make the game look worse. Textures will often pop in noticeably in ways that they did not in the original, lighting changes when moving between certain rooms and areas have become much more sudden and look terrible, and a few new bugs such as disappearing audio effects or skipped enemy animations are now present that were not in the original. Given how frequently I ran into some of these issues, I can’t imagine that the developers didn’t, which just makes this remastering feel really lazy in some areas.
So is Remastered worth $40? Probably not. If you’re new to the series, Dark Souls III provides a more mechanically sound experience with greater gameplay variety, less of the original/remastered’s niggles, and a smaller price tag. The lore for the Souls series is relatively disconnected and as transparent as dishwater, so you won’t initially be missing out on much beyond a few references if you start somewhere else. For returning veterans, there aren’t enough improvements to justify the $40 price tag. It may be worth a buy if you played other games in the series but never got around to the first Dark Souls, but even then I think you’d be better off waiting a bit for a price drop. Given that it’s a remastering, it probably won’t take too long for a cost reduction, and closer to $20 feels much more reasonable given what’s presented here.
This review is based on a digital copy of Dark Souls: Remastered for the PS4, provided by the publisher.