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Review: Dark Souls Remastered is the Definitive Version of this Essential Modern Classic

Image courtesy From Software

Dark Souls forever changed the way I look at video games. That is absolutely no exaggeration. I feel like Dark Souls and the rest of the Souls series (including Bloodborne) are representations of tight gameplay mechanics and successful, minimalistic storytelling.  Nothing is handed to you, there are no waypoints, and you have to work to master your characters’ skills to win. If video games were taught in schools like literature, Dark Souls would be required reading. Dark Souls Remastered brings this great game, packaged with the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, to modern consoles with a few quality of life changes, and graphical bells and whistles to take advantage of the hardware available now. This isn’t a George Lucas level remake, but some things were changed from the original, and most importantly: the PC version is finally up to snuff.

Image courtesy From Software

If you don’t know about Dark Souls, you may want to reconsider that. Dark Souls is a third person action fantasy roleplaying game by developer From Software. It is a spiritual successor (and in some ways, sequel) to the game that started the formula: Demons Souls, which itself was a thematic continuation of the longstanding King’s Field series.  You play as the Chosen Undead, who quickly finds themselves on a quest to the land of the lords, Lordran, to help continue the Age of Fire by finding a way to end the undead curse in a story that has you face off against a pantheon of self-styled gods. Of course, one of the great aspects of Dark Souls is how interpretive its lore can be: watch two different YouTube series on Dark Souls lore and they’ll often come to completely different conclusions. This is by design, and the obfuscated story you get from unreliable narrators adds to its atmosphere and mystery. Despite being the Chosen Undead (or so you’re told) you’re exploring this apocalyptic fantasy setting as just another wanderer—you see and interact with as much of the story as you choose on your quest.

Image courtesy From Software

The gameplay is very tight, extremely unforgiving third person combat. Much like metroidvanias, you have to explore a maze of ruins full of monsters (with some friendly faces) while discovering the way forward, or items that can help you progress. If you die, or rest at a bonfire, everything except for certain enemies and environmental objects reset. This, as well as the multiplayer aspect, is explained in the lore as a world that has been broken by the defiance of the natural order, and as a result, time is convoluted, You are one of many undead trying to achieve the same task, sometimes interacting with these players directly, but always seeing their ethereal phantoms running around, or hints of their existence in messages that are scrawled on the ground, or the bloodstains they leave that shows an echo of their death.

Image courtesy From Software

Known for its difficulty, Dark Souls might be unappealing to some because of the reputation it has built up. It is a difficult game, but it’s never unfairly difficult, despite the reputation most gamers give to it. If you’ve ever had any curiosity, Dark Souls Remastered is the perfect excuse to finally try out Dark Souls; and for a number of reasons.

Image courtesy From Software

The most exciting part of the remaster, for me, is that the PC version works. YES! I primarily played Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition on Steam, and it was released in an abysmal state. It took hacker and graphics wizard Durante to come up with his famous DSFIX, which brought the gameplay up to 60 frames per second, as well as added a few other bells and whistles. Further modding the game with Wulf’s Mod for multiplayer as well as installing mods to ignore or quickly disconnect away from invading hackers made Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition on Steam feel like a Frankenstein’s monster of mods trying to get it to a playable state. Dark Souls Remastered is playable, 60 frames per second (with no resulting bugs!), and even comes with a password system (previously seen in Bloodborne and more recently Dark Souls 3) that lets you play with your friends more easily.

Image courtesy From Software

The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions received similar love with upscaled 4k (PC version can run this natively, if your PC can handle it). The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version also touts the ability to run Dark Souls Remastered at 60 frames per second when running at 1080p resolution.

There have been significant multiplayer changes, but I think most of them are for the better. You can’t heal yourself with humanity while as a phantom anymore, for instance, but you are given a few estus flask charges to keep yourself alive. This is true no matter your discipline: whether you’re joining in jolly cooperation, or invading noobs in the Undead Parish.  You can now have up to 6 players in a game, in a combination of invaders and co-op partners, so gank squads (groups of players grouping up for the sole purpose of killing invaders) are more ubiquitous than before. But this also means that all of Dark Souls’ interesting multiplayer covenants work now. You can become a Blue Sentinal and force your way into the world of a player who has killed other players, or seek humanity as a Dark Wraith, invading others’ games to take it through combat. Fixed also is the interesting Gravelord covenant, which allows you to add “disasters” in the form of difficult enemies in others’ worlds—until they invade yours and kill you to stop them! Gone also is Dark Souls’ peer-to-peer setup—Dark Souls Remastered uses dedicated servers (though, as report are saying, hackers are still a problem.)

Image courtesy From Software

I played through the entire remaster, and I was actually surprised by the amounts of small details that were improved upon. The sound is better, in some cases, with magic actually crashing and thudding with significant impact, instead of always weakly fizzling out. There have been a bunch of particle and fog effects added in. The most noticeable changes are the brighter colors and the lighting effects. The lighting in Dark Souls Remastered is a lot more interesting and vibrant, and adds a ton to the already atmospheric locales.

Image courtesy From Software

Dark Souls Remastered is the definitive version of the dark fantasy, difficult, but essential game that has spawned an entire culture of fanatics as well as hugely influencing modern games. If you’re on the fence, you should just play this game. If you already own any previous version of Dark Souls and you want to revisit Lordran, get Dark Souls Remastered. Available now on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, it will be available on Nintendo Switch in the next few months. Stay tuned for my review of that version, as well.

 

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