Yeah, I’m prepared to die again
The gaming landscape has changed a lot since I first plopped into a pre-release version of Demon’s Souls and soloed my way through its campaign. What was once a niche dungeon crawler in the same vein as King’s Field became an inescapable worldwide phenomenon by the time Dark Souls wrapped, and you probably haven’t been to a convention where at least one person wasn’t wearing a “Praise the Sun” shirt.
It’s worked out rather well for both publisher Namco Bandai and developer From Software, so much so that they’re now mining into their seven-year history together with a remaster of the original Dark Souls, the start of their partnership. Coincidentally, it’s also one of the best places to start if you’ve never tinkered with the series.
Dark Souls Remastered (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Switch, Xbox One)
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Released: May 25, 2018 (PC, PS4, Xbox One) / TBA (Switch)
MSRP: $19.99 (PC upgrade) / $39.99
It’s really tough to talk about Dark Souls in 2018, but I’ll damn well try. While Souls fans are still espousing the good news of Demon’s and Bloodborne, not content with their status in the upper echelon of action RPGs, it’s generally agreed upon that Dark Souls proper is a classic. It birthed the whole “[x] is the Souls of [x genre]” silliness, as well as the “Praise the Sun,” meme, which even Bandai Namco is acknowledging with an upcoming amiibo. Nearly everything that could be said about the first Dark Souls has been said already.
Still, it manages to surprise me. Waking up in a dungeon cell with nothing but a sword hilt, knowing everything I know now, feels less like a handicap and more like a challenge (bust out your Rock Band drum kit and go for a no-damage run). From minute one I felt like both a master and an acolyte, as I made my way through various bits and pieces of Lordran and battled my memory of it. The labyrinthine yet centralized scale is still hard to believe, even for someone with a near photographic memory.
While Souls players (myself included) generally wax poetic about the bosses, the bulk of my enjoyment comes from the environments. From Software, and by extension director Miyazaki, really drew from every fantasy playbook when they crafted this world. I found myself staring at the spires of Anor Londo yet again for a time, and even small, typically throwaway zones like Darkroot Basin are still etched in my mind.
One thing that hasn’t been overly analyzed is the wonderful Artorias of the Abyss DLC, the sole add-on for Dark Souls that a lot of people skipped over the first time. Don’t do that. Artorias manages to hit a lot of highs, with lore-heavy bosses that rank among some of the strongest in the series, and it never overstays its welcome. To this day I still bring it up as a way to do DLC right.
With the Remastered edition you’re getting some aesthetic and practicality bells and whistles. For starters it looks better on more advanced screens than it did seven years ago, but most importantly in this frame-perfect action game — the framerate is vastly improved. I’m not just talking about Blighttown, the infamous zone from the original console releases, but everywhere. There’s nary a drop when moving from place to place, even with gigantic bosses and myriad foes on-screen. It’s refreshing to say the least, as even the previous PC build had technical issues on high-end machines — and that’s with fixes and mods.
Another big upgrade is the addition of dedicated servers. Dark Souls is Bandai Namco’s baby, so the odds of them leaving them up for a long while is pretty high. That should delight hardcore PVPers who are still looking to tinker with the game’s tech, as Remastered may have a long life ahead of it on several very stable platforms without the worry of peer-to-peer shenanigans. We did not have direct access to test out said servers, and as such it didn’t factor into this review, but it’s something to be aware of and we’ll be covering it as the game launches.
Dark Souls Remastered speaks for itself just in terms of the raw mysteries it offers beyond its new coat of paint. The feeling of zoning into Firelink Shrine is just as special the 100th time as it is the first, and the open-ended nature of the world is just as fresh. Sometimes needlessly so, From Software has packed so much into Dark Souls that I’m finding new items or experimenting with strategies I’ve never seen before — a testament to the longevity of this particular entry, and a more than justified remaster.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. Online servers were not tested, coverage will arrive after launch for that component.]