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Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is more than just a remaster

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Prepare to die harder

I'll be the first to say it: it's going to be the year of Souls. With the release of Bloodborne only a month away, which looks to redefine the experience along with its wonderful change of setting, From Software has been busy as of late. But that's not stopping the studio from re-releasing its previous title Dark Souls II for new audiences on new hardware.

Recently, the developers released an update for existing versions of Dark Souls II for all players, adding in an invasion faction, characters, and even new encounters. Of course, this is to ease them into what Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin has to offer. Though there's been little information about what to expect from this revisit, the folks behind the title had a lot to say about it.

At a special Bandai Namco Games event last week, Destructoid got to go hands-on with the new and improved version of Dark Souls II and chat with Bandai Namco global producer Atsuo Yoshimura. Though many see it as simply a remaster, From Software thinks of it as much more.


Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin (PC, PS3, PS4 [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Developer: From Software

Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release date: April 7, 2015
MSRP: $59.99

"It's about the rediscovery of the Dark Souls II experience, from the director's perspective," said Yoshimura during his presentation on Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. "That was something that the team at From Software in Japan really wanted players to experience."

The developers and publisher Bandai Namco have kept many details close to the vest, in part due to the studio working on another Souls-esque experience with Bloodborne, and wanting to keep fans in suspense. It's easy to think of this as nothing more than a remastered game-of-the-year edition, which is totally fair, but From Software wanted to set the record straight.

In the cursed kingdom of Drangelic, you play as an afflicted traveler looking to find a cure to end their suffering. With the kingdom filled with monsters and other nefarious foes, you'll discover that the curse, and those crazy enough to remain in the defiled lands, are all linked in the fate of Drangelic. Granted, you know this if you played the original Dark Souls II. You might even be comfortable with what lurks in the cursed lands. But what if I were to tell you that things are a bit different with the coming of Scholar of the First Sin? With this release, From Software wanted to spice things up by adding characters as well as overhauling and retweaking gameplay.

"If you played Dark Souls II on Xbox 360 or PS3 all the way through, then you would think of this game, Scholar of the First Sin, as roughly the same game with all of the DLCs," said marketing director Brian Hong. "But what we're really trying to get across with players is that with [current-generation systems], we have a completely different experience for Dark Souls II."

A common criticism of the original release last year was that it was much easier than its predecessor. While there is an argument for that case, even though it was still an immensely challenging game, the folks at From Software want to address those concerns head-on.

Scholar of the First Sin is to Dark Souls II what Master Quest is to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It's not only for newcomers looking to see what the Souls experience is all about, it's also for those who may think they've mastered Dark Souls II. In my brief time with the game, it was apparent the game wanted me to feel very uncomfortable with what lied behind the corner even though I've already cleared the previous title. But of course, the feeling of discomfort is a normal part of the series' experience.

One of Scholar of the First Sin's most apparent changes is that enemy and monster placements have been reworked. Foes you encountered at certain points in DSII will appear much earlier, and in greater numbers. During my session in the Forest of Fallen Giants, Ogres were wandering throughout, and Hollow Infantry are in larger groups. Surprisingly, the Heide Knights were nowhere to be seen, as they've been moved to other locations.

With the increased number of foes, and different placement of them, I found myself having to effectively relearn aspects of areas I was quite familiar with. What's even more surprising was that the A.I. was not only improved, but the enemies of Dark Souls II had also lost their fear of Bonfire spots. They will have no qualms about chasing players down to their safe havens. To put it simply, you're more vulnerable in Scholar of the First Sin than in the original, which means you'll be using your hoards of lifegems far more often.

As any fan of the Souls series will tell, mastering your environment and knowing the limits of your enemies is everything. So it was especially interesting to see that Scholar of the First Sin pulls the rug from under the players. From Software has especially had fun in placing monsters in areas that were not present in the original game. For instance, elevators that lead to bosses or shortcuts now house enemies that lay in wait for the player.

With the technology that the current-gen has brought, the developers were very keen on getting the title out on the new hardware. With the increased horsepower, From Software was able to bring a visual boost to the Souls experience. In addition to the title running at 60 frames per second and at 1080p, the texture quality and lighting are improved to give the atmosphere an extra kick. Moreover, online multiplayer has also seen a boost with a maximum of six players during engagements. Much like another upcoming remaster, the developers were also inspired by much of what PC modders were able to accomplish, and wanted to offer the same level of content boosts (like textures and lighting) to the console releases.

"Thanks to those players online, we were surprised by what they came up with," said Yoshimura. "Just one week after the release of [Dark Souls II], we saw all these mods being released, and the team at From Software were surprised and like 'This mod is awesome!'"

Surprisingly, the producer was candid about the state of parity between each version. As there was some controversy over the differences in the original game to the one that was ultimately released, Bandai Namco was very adamant about what's in Scholar of the First Sin.

"All [current-gen] versions will run at 1080p and 60 frames per second, including the Xbox One. So it is not 900p blah-blah-blah, it's 1080p and 60 FPS for all three platforms. Though some people said that it is worse to play the game on PC without DirectX 11, and the answer is yes. I'm really confident about clarifying this, because the improved lighting and shadows, clothing effects, and etc. -- this is only available on DirectX 11 technology, and not on DirectX 9."

If you have the PS3, Xbox 360, or PC (DX9) versions of Scholar of the First Sin, then you might find yourself surprised to see that nothing has been altered visually or tech-wise, though you'll definitely experience the gameplay enhancements and new content.

I dug what I played of the PlayStation 4 version. Though I was a little disappointed that no new areas were implemented, it's exciting to see that the developers sought to redefine what Dark Souls II was. The graphical boosts are very apparent -- quite stunning in person, even -- and the smooth 60 FPS combat is immediately noticeable. Though it's a bit disappointing that only those with new hardware will be able to experience it (without mods, of course).

It's an interesting experience to re-learn Dark Souls II. Coming off of its predecessor, it seemed to have gotten flack for not quite living up to that standard while wanting to try something different. But with Scholar of the First Sin, which the folks at From Software consider the definitive edition, it feels like the game has gotten a much-needed invigoration -- especially with Bloodborne coming out the month before. It's not often you get to experience a game like this for the first time all over again, and that's something fans should love.

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Alessandro Fillari
Alessandro FillariStaff Writer   gamer profile

A San Francisco native, he's an admirer of the city's diverse culture and lifestyle. Prior to joining the staff, he was a contributor and an editor for his college newspaper where he wrote articl... more + disclosures


 


 


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