When Dark Souls first came out, it was groundbreaking in terms of gameplay, design and even narrative. While it became famous for its intense difficulty – even now, subsequent difficult games are measured against it – it also provided a world rich in mythology and a complex, interwoven story, if you went looking for it.
It didn’t take long for Dark Souls to earn its reputation as a flawed masterpiece, spawning two sequels and inspiring games like Nioh and Lords of the Fallen. The much-anticipated remaster boasts a visual upgrade and some changes to multiplayer mode, as well as coming complete with DLC – and for the most part, it’s pretty damn good.
The visuals are of course the most noticeable change and have actually come out better than expected. From the trailers and footage shown before release, I was expecting some kind of technicolour nightmare, as it seemed like the only real change was that the saturation had been turned way up. However, thankfully, the game itself actually looks better than footage shown, which is a bit baffling. Why show off the worst you have to offer?
The remaster has sharpened details considerably and long gone is the muddiness of the more muted textures. The environments come out of this change the strongest, and it’s great to see such iconic locations as Anor Londo and Ash Lake at their full potential. Some of the finer details, however, end up looking a little crunchy, thanks to laying smoother, more detailed textures over a blocky base. Characters’ armour and weapons look much cleaner after retouching, with details and relief that are much more noticeable now.
The remaster definitely has a brighter, lighter feel, which some may argue doesn’t fit in with the game’s overall themes (it’s called Dark Souls for a reason). This is going to be one of those elements that simply come down to personal taste.
Players now get to play in 4K and the frame rate improvement from 30fps to 60fps makes places like the infamously laggy Blighttown bearable, with no drops to be found anywhere.
A drawback to an otherwise graphically superior game: while the lighting is overall nicer (particularly on spells) some of the light sources can be a bit questionable with their placement, which becomes more noticeable in certain boss fights, especially Gaping Dragon.
The gameplay is largely exactly the same, with all the same weapons, attacks and enemies. Occasionally, the placement of the enemies seems slightly different (I’m sure one of the bridge archers is now further along), but that’s likely something only seasoned Dark Souls fans will notice. Apart from the fairly substantial changes to multiplayer, it’s pretty much just the same old Dark Souls again.
Some annoying bugs (that frankly should have been patched years ago) have been fixed and there are also some neat little changes worth mentioning, like being able to scale the UI to take up less of the screen. Switching covenants just got a whole lot easier too, and you can now swap them out at bonfires.
New players will by now have heard of how difficult Dark Souls is, and that’s not an exaggeration – it’s proved itself over time to be both an incredibly punishing and rewarding game. For first-time players, the remaster offers a wonderful way to take the first plunge. Returning players will be at home but may find themselves getting Dark Souls 3 flashbacks, especially when it comes to the multiplayer changes.
Multiplayer has received the biggest upgrade, making it similar to that of the other Souls games. The maximum amount of players has been increased from four to six and dedicated servers and password matchmaking allow you get matched up with players of a similar level, so you won’t be overpowered. If a player’s character and weapon substantially outrank their host’s, the levels are synced.
Healing items can’t be used in PVP, with the exception of estus, and the amount of available estus is halved for phantoms to prevent overly drawn-out fights. Your estus is fully restored when you defeat invading phantoms, enhancing that challenge-reward dynamic the Souls games are known for.
These changes seem like a step in the right direction. For some reason, PVP has always been at its most enjoyable in DS1, despite its construction being somewhat rough and ready. FromSoftware‘s implementation of some of the superior multiplayer features of DS3 streamlines an integral (and for many, the most enjoyable) part of the Souls games.
As a Dark Souls fan, there is a lot of praise that I can give to this iteration, but I have to admit that the fact is, as a remaster, it’s pretty lazy. The game is around eight years old and there was tremendous opportunity for developers to do more with a remaster.
If you compare DSR with other remastered games, it’s obvious that there have been better ones. Many great remasters have taken the time to improve gameplay as well as graphics, or to change little details that had gotten left behind in production the first time. Compared against these efforts, FromSoft are arguably doing the bare minimum.
When news of the remaster was fairly fresh, I’d half hoped – but didn’t really expect – that they might fix some of the deeper problems with the game, such as unfinished parts towards the end. The area of Lost Izalith epitomises this, being rather bare-bones compared to most other areas.
In a game where so much thought has gone into the lore behind enemy design, placements, items, their history and sprawling, and interconnected locations, it’s clear that time constraints stifled what the Izalith could’ve been.
The Bed of Chaos has gone down as one of the most hated Souls games’ boss fights, and for good reason. Dark Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki himself has apologised for both the area and the boss fight, blaming “technical difficulties” – something that the developers had eight years to fix, but didn’t.
Some purists will argue that this is the game as intended and so shouldn’t be changed, but many remasters have taken the opportunity to improve on areas they didn’t have time or money to do more with in the game’s first iteration, or making improvements based on feedback. One little example of this is Windwaker HD‘s much faster sailing after many found the length of time spent slowly moving through the water to be tedious.
Then there’s the fact that the improvements touted by the remaster are a much better deal if you’re playing on console, with less incentive for PC players. The frame rate changes are a good example of this, as while Dark Souls on PS3 and Xbox 360 was capped at 30fps, and players had to put up with the problems that caused, most PC players had theirs upped to 60 through the use of a mod. In terms of the graphics update, the remaster is a big boost for consoles, but players on PC (also through mods) could get the game to look nearly as good as it does now.
Some PC players also take issue with the way the game is being sold – or rather, that it’s being sold at all. Those who’ve already bought DSR are getting a discount on Steam of 50%, but you can easily compare this to Bethesda‘s release of Skyrim Special Edition, which came free to those who had already bought the regular game on Steam. It’s stuff like this that shows that Dark Souls Remastered isn’t necessarily doing anything wrong – it’s just not doing as much as it could.
Despite my gripes about this reworking, the game itself is still absolutely stellar and holds up incredibly well for an eight-year-old game. If you’re already a Dark Souls fan coming back to it with the remaster, you’ll likely be happy with DSR. If you’re new to the series, you’re set to get the most out of this remastered version and it’s absolutely worth it as an intro to the Souls series.