Finally! Dark Souls: Remastered has arrived – or at least it will come May 25th, 2018 for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch – cheap pop.
There’s a very high probability that, if you’ve already played the game before in the ‘demastered’ version, you’ve already firmly established if you’re buying this Remaster release or not… but what if you’re new to the series? Against doctor’s wishes, I was sent into NAMCO headquarters cold with no true experience, knowledge, or previous adoration for Dark Souls, to preview how experiencing the Remaster as a fresh-faced Hollow would turn out.
Now – let this be stressed very heavily – everything written from this point on shall be from the perspective of a person who did not play Dark Souls on release in 2011, who is not a ‘Onebro’, and who doesn’t have every map crevice memorised like a mathematician on Adderall reciting Pi to the thousandth decimal.
The following comes from a person who wanted to know how the game would come to feel as if it were a brand new title for 2018. For better or for worse. There will inevitably be hundreds, if not thousands, of write-ups elsewhere catering to the dedicated fans who knew in advance what they were getting themselves into.
And what more clichéd part to start on than the obvious: the opening. Initial moments were highly respectable; the opening cinematic was absolutely stunning – both in tone and graphics. Giving a strong backstory to the world around you, hinting at future foes within, and laying out what the journey ahead will entail.
You’re then thrown rapidly into the creation menu for your new character. What class do you want? What item would you like to carry? Where do you want to focus your experience points? All of this is done almost entirely blind with little knowledge and where this will all be leading for your future self (opted for a Top-Heavy Male Warrior from Zena wearing a Tiny Being’s Ring, for those curious). Once all that’s done, the game – quite literally – then dumps you in at the beginning and bids good luck. All positive, intriguing elements which are undoubtedly what first brought people to love the game at its genesis.
Sadly the only available version on show was the PS4 version – running on a PS4 Pro – leaving me unable to comment on the Switch port/controls, but the DualShock 4 controller was a dream for the control scheme. The only bizarre note was that the Inventory and Items were mapped to each side of the touchpad? It wasn’t a huge deal, but it does add an extra layer of ‘Oh yes, this is definitely a port’ to the overall feel of the game.
Far as the graphic overhaul goes, which is the primary improvement thrust upon this Remaster, it’s a mildly annoyingly mixed bag. The water, fire, and interiors look consistently stunning. Especially the fire – though perhaps that should be no big shock given the prevalent importance of bonfires within the game. The more exterior locations (the skylines in the distance specifically) and cutscenes (barring the opening cinematic) however do come across as lacking.
Jumping from in-game to a cutscene is very notable, almost more noticeable perhaps because the original release strived so hard to blend the two together seamlessly. This ends up with you walking through a door in delicious Remaster visuals and then in-game being struck by a slightly duller colour-palette, lower-light rendition of the world in a cutscene. It’s not disastrous by any means, but it is one of the more obvious blemishes on an otherwise rather atmospheric remastering.
However, that gripe aside, the in-game lighting and textures look wonderful in the bleakest way. It would appear the lighting and shadow effects have received an excellent overhaul, with each light source – be it fire, torches, bonfires, windows, or Souls floating over bodies – dynamically responding to the character and environment.
The same praise can be heaped upon both boss battles which were playable – or at least the two I was able to reach within our 60-minute time-limit. The Taurus and Asylum Demons were superbly detailed and their imposing presence was only amplified further by the looming shadows cast over your tiny human body.
Which leads smoothly into the second most important topic: the framerate! Don’t panic, it’s very good. During my entire playthrough there was only one instance of framerate dropping below a comfortable 50-60FPS, and this was after purposefully gathering a horde of pursuing enemies running through the Undead Burg location (yes, it was on purpose and not me frantically fleeing for the nearest bonfire!). Even this instance only very negligibly dropped it down, and was likely exacerbated by the raining fire bombs from the roof-tops at the same time.
Both Demon fights, with the Asylum Demon being particularly impressive with shards of pots and rubble flying in all directions, didn’t even put a dent in the framerate. Given the purposefully slower, plodding, more heavy combat and dodging mechanics in Dark Souls – I can imagine this would be a welcome addition to all players, both new and old, given how precise the game requires you to be in attack patterns, dodge mechanics, and reaction timings in order to scrape your way through.
At the end, surrounded by many experienced Souls players and NAMCO employees watching me attempt the Taurus Demon and waiting diligently to leave for the day, Dark Souls: Remastered had clearly hooked me. There are a few niggles, and there remain one or two dated gameplay elements from the previous iteration – which I can guarantee would’ve caused uproar amongst the prior fan base had they been removed/updated – but there was a sense of longing afterwards. This may well be the feeling many original Dark Souls players felt all those years ago.
When my time with Dark Souls: Remastered was finally up, it had all but escaped me that I had just been playing a seven year old title. Left intrigued, curious, engrossed, and hungry for more of the unforgiving world around me – this is a worthy Remaster for the current generation of consoles and for 2018.