I’m ashamed to admit that I never really got into the Dark Souls series. It wasn’t the challenge that turned me off; I enjoy “hard” games. Instead, I didn’t get the appeal of a game where dying over and over was considered a gameplay mechanic. I sat down the begin a playthrough of each Dark Souls as it came out and never got more than an hour in before I lost interest.
My perspective on the series had changed though. I volunteered to review Dark Souls Remastered because I finally wanted to be forced to experience everything the game had to offer. I figured if I wasn’t doing it for pleasure, then at least my sense of duty would spur me forward. I’m immensely glad I did.
Dark Souls Remastered Review: Redefining “Fun”
Dark Souls isn’t a game that’s “fun” in the traditional sense, though there is a lot of enjoyment to be had as you begin to master it. You’re forced into a world that makes very little sense, with a bit of vague backstory and nothing but a pathetically broken weapon between you and death. Some messages scrawled on the floor in orange give you a bit of a tutorial, and then suddenly you’re on your own.
It’s this sense of loneliness and self-sufficiency that permeates Dark Souls. You’re alone, and no one is going to appear in a cutscene and save you. The only thing that will help you survive is figuring out the puzzle that is Dark Souls. See, everything in this game is about problem-solving. Trying to engage every hostile you encounter in direct combat will get you killed very quickly. You’ll come to realize though, that each time you meet a group of enemies, the game presents different approaches for you to be victorious.
Unlike most games, Dark Souls wants you to be acutely aware of its behind-the-scenes intricacies. You’ll have to use the fact that enemies only aggro in a specific range to peel them off the main group so you can take them on individually. You’ll also have to learn that each enemy has a set of attacks which they execute the same each time. It’s through memorizing these that you’ll know when your opening to strike has come and when you need to be on guard.
Dark Souls Remastered Review: Born to Die, Live to Win
Some people can run through Dark Souls without dying, but they’ve had hundreds of hours of practice. If this is your first run through the game, you will die. It’s something to quickly accept and move past because it’s part of playing the game. There’s no map, no waypoints, and no radar, so the way you learn what to do is by failing. You may have to try to get past an area ten times before you find the right path and tactics to get through.
You’ll die from incredibly stupid reasons too. You may make a mistake like running into a location you’re not strong enough to be in yet and being one-hit KOed by the smash of an ax. You might get too confident and get owned by enemies you thought were no match for you. And, sometimes, luck won’t be on your side, and no matter how well you fight and how cautious you are, the enemy will get the advantage of you.
On a lower level, Dark Souls is about solving the puzzle of survival, figuring out enemy positioning and how to best use it to your advantage. On a more strategic level, the game is about risk versus reward. Do you get one more strike in before you retreat? Do you risk one more area before you return to a bonfire? These questions are always on the forefront, especially since your main source of respite also helps your foes.
Dark Souls Remastered Review: Come on Baby Light my Fire
Bonfires are Dark Souls‘ save points and where you can level-up and other useful functions. These bonfires also refill your Estus Flasks, the primary way of healing in the game. Nothing is free in Dark Souls though. The trade-off for using a bonfire is that every regular enemy in the game respawns each time you use one. So, there’s no cheesing your way through an area by just running back to a bonfire every time things get tough. Nope, you’ll have to face every single enemy again.
The dynamic created by the bonfire system keeps you continually assessing risk. It makes even seemingly simple journeys hold a lot more weight. The counter-balance of the whole thing is that more enemies mean more souls to harvest. Souls are the currency you use to level up, purchase items from merchants in the game and upgrade your weapons and armor. They’re your primary stake when playing with your life.
When you die in Dark Souls, there’s no game over and reloading. Instead, you’re transported back to the last bonfire you visited and given a chance to reclaim your souls. That is if you can make it back to where you died. This means you get one scot-free opportunity to learn from your mistakes, conquer the obstacle that killed you, and reclaim the souls you lost. If you die again before you recover your souls though, they’re gone for good.
Dark Souls Remastered Review: Dying at 60 FPS
Our original review goes more in-depth with the multiplayer and boss fights of Dark Souls, but since this is a review of Dark Souls Remastered, I want to address the improvements that come with this new edition. Unfortunately, no new content comes with the game. If you played Dark Souls and its DLC when it first came out, you’ll find the same material here, no more and no less.
What is improved is the game’s performance. When it came out on Xbox 360 and PS3, Dark Souls was notorious for absolutely chugging during certain parts and having an inconsistent framerate during others. Since the combat in this game depends heavily on timing, it was frustrating that the game couldn’t keep steady. In fact, this may be what soured me on it all those years ago. Previous versions of the game seemed so ponderous that it sometimes felt like the player character was wearing cement shoes.
This isn’t the case any longer. While the original PC version of the game got some fan improvements that helped performance on that platform significantly, console players have just had to deal with the issues for the most part. I played on Xbox One X and the game managed 4K/60fps with no problems than the very occasional stutter.
In addition to running much more smoothly, Dark Souls Remastered includes volumetric lighting, which sets off the higher-res textures excellently. There’s also added particle effects and bloom, done tastefully, that helps modernize the atmosphere of the game a bit. However, remaster does not mean remade, and some of the textures look muddled still. The worst offender as far as aged graphics go, though, is the player character’s face. Your avatar was never much of a looker in the first place, but no matter how I tried to change it, the face looks decidedly last-gen. However, I was able to remedy this by just wearing a helmet.
A few more minor changes round out the new features of Dark Souls Remastered. Factions can now be changed at covenants instead of having to find a certain character. Multiplayer now supports six players during arena matches instead of four. There’s also new dedicated servers and private matches which brings Dark Souls up to the standards set in Dark Souls 3.
Dark Souls Remastered Review: Praise the Sun!
It’s been seven years since Dark Souls was released, and I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to get an understanding and appreciation of the series. For those who are already fans of the series, Dark Souls Remastered is just a polished version of an already great game, but for me, it was a bit more special. With the technical issues eliminated, Dark Souls can shine and is a much more satisfying experience.
Now that I’ve played through the first game I intend to move on the second and third in the series (and Bloodbourne too). I’m not sure if the remastering is what finally allowed me to get into the game, or if it was just the obligation to review it that pushed me past the point I needed to go to embrace its playstyle, but I’m thankful either way.