They always come back to Drangleic, every single time…
Dark Souls II joins the long list of recent remasters with Scholar of the First Sin, but developer FromSoftware uses the re-release as more than just a vessel for upgraded visuals. It takes the Dark Souls II experience and tweaks it in such a way that it becomes its own singular game. Enemy locations shift, new NPC invaders appear, rare items become more common—the list goes on and on. It creates a compelling reason for Dark Souls II veterans to revisit Drangleic, while new players can rest easy knowing they're playing the definitive version with all of the previously released DLC.
It's been over a year since Dark Souls II originally came out, and the reception from fans of the series falls under both points of the spectrum and everywhere in between. Some love it, some find it disappointing, and others like myself feel it's an enjoyable experience even though it falls short of Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. Scholar of the First Sin doesn't change my overall opinion of Dark Souls II, but the inclusion of the fantastic DLC results in a more thoroughly satisfying journey through Drangleic. The many changes and additions in Scholar of the First Sin both compliment and complicate that seemingly familiar journey.
Scholar of the First Sin doesn't take hours to establish its changes. The first tutorial area has a statue blocking one of the areas. Ironclad Soldiers appear left and right in Forest of the Fallen Giants. There's a freakin' dragon in Heide's Tower of Flame! I thought I'd jump back into Dark Souls II again and breeze through everything, but the host of new threats and enemy placements prevent such confidence. They also instill a sense of paranoia, one of Scholar of the First Sin's greatest strengths.
I appreciate the challenge of the Souls series, but Dark Souls II felt like a step backwards. Experience clearly plays a role, but the fear of looking around each corner or fighting a new boss didn't have the same impact. Scholar of the First Sin pushes in the other direction and uses fear to its advantage. The familiar becomes unfamiliar and thus the game captures the player's attention more so than in the original game. It's exciting to go back to a game like Dark Souls II and feel a slightly different response, even if the underlying game remains largely unchanged.
The changes in Scholar of the First Sin also work against it in some specific cases. The more obvious example that comes to mind is the abundance of (often stronger) enemies in most areas, which slows down a game that already focuses on a steady and methodical pace. Occasionally it emphasizes quantity over quality, in which the sheer number of enemies on screen pose more of a threat than the enemies themselves. Then it's time to lure out those enemies one at a time to avoid a larger and far more dangerous encounter. Frustration builds and the excitement of original content in Scholar of the First Sin dissipates slightly.
Unlike many of the modifications in Scholar of the First Sin, the remaster's visual upgrade falls somewhere in the middle as far as its success is concerned. Clearly it looks better than the old PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 versions, but it also shows its age in spots. Textures still look muddy at times and the lighting, though improved, can still be inconsistent. Fans who have yet to play the game at 60fps are in for a treat, though, as the smooth framerate stands out as the marquee headline in the game's technical specifications. It looks fantastic and improves the feel of combat in meaningful ways. Players who love to dodge in particular will see the biggest difference.
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin targets two audiences: newcomers and veterans. In both cases it succeeds. Folks who have yet to play Dark Souls II will get the best version of the game with all of the available content, while veterans who love Dark Souls II will get to experience a series of small alterations that do enough to set Scholar of the First Sin apart from the original. The changes don't elevate Dark Souls II to some new lofty status, and players who found the game disappointing in 2014 will likely feel the same way. But it's refreshing to see a remaster that tries to both recapture the magic of the original and progress it further to appeal to a broader player base.