Dark Souls has arguably, by and large, defined its genre. Even if you’ve never played a Dark Souls game before, chances are you’ve at least heard of its difficulty. Critics and fans alike will often describe that “Dark Souls difficulty” when playing something tough and more recent. Focus Home’s The Surge springs to mind as the latest example. Safe to say that Dark Souls effortlessly made its mark in gaming when it released back in 2011 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Though, despite its acclaim, let’s not pretend that the game was perfect. The original Dark Souls was very taxing on the hardware at the time, ultimately resulting in framerate issues and a number of other performance problems, throughout.
Now, I’m not one to cheer on a remaster unless there’s ample need for a game to get some extra time and attention. Some would argue that for a game that’s only seven years old, there’s little reason to see this coming back on current gen hardware. Usually I would agree, however from a technical standpoint, Dark Souls Remastered offers up a fluid experience that alleviates many of the performance issues that plagued the original. On the flip side, the backward compatible version of Dark Souls also performs better than the original thanks to the current hardware, so investing in the remaster really comes down to how much you enjoyed the original version. Either way, it’s well worth your time and attention.
The remaster not only includes the core game, but its Artorias of the Abyss DLC, too. Dark Souls was never really a story-rich game as far as cinematic story-driven action RPGs go. There’s a plot in place, but much of that compelling foundation is unraveled by the player’s interpretation through the use of dialogue and item-text. That’s not to say that Dark Souls lacks flavor, on the contrary, the world within is vastly intriguing. Thanks to how well this remaster has been handled, Lordran has never looked so stunningly grim. Furthermore, those of you that might have been worried that the trademark difficulty will have been tinkered with, worry not, Dark Souls Remastered is as taxing as the original in every way.
The game, much like the first serving, does a great job at giving you the information that you need via helpful tips within the environment. Newcomers will appreciate how well structured each location is, which holds up brilliantly several years on. The game’s key mechanics; weapon durability, ailments and curses, collectively retains that edge to keep players on their toes, with a wide pool of enemy variants targeting the player religiously. I have to say that, for me at least, the biggest takeaway here sits with the presentation of Dark Souls. This is something that really stands out the most when comparing it directly to the original, which I did via the digital copy that I picked up a while back.
Textures are much sharper and better defined than ever before. I wont say that this is the best remaster that I’ve ever played or witnessed, but the removal of all of that blurriness, grouped with the superior effects and lighting, makes for one solid journey. Finer details that I never really paid much attention to from the first version, stole my attention regularly throughout the entirety of play. The same can be said about the many enemies and bosses, all of which are as terrifying as Donald Trump on Twitter. Equally notable; the weaponry, the gear, the item-use animations and character models in general, look better thanks to the visual upgrade. Nothing truly groundbreaking, but impressive regardless.
That being said, this comes as somewhat of a blessing and a curse. Yes, Dark Souls Remastered looks sharper and better detailed than ever, but it does highlight some aged and ugly scenery at certain points in the game. Specific structures and objects, which are now sharper, look very dated and awkward. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I mistook some of this polished turd for rendering issues. Thankfully, moments like this are few and far between, though I would caution each of you to accept that this game is merely a sharper and defined version of the original, rather than that of something that’s been strenuously worked upon to relay new details.
Still, when all is said and done, that’s exactly what many of the fans wanted. If that’s you, you’re unlikely to be left feeling disappointed. Interestingly enough, with the game running at more stable rate, the gameplay itself feels a little different than the original version. This is especially truthful when it comes to Blighttown, better known as framerate hell. With this section now free of any performance issues, as well as other sections from the original that were technically poor, it’s all that more satisfying to traverse. Sure, the gameplay can be stiff at times due to the stiff controls and mechanics, but it’s by far a smoother and well rounded experience regardless as to how you play, or what you choose to play as.
Unfortunately bugs and exploits have not been ironed out. I found myself stuck in the environment on one occasion and killed by a persistent undead assassin through the environment. It’s harder to overlook moments like this in comparison to the dated design, but still very much part and parcel of that Dark Souls vibe. I’m not forgiving it, of course, but I wanted to make it known that encounters like this are still present, if less persistent than before. The bottom line in that is that if you endured cheap deaths in the original, this will be easier to digest than those that are paying this a visit from the release of Dark Souls III. Maybe my patience span has improved since 2011, as it never really pissed me off this time.
What I will say (again) about Dark Souls Remastered is that, despite its small flaws, this is very much the essence of what defined the genre, but more distinct. Yes, there’s some dated visuals and textures here and there, yes, there’s cheap deaths and a few bugs and yes, the gameplay remains a bit stiff, but it’s still Dark Souls as we know and love it. I think when it comes to newcomers, it’s going to be a very polarizing adventure. Returning fans on the other hand, who endured the design torments of the original, will absolutely love what’s on offer here. This is the best available version of a game that enjoyed critical acclaim seven years back. These subtle yet notable improvements only take it to new heights.
The game’s multiplayer has also been worked upon. Multiplayer in Dark Souls Remastered now functions similar to that of Dark Souls III’s multiplayer. This steady and well developed system makes for a fluid experience throughout, a stark improvement in comparison to the 2011 version. There’s a great deal of content to be enjoyed here and for its generous price tag, it’s an absolute steal. There’s a good portion of replay value too, after all, the original has been hammered so many times on streaming services for good reason, something I expect this remaster will also enjoy. When all is said and done, this may not be as “remastered” as one would have hoped, but it’s still Dark Souls made better, warts and all.
Although not quite as refined as one would have hoped, Dark Souls Remastered takes the critically acclaimed 2011 game and brings it back for a sharper, more fluid experience. Bugs and annoyances occur infrequently, but in the face of its stable framerate, its improved lighting and effects and its inclusion of Artorias of the Abyss, this is easy to overlook. Simply put, this is the best version of the game to date.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.