One of the greatest games ever made is now playable on modern systems. That, honestly, is enough.
Dark Souls is a seminal moment in gaming history- it would not be too much of a stretch to say that gaming history can be divided into two epochs, one before Dark Souls, and one after. The game creates a clean line and very clearly delineates what came before from what would come after. Before Dark Souls, we were entering an era where games were becoming glorified interactive movies, with minimal player agency that funnelled players down linear paths and were really far too afraid to let them do anything the developers didn’t want them to do. Once Dark Souls came along, its success, along with the success of fellow 2011 RPG Skyrim, prompted developers to realize that there was no harm in letting games be games- and, truly, games have never been the same since.
“Like Dark Souls” has become a meme for a very good reason- the prestige of From Software’s defining RPG is so great that everyone wants to compare things, and be compared to, it. But in all this time, few games have actually managed to even come close to the brilliance exhibited by Dark Souls– even From Software’s ow follow ups fall short, with the exception of Bloodborne. And, incredibly enough, even as the years go by, Dark Souls remains unchallenged, unaging. In 2018, the game is every bit as much of a marvel of design and mechanics as it was in 2011. A wake of imitators have done little to diminish its standing. In fact, Dark Souls was so nearly perfect the first time around, it beggars the question of how it might be improved- and the answer is, it really cannot be. Many would argue that, short of the technical issues that plagued the PS3, Xbox 360, and original PC versions of the game along with visual improvements, there’s nothing to address from a gameplay perspective.
"Dark Souls was so nearly perfect the first time around, it beggars the question of how it might be improved."
Which makes the existence of Dark Souls Remastered interesting- there’s not much here to remaster, see. Indeed, this game seems to exist solely to bring the classic game to modern platforms. In that, it is a triumph. There is also the fact that in the transition, the few problems that the original game did suffer from are gone. Blighttown, for instance, infamously bad for its appalling frame rates- which, in a game such as this one, can lead to undue frustration due to the player dying unearned deaths- is now buttery smooth. In fact, there is something to be said for the fact that Dark Souls Remastered represents the first time the original game has been available to play in glorious 60 frames per second on consoles (which, I need to point out, greatly helps with the perceived input latency that players had to adjust to with the original game).
So those are the improvements. Much has been said, on the other hand, about the game’s new “look”- the remastering for this game has led to a lighter palette and aesthetic, which, many maintain, is a reduction of the murky look of the original, which lent it such atmosphere and was so instrumental to the world building. To a degree, I can empathize with that point of view- the “darkness” of Lordran, the land that the game takes place in, is gone, and everything is definitely brighter now, so to speak, which seems to defy the game’s insistence that the Age of Fire is coming to an end, and a few scattered embers are all that remain. But, on the other hand, I need to point out that the new aesthetic markedly helps with actually navigating the world- there are fewer deaths on the hands of enemies that otherwise could not have been seen, or crags and crevices that should have been visible but were not. A small hit to atmosphere- but better usability- is a fair trade. Especially since the atmosphere itself is still largely fantastic.
"I need to point out that the new aesthetic markedly helps with actually navigating the world. A small hit to atmosphere- but better usability- is a fair trade. Especially since the atmosphere itself is still largely fantastic."
Other changes include ones made to online functionality- you can now have up to six players in an online session (up from four), and password based matchmaking, ala Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3, is actually a thing now. At the time of writing this review, I didn’t got the opportunity to review the online component, so this is only a review of the single-player portion.
But that’s it, really. The game doesn’t look especially better compared to the original- it looks brighter, and runs at 60fps, but this isn’t as impressive a remaster as something like Skyrim was. So while the fact that the game runs at upscaled 4K on the PS4 Pro or Xbox One X may sound awesome, it is, largely, a slightly cleaned up Xbox 360 game running at 4K- still great, but not that impressive. Visually, there isn’t much in the way of improvements.
That may sound like I am being too down on the remaster, but honestly, I am not trying to be. As I said, if the sole intent of the remaster was to bring the classic game to modern platforms? It’s an unquestioned triumph. This is Dark Souls in all its glory, and just 60fps and a Blighttown that doesn’t make you want to question your own existence is worth the price of admission here. Even the new look is a win, in my opinion. It’s just a bummer that this could have been more, but it was not.
"If, then, a larger update is what you wanted- Dark Souls Remastered will disappoint you. This is an almost exact 1:1 remaster, with minimal changes- almost as though From and Bandai realized they had an almost perfect game here, and they were very afraid to mess with it."
And what of the game itself? Dark Souls Remastered comes with the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, and the game and the DLC both are, as mentioned previously, every bit as compelling today as they were at the time of their release. Dark Souls is truly a near perfect game- the level design is largely spectacular, the combat is incredibly well tuned, the lore is fantastic, and storytelling truly leverages the strength of gaming as a medium. There are, of course, some later levels that seem to ignore a lot of the principles that make so much of Dark Souls crushingly difficult, but ever unfair- in true From Software fashion, there will be levels in the late game that defy this delicate balance, and are just cheap. Those have not been fixed in this release- so you’ll find Lost Izalith and the Catacombs are absolutely awful areas that feel like they were designed by an entirely different team than the rest of the game. You kind of wish From Software had taken this chance to update them with this re-release as well.
If, then, a larger update is what you wanted- Dark Souls Remastered will disappoint you. This is an almost exact 1:1 remaster, with minimal changes- almost as though From Software and Bandai Namco realized they had an almost perfect game here, and they were very afraid to mess with it. Even so, however, the fact that this runs at 60FPS, and that it brings Dark Souls to modern systems, all make this a very hard package to ignore. Plus, again, I would argue that there was very little that could have been improved, and a lot of it was– I can’t hold what wasn’t again the remaster in good conscience.
And if you’ve never played Dark Souls? You are in for a treat, and Remastered, modest upgrade though it is, is the definitive way to play the classic game. Nearly perfect, and one of the greatest games ever made, now you can prepare to die on a modern system. Missed opportunities and all, I have to argue that in the end, that’s more than enough.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
The core game and the DLC have aged spectacularly, and remain as pitch perfect today as they were at the time of release; largely spectacular level design, great storytelling, 60fps framerate, Blighttown has been fixed.
Very little in the way of visual upgrades outside of the framerate; the brighter aesthetic *does* hurt the atmosphere a little; very little upgrades have been made overall, including addressing actual errors with the original release.
Nearly perfect, and one of the greatest games ever made, now you can prepare to die on a modern system. Missed opportunities and all, I have to argue that in the end, that's more than enough.