Although it wasn’t my introduction to From Software‘s Action RPG stable or their ‘Souls’ series Dark Souls‘ original release was a tense and thrilling adventure back in 2011. I’d tried Demon’s Souls after GameSpot had it as their Game of the Year in 2009 and it defeated me. I wouldn’t even get to the first boss without feeling completely destroyed by my own lack of skills. Instead of getting ‘gud’ I bounced off of it because I didn’t understand how to level up, and didn’t realize the consequences for death did not outweigh the valuable learning experience each death provides. It wasn’t long after that that sites like The Magic Box (and other old, now dead Famitsu translator sites) showed screenshots of dragon fights and glorious fire spells as the hype was ready for Dark Souls in 2010. As with every game in the series, they suggested it was even harder.
This time I felt the experience was both more cryptic and also more guided. I struggled with Dark Souls at first with a Knight build until a good friend online recommended I try it as a Pyromancer and use a guide when I had a question. So, I believe I had a very typical first playthrough with many deaths and a few key discoveries: Pyromancy was very strong, the Drake Sword was worth the trouble, and you can summon people to help you through anything. I finished the game with a mostly upgraded Lightning Uchigatana around level 70+ and didn’t really pay any mind to secrets or covenants. In my 2012 review of the game I pointed out that the game became much easier once I’d realized blocking and grinding levels would make for a much easier time.
A ton of games have come out since and by the time Dark Souls III came out I’d gone from casual fan to rabid consumer having gotten every trophy in each game and took the time to replay through Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, Bloodborne, The Surge, etc. and spent well over 250+ hours with each Dark Souls III and Nioh. Most of this had been within these last 2-3 years, after an obsessed journey through the dark fantasy worlds of every Castlevania and Metroid-like I could get my hands on. I’d been planning on repurchasing a Playstation 3 and most of my library for about a year before the announcement for a remaster of Dark Souls. I wasn’t so much interested in re-playing it for fun so much as tackling the challenge of it’s Platinum trophy and really developing a good character/build across 2-3 full playthroughs of the game.
Keep in mind that when I can’t sleep I watch Twitch and YouTube playthroughs of games and I’ve seen folks like LobosJr beat Dark Souls at least 50 times a year. I love to watch people develop their builds and see the various ways they encounter and react to the games’ challenges. But the reason I didn’t have any serious personal hype for Dark Souls: Remastered should be obvious, beyond just being an uprezzed version of the game with a couple minor changes it remains one of the least ambitious games in the series. Yes, the world is beautifully connected and yet it all amounts to a claustrophobic maze that each game since has addressed. The corridors are small, the movement is sluggish, and even in 4K the background textures and sky-boxes are dubious and ugly.
But I won’t use this space to badmouth Dark Souls. It is one of the greats and my only major realization during my first playthrough of this remaster was that Dark Souls III is the absolute best refinement of the core experience promised by the first Dark Souls game. It turns out I missed a great deal of content back in 2011-2012 and in returning to the world I spent almost 50 hours making sure I didn’t miss a thing. Although I messed up quite a bit in terms of killing NPCs and locking myself out of several covenants, I discovered so much more now that I had better skills from hundreds of hours with sequels, spin-offs, and Souls-likes. What was completely new to me this time around was the Artorias of the Abyss DLC which I’d never purchased on PS3. The most significant revelation being the multiple Dark Sorceries available in the DLC that I’d used extensively in Dark Souls II. It is a very, very short extra level but I was able to conquer most all of it without help (Summoning Sif doesn’t count).
Here’s the catch, though: Everyone else has been playing and worshiping this game for almost a decade and they’re all much better and faster at starting up powerful builds and cheesing it’s very dated PvP mechanics. PvP is horrendously unbalanced to the point of frustration. After the first playthrough, at level 98, I found myself constantly invaded and killed with instant backstabs and powerful sorcery to the point of losing about 90,000 souls. So, I’ve actually taken a break from the game for a while to write this review before finishing the trophy list. It is true, though, that the ‘Real Dark Souls’ starts here with New Game+ and so far I wasn’t as ready as I thought. You’ll quickly see my stats are distributed strangely, but that is largely because I intend for a level 150-200 character by the time I’m finished with the trophy list. If I’m halfway done with my experience, why review it now? There are no surprises left.
My builds in From Software games have been most effective in combining a few key preferences for dealing with the difficulty spikes and multiple ambushes along the way. This time around I immediately chose the Sorcerer class and raced to grab the Claymore and Magic infusion with the goal of a +5 Enchanted infusion. This allowed for me to keep a high INT stat while using sorcery but also do great damage with a manageable, fast greatsword. Though I have really enjoyed the Bastard Sword in most Souls games the Claymore is far more powerful for my stat distribution, plus I used the Bastard Sword for my Raw infusion trophy and my quality build stats aren’t good yet. I had a fully upgraded Enchanted Claymore by the time I reached Seath the Scaleless and was able to breeze through most of the game after that. There are surely better ways to cheese through Dark Souls but this way allows me to do my whole ‘Spellsword’ cos-play of a magic wielding knight, complete with Black Iron Armor.
There is still much to do, like +5 the Black Knight Armor, ascend or infuse all unique weapons, and work through the ranks of about 3-4 covenants to get spells or weapons needed. But I figure there is no great rush and no pleasure in jogging through a game that will have little replay value left once I’ve discovered everything. With Dark Souls III I actually got up to New Game +7 (to complete the final DLC) and with Dark Souls: Remastered the controls and gameplay aren’t so fantastic that I would ever go so far with it. There are still some annoyances outside of the PvP/Online components with some tricky planning between acquiring upgrade materials, covenant items, and the annoying distance between Blacksmiths.
I would only recommend this remaster if you have any truly urgent unfinished business with Dark Souls as I did. You might be better off living in the dark and gloomy nostalgia and 720p drabness of your PS3/Xbox memories, because the bright and glossy look of this remaster loses all of the fog and retains only the odd shifts into darkness that certain areas naturally bring. The new special effects, animations, and the bonfire next to Vamos, are all great additions but returning to a world of trolls, harshly punishing mechanics, and broken PvP might actually chisel away at Dark Souls as your distant favorite Action RPG. The experience totally tested my faith and crashed my nostalgia for it’s experiential value but I will still greatly enjoy finishing the remaining trophy challenges in between cracks at newer games.
|Genre||Third-person Action/Role-Playing Game|
|Released||May 25, 2018 | QLOC / Bandai Namco|
|Platform(s)||Playstation 4 Pro [Digital]|
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