[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
If you’ve ever read another of my remaster reviews, then you’ll know that I tackle all such games with a pinch of salt. Frankly, I have next to no time for “last generation” remakes that are delivered as full price titles and feature anything less than ground-up visual enhancements, as well as the definitive, most complete way to experience the original game.
Dark Souls Remastered, unfortunately, kind of fails the first test. It doesn’t look bad, by any means, but it is nowhere near as visually accomplished as Dark Souls 3, which to me suggests that it is a texture pack and resolution upgrade rather than a nuts and bolts remake. I guess the Remastered bit of the title tells you that (and no doubt the likes of Digital Foundry will go into depth on the subject) but as far as my eyes are concerned, it’s decent without bring remarkable.
What is a certain improvement over the seven year old original is the frame rate, which on the Xbox One X at least, appears to be exceptionally smooth. The game isn’t presented in 4K on any console as far as I’m aware, but that’s the kind of thing that might be patched in with further stability testing. Given that I’m of overly enamored with the visual upgrade in general, I’m not that bothered about hitting peak resolution – I’m here for the game play.
You see, I was introduced to the Dark Souls series via From Software’s other hot title, the PS4 exclusive Bloodborne. When the Gothic spin off was released, Sony’s lineup was otherwise pretty barren and I bought in on an impulse and thankfully, I have never looked back. Even so, I began my Dark Souls journey with 3, then went back to 2. Only now am I in a position to try the game that sparked mainstream interest (I’m excluding Demon’s Souls deliberately) in the series, so most of my views will be through fresh eyes.
Whether it’s new to you or not, the exceptional level design in Dark Souls shines through from the outset. Exactly as in certain other Souls games, the opening asylum level features a boss that is hard to beat, but not impossible. Players in Dark Souls can gain an advantage by flanking him and working their way up into the higher reaches of the level, which in turn allows them to deliver a devastating surprise attack.
Those first, tentative steps are just a taste of what is to come, however. Perhaps the highlight of the whole game is the infamous Sens Fortress, which I’ve read about many times. It’s one thing to experience a game through someone else’s words – as you are now through mine – but it’s entirely different to feel the story of Dark Souls melting together in your brain as it puts the pieces into place. Traps, monsters, bosses, shortcuts – visions of the game you’ve played and the game you’re yet to see – it’s all there.
All the while, Dark Souls Remastered is accompanied by a soundtrack that is haunting and rousing in equal measure, just when you need it to be. I don’t know which bits are retained from the original game, although I understand from experts in the series that the game doesn’t feature a complete remaster, more like the odd tweak here and there. I guess if it’s not broke, why fix it? The sound effects seemed less impressive overall to me – sometimes fantastic (monsters, some voices, weapons scraping etc) whilst on other occasions, less so.
The actual game, compared to later installments in the series (and Bloodborne, although that is more just different) seemed relatively easy to me. The main game is present, as is all of the released DLC, so at the very least Dark Souls Remastered meets my criteria for delivering the definitive version of the game. That’s a lot of content, but for returning players and those who have experienced the other games in the series, it’s likely that you’ll be able to soldier your way through it. Personally, I loved every minute.
Playing as a Pyromancer build, I loved how organically the game revealed its secrets – both in story terms and in its systems. Again, this isn’t really new to players familiar with how Souls games work, but it is still extremely rewarding to watch a character develop or conclude a story based on the sum of your own understanding, pieced together from many clues. In my case, I focused on magical attunement and spellcasting rate, with fast weapons available in my offhand. I never refer to build guides or FAQ’s for Souls games (because as a reviewer I tend to experience each game once or twice at most due to time constraints) and whether my build was good or bad, it was mine to the end!
Ultimately, fans of the Souls series should most certainly invest in Dark Souls Remastered, whilst those simply curious in the series should probably start here too, if only for continuity reasons. Is it a worthwhile upgrade if you’ve already invested time and money into the original? Probably not, if I’m honest. Considering that Xbox 360 titles are now being patched and upgraded free, for example, I remain unconvinced by this kind of remaster. Maybe I’m just being a whiny dickhead though, because Dark Souls Remastered is a good one, of that there is no doubt.