Dark Souls is hands down one of my most adored games ever. I remember playing it for the first time and being absolutely pummelled by its unforgiving world, whilst also being engrossed in that very same world for its spectacular level design and rewarding gameplay. My very first playthrough took around 90 hours and while I’m now able to complete the game in a fraction of that time, it still is one of my favourite games that I always go back to. One of my biggest issues with it however had to do with its technical performance across all platforms. Thankfully, developer QLOC and Bandai Namco Entertainment came to the rescue in the form of Dark Souls Remastered. Now normally I’m against most remasters as they’re generally unapologetic cash grabs in my eyes (Modern Warfare Remastered being a prime example) but this is one of the few times where the game could really benefit from the remastering as a lot of critical issues with the game could be potentially ironed out, as well as allowing the current generation systems to be the home of the entire Dark Souls series (also allowing the PS4 to be the home of Soulsborne with Bloodborne also being on the PS4 and various rumours of a Demon’s Souls remaster). But while the remaster does a lot of good, it also does some bad, unfortunately.
Since Dark Souls Remastered is bringing a lot of newer players, this will be like a standard game review, not like how I normally treat remaster reviews.
Dark Souls Remastered is an action RPG set in the land of Lordran at the end of the Age of Fire. The land is ravaged by a plague of undeath as the result of one of Lordran’s powerful beings, the King of Anor Londo, crapping himself with the thought of humanity ushering in the Age of Dark and so uses himself to artificially extend the burning of the first flame (a big fire that gives a bunch of people some power). People afflicted with Undeath find themselves branded with the Darksign and thrown into the Northern Undead Asylum. It is here where the player is placed in the shoes of the Chosen Undead, a voiceless protagonist/antagonist (depending on how you play and view the story) whose destiny it seems is to break out of this prison for the undead and either usher in the Age of Dark or link the fire and extend the Age of Fire. The story, while rife with depth and nuance, is a story that is more or less left untold by normal means. In order to truly understand what is going on and the consequence of your actions, you will need to read item descriptions for various things that are pertinent to each area that you traverse through. You will be greeted with an introductory cinematic that gives you a rough idea of what is going on, but the game doesn’t really make an effort to explain a lot. As much of an annoyance this can be, when it comes to the level of depth that FromSoftware’s writers went to with the game’s story it would’ve meant that exposition would’ve been ludicrously long and boring.
In terms of world structure and level design, Dark Souls Remastered offers a very tightly knit experience. After clearing the tutorial area, you are placed in a world in which you are able to go in many different directions and the game uses the player’s level of skill as well as the strength of the enemies to try and goad the player into specific paths. However, if you gear yourself correctly when creating your character you can completely ignore the recommended direction and go straight to battling midgame enemies and bosses almost instantly, though I would only recommend doing this if you are proficient with the game or hate your life. The world, as vast as it may seem, is all interconnected and a majority of hazards, whether it be environmental hazards or just bad dudes trying to kick your face, is placed with a certain level of meaning and intent not found in other games. Most areas have shortcuts that fill the player with a sense of familiarity and wonder when unlocked and the game both rewards and punishes players for exploration. It’s with this balance of positive and negative consequences of exploration that can both intrigue the player and make them wary of potential dangers lurking in the unknown.
Dark Souls’ superb level design is complemented by its intuitive combat and gameplay. The general gameplay is about choice and risk versus reward. Using the standard control scheme, sprinting causes the player to lose camera control, as does dodging. While using the lock-on system does alleviate this during combat, you also become susceptible to the main critical issue of combat and gameplay in general. Whilst you are locked on to an enemy in Dark Souls Remastered, your dodging becomes tied to a four-directional grid. This is something that was fixed with later Dark Souls games and Bloodborne, but for some reason this issue persisted in the remaster of the 2011 title. This is very frustrating in fights where there are environmental hazards and because your joystick’s orientation is slightly off, you dodge in a direction you didn’t intend and potentially put yourself in harm’s way. This could have been fixed in the remaster without compromising the game’s integrity.
My only other issue with the game would be with the equipment load system (but I wouldn’t say it is a flaw of the game, it just annoys me). Dark Souls Remastered bases your dodge animation on your equipment load, how heavy your equipped gear is compared to how much your character can have equipped. In other Soulsborne games it was more or less the same roll animation until you hit about 70% or higher of your equipment load used, once this threshold was reached you would have what’s known as a ‘fat roll’ (a really slow and heavy roll animation that does more harm than good against faster enemies). In Dark Souls Remastered, there is a point in between fast roll (the best for agile play) and fat roll, this is known as mid roll. To ensure you have fast roll you have to stay under 25% of your equipment load used. I get why this is a thing, it’s just annoying to work around. The main difference with these roll animations is the recovery period, the heavier the roll the longer the recovery period in between rolls. This is really only an issue for people who wish to preserve fast roll, though because it is very possible to play through the game with mid roll and even fat roll, my very first playthrough was mainly done in mid roll. Also, the Bed of Chaos still exists and that’s a stupid fight.
One of Dark Souls’ main issues when it first released was how horrendously bad its framerate was. On Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 it touted a 30fps target which it practically never reached. Areas like the infamous Blighttown and Demon Ruins murdered the framerate and the count quickly went from just below 30fps to well below 20fps. The framerate was almost as inconsistent as a Bethesda game, though with half the bugs. One of the goals for Dark Souls Remastered however, was to achieve a render resolution target of 1080p minimum and a maximum of 4K on consoles whilst also maintaining a target framerate of 60 frames per second. This was an interesting target because in the original release of the game, the physics of the game were calculated to 30 frames per second, so when playing on PC and using DSFix (a fan-made mod that aims to optimise the PC version of the original game a little more and iron out a myriad of issues) to bump that game’s framecap from 30fps to 60fps, a bunch of new bugs would arise. Various jumps and manoeuvres would be rendered impossible because player gravity was basically twice as fast, sliding down ladders would have gravity calculated at such a rate that it was very possible to have your character fall straight through the world when reaching the bottom. On top of this, there were still some areas on PC that would drop the framerate from 60fps to near 30fps. Thankfully, it seems that developer QLOC sought to fix this issue and physics are now calculated at 60fps and the framerate is much more stable (in fact, I don’t think I really witnessed more than one frame drop on my PS4 Pro with super sampling enabled) meaning that console players get to experience the game at a higher framerate and not risk the game freaking out as a result.
Among those improvements there is a much better lighting system, and colours are richer and particles effects are a lot nicer. Texture quality has been bumped up a little bit but the game still looks like an older game. There are also quality of life improvements like being able to use multiple of one item in one go and being able to offer multiple covenant reward items to your given covenant at once (previously this all had to be done individually). In addition to this, you are able to join and change covenants to your heart’s content at bonfires, however I feel that this devalues the role that Oswald of Carim plays when it comes to covenants, but his role with making NPCs forgive you and providing purging stones is still as meaningful for newer players.
Given that you can freely change between covenants now, you think it would be safe to assume that leaving covenants would no longer reset your standing with any covenants that you leave. Unfortunately, this is not the case so it means progressing through covenants can be even more difficult as players might want to change up their covenant on the regular. If you are one of these players, I’d recommend holding on to all your covenant reward items until you have enough to fully level up with your given covenant.
The main issue with Dark Souls Remastered is that it doesn’t iron out a bunch of bugs found within Dark Souls. While it does fix the souls/item dupe glitch, it also brings in a couple of new bugs. The most notable one is the mid roll glitch. If done correctly, the mid roll glitch allows players to completely ignore fall damage (regardless of whether it is fatal or not). Even though that this glitch is one that benefits players and especially speedrunners, it’s pretty bad in that it negates the purpose of fall damage. Dark Souls Remastered also has garbage netcoding meaning lag stabbing (being back stabbed in PvP even though you were facing your opponent) is still very much a thing. In saying this, the inclusion of the password matchmaking system makes playing with friends much easier as it ignores level requirements and scales down players that are too high for a lower-levelled player’s world.
Dark Souls Remastered is both a good remaster and a bad one at the same time. Whilst it sees the triumphant return of the critically acclaimed action RPG to current-gen consoles, it also sees the unfortunate return of various bugs and adds some new ones into the mix at the same time. I’m aware that a lot of people (especially on PC) feel that Dark Souls Remastered is a ripoff because it doesn’t really add anything monumental, it more just irons out some core issues with the original game. It’s impossible to argue that the original version of the game is superior to the remaster as the remaster runs better, looks nicer, is easier to play co-operatively with friends and has some critical QoL fixes that make the game a much better experience. Regardless of platform, I’d recommend this game, especially if you have not experienced it before. It’s Dark Souls, but in better shape.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro and PC | Review code supplied by publisher
- Motherboard: Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3
- CPU: i7 7700K 4.2GHz (4.5GHz turbo boost)
- GPU: Gigabyte AORUS GTX 1080 Ti 1703MHz
- Memory: G.Skill Trident Z RGB 16GB (2x8GB) 3000MHz
- Cooling: Corsair H100i v2