When it comes to a game like Dark Souls, there are certain things to consider. These are factors that don’t apply in other games even, let alone other remasters. So it follows with a game like Dark Souls Remastered that we don’t really need to talk that much about what Dark Souls is exactly, so much as what it isn’t. Having halfway pioneered its own genre at this point, I would say most gamers are aware of the presence of Dark Souls on a tangential level, if not a cognitive one.
Yes, this is that game, that very difficult one. This is the game that copious amounts of mad gaming folks have sweated onto their keyboards about with feverish devotion in hopes of translating the oh-so-special feeling of playing it to their readers. This is the subject of dozens of philisophical think pieces, the inspiration for endless hours of painstaking analysis, and yes, this is the game that launched a thousand memes.
With that in mind my job in writing this review isn’t so much to tell you whether this is a game for you in objective terms. If you know anything at all about this series you should be well aware of whether this sadistic action-RPG will fall within your wheelhouse. Either you’ve played the hell out of this game and love it to death, you’ve heard all about it and have given it the kind of wide berth generally reserved for toxic waste spills, or you’re somewhere in between. Regardless Dark Souls Remastered is not going to be the thing that sways you to one side or another.
Indeed the changes implemented in this remaster are very minimal in their purpose based purely on the series in question. When you look at this franchise, and particularly this game, the notion of finding a balance and nailing it is at the forefront of the conversation. Dark Souls is like a fine bourbon or a silent movie; you’d better believe it has a specific audience in mind, and if you’re going to change anything you’d best start at the smallest measurements on the tape.
Luckily Dark Souls Remastered adopts this style to a tee. In fact, leading up to its release there was a certain contingent of its fan community that were calling the game out directly for how little it had changed about the original product, even as the game was being offered as a minor charge upgrade on popular game services like Steam.
One supposes that this is the capital charge of being something of a commodity in the world of geekdom in this day and age. If things like GamerGate weren’t super obvious examples, this particular reviewer could offer his own personal experiences of nerds losing their lunch over nothing online, such as Breaking Bad fans crying over the use of a shovel cam during an episode or Game of Thrones fans whinging on about too much action happening in the latest season after whining about how little was going on for years.
Yes, there are people in the Dark Souls community who are going to have problems with even the very minor changes that Dark Souls Remastered has made to the overall package of this game, and thats perfectly fine. Dark Souls didn’t go anywhere. It’s still available on several online services and anyone who happens to have an older version of the game is well within their rights to pop that baby in and play it to their heart’s content.
So what has changed with this admittedly mild bit of tweaking then? Surprisingly, and ironically, quite a bit. Now let me be clear in stating, as the resident Dark Souls fanatic, that my personal view of what constitutes a “Holy shit!” reaction, based on graphical changes, may not apply to your average person. However, when I go to an area in a game I’ve spent over 500 hours playing and realize that what I thought was algae or wreckage is actually the decomposing bodies of a long forgotten people, you will, of course, excuse me for losing my shit.
Like Destiny, Dark Souls is a game in which the vast majority of the lore is found purely in the background rather than the foreground. This is where a mild texture upgrade can be the missing link between seeing a piece of an environment as an element of subtle storytelling rather than set decoration. Moreover this allows Dark Souls Remastered to become the game that Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software wanted it to be from the start.
Even at a base level the graphical improvements on display are nothing to go hollow at. For one thing fire actually resembles fire in a game where the concept of the flame and its warmth take on such careful and coveted importance. For another, one doesn’t even realize how much stuttering and slowdown were present in the original game until one sees it running at 60fps consecutively for a good 15 minute stretch. In that way even the simple act of sitting down at a bonfire can change the way you see a game like Dark Souls Remastered. This is a game that gives you the luxury of solving problems you may not even have realized were flaws in the original. And yes, the notoriously dodgy frame rate of Blighttown has been fixed to run like a dream.
Of course this is isn’t purely a visual upgrade. A few small improvements to gameplay and online components have also been implemented, such as the ability to swap out the finnicky jump mechanic of the original for a different button or the tedium defying option of finally being able to use more than one item at a time. Now you can crush those 50 Souls of a Brave Warrior in one fluid motion rather than sitting there tapping buttons in tandem for 5 minutes.
Lastly, and more obviously, the excellent Artorias of the Abyss DLC is included right off the hop, much like in the Prepare to Die edition released on PC back in 2012. This adds further value to the upgrade which allows it to more than justify it’s price point, whether you happen to be purchasing it anew or simply adopting the upgraded version on Steam.
Either way, Dark Souls Remastered is hands-down the definitive edition of one of the most influential games of the previous generation, and an absolute must-play for series late-comers who may have missed it the first time around.