Dark Souls: Remastered (Xbox One Review)
It feels like there isn’t a month that goes by without a remaster, be it an old school title or an up-scaled port of a more recent game – even if the term is a point of contention for some. While some games have received an entire overhaul, others simply make a few minor tweaks and upscale the graphics. Dark Souls: Remastered is more of the latter.
At first Dark Souls: Remastered‘s graphical upgrade failed to impress as I stumbled around the claustrophobic Undead Asylum, but when I reached the dimly lit Undead Parish and the grandiose Anor Londo the textures and particle effects really started to pop. Textures can even appear flat and washed out in Sen’s Fortress and the Darkroot Garden. It might be due to the new fine-tuned volumetric lighting which does wonders for some areas while illuminating others for further scrutiny. Even then there is still a distinct difference in the two versions, something that can’t be said for the mechanics which remain unchanged and slightly dated. None of these changes quite compare to the improvements other remasters have seen but that’s not Dark Souls: Remastered’s fault, it was already HD upon release and the room for improvement was limited.
Rolling, blocking, and then perfectly timing your attack was always Dark Souls’ main allure. It was confident enough to demand your undivided attention and brutally punish an itchy trigger finger with the universally aggrieved “You Died” screen. As the series has caught up with the times, so have the mechanics. By the third instalment rolls became omni-directional, animations cancelled fluidly, and the flow of combat was faster than it had ever been, ultimately making the games more accessible.
It’s only now that we can make comparisons to the newer titles and the contrast has never been clearer. The minor tweaks and updates to the system are greatly missed when faced with wonky hitboxes, minor input latency, and less than impressive netcode. It all leaves Dark Souls: Remastered in an odd position. While preserving the essence of its original, it neglects the much needed improvements of its successors and borders on feeling like a rushed, or even unfinished, product.
Even though some areas feel lacking, Dark Souls: Remastered shows it’s not lacking humanity when it expands the online players in a session from 4 up to 6, that’s 4 spaces for cooperative play and 2 for invaders. It’s exactly what Dark Souls needed, a bit of additional support for a blossoming online community. Covenants are once again bursting with players willing to help new players experience both the sinister and saintly Hollow Undead that are more than willing to drop down a sign. Even the Gravelord Covenant, which was previously underutilised, has made resurgence and offers players an experience they would have missed out on previously.
But with these vast improvements to the online system also bear their own burden in the form of the new weapon level calculator. The new calculator considers the potential of the equipment collected by a player and then places them in a bracket, resulting a diminished online presence in some areas thanks to a lucky drop, most notable the Black Knight weaponry. While it does serve a purpose by distancing expert players trying to fly under the radar with low level characters and high level gear from newer players trying to find their feet, it also distances those same players from experienced players willing to lend a helping hand. Thankfully a password system is in place for you and you friends that favourably circumvents the weapon level calculator. You may be alienating yourself from any potential friendly anonymous online interactions, but if it gets you past those tough boss battles then its a more welcomed addition.
Even though Dark Souls: Remastered hasn’t aged as well as expected, it’s still a spectacular game. The soul of the series, pardon the pun, can been seen in every nook and cranny in its open-ended design. The grand sense of achievement in killing a tough boss is perfectly preserved, as is the debauchery of the Orange Soapstone. It’s still the apogee of “git gud” in every sense.
Returning players might be a little underwhelmed by the overall improvements, or lack thereof, but that doesn’t discredit the improvements of Dark Souls: Remastered. Dark Souls was, and still is, a phenomena that made an entire generation forget that Action RPG was a genre and inspired developers far and wide to pay homage to the franchise.