Dark Souls Remastered on PlayStation 4
Here’s a fun little tidbit about Dark Souls. As you approach the walkway to the keep where Andre the blacksmith is located, you can bait an enemy Hollow into following you. Tilt the camera downwards so it looks like you’re playing the game from a top-down angle, parry and riposte the Hollow on the walkway, and your character will clip out of bounds, allowing you to enter Sen’s Fortress without having to ring the two bells. It’s a legendary speedrun skip that was first discovered about two years ago, and it still works in Dark Souls Remastered.
That’s the beauty of this current-gen port: it provides the genre-defining classic with a new coat of 4K paint, and keeps intact everything else that made it so special.
There’s really little else to say about Dark Souls in 2018, but just in case you’re new to the series, Dark Souls Remastered is an enhanced port of From Software’s 2011 action RPG. The game puts you in the shoes of the Chosen Undead (basically a zombified human) who escapes the Undead Asylum and embarks on a quest to link the fire in order to prevent the world from getting plunged into darkness. The story is drip-fed to the player in the form of sparse and cryptic NPC dialogue, as well as the poetically written item descriptions. The land of Lordran is rich, and its environments truly feel well-realized and atmospheric, even if you don’t completely understand the lore significance of each area.
What makes Dark Souls stand out is its combat system and unforgiving challenge. The combat system centers around your character’s green stamina bar. Almost everything you do in the game consumes stamina, and if you let the bar deplete, you’ll be unable to attack or roll for just a moment as it charges up again. The action feels a little slower and perhaps a little clunkier at this point, especially when you compare it to the ebb and flow of 2016’s Dark Souls III, but the combat is still satisfying as ever. Enemy placements in Lordran are deliberate, and much of the challenge comes from managing multiple foes at once, learning their move sets, while also making sure you don’t run out of Estus before reaching the next bonfire. If you die, you respawn from the last bonfire you rested at, and you have one chance to go back to your place of death to retrieve your lost souls, which are required to level up.
The towering bosses continue to be the highlight of Dark Souls Remastered. They feel simpler now in comparison to From’s later games, where bosses often have multiple phases and different attack patterns as the fight progresses. Even so, you still get a sense of awe when you encounter Ornstein and Smough for the first time, or when you’re just about to kill the Bell Gargoyle only to find out that a second one is lurking behind. Save for a few exceptions, Dark Souls’ original bosses are still as magnificent as I remember them, and newcomers will surely find themselves appropriately challenged by each.
As I made my way through Lordran for the first time in quite a few years, it was still hard to shake that sense of wonderment and discovery as I slowly unlocked shortcuts and pieced the different areas of the world together. The stairs near Firelink Shrine lead down to New Londo, the tower on your right as you enter New Londo brings you to the Valley of Drakes, crossing the bridge brings you straight into Blighttown, and going upwards takes you to the Depths and Lower Undead Burg. Keep going further up, and you’ll find yourself in the Undead Parish, where you can take an elevator in the cathedral to head all the way back down to Firelink Shrine.
To this day, the original Dark Souls still boasts among the best world and level design we’ve ever seen in an RPG. Unlike later games in the series, bonfires don’t provide fast travel functionality right from the start of the game. And yet, that doesn’t really matter much at all because of how intuitive it is to travel from one place to another. The world layout just makes sense, and it’s still incredible to see that even without any sort of in-game map, it won’t be long before you start running around Lordran, knowing the area progression and shortcuts like the back of your hand. It certainly helps that the game runs at a smooth 60 frames per second. Blighttown is actually bearable now on consoles, and even various areas in New Londo which used to suffer from frame rate dips have been fixed.
If you’re a seasoned Souls veteran, you’ll be pleased to know that all of the speedrun skips and shortcuts are still intact. The developers have been careful in deciding which glitches and exploits to remove, and which to keep around. Silly boss exploits like Ornstein clipping out of bounds and Taurus Demon leaping off the walkway are still present in Dark Souls Remastered, while the player-centric glitches like the duping exploit have been completely patched out. Dark Souls Remastered now prevents players from breaking the game and over-leveling, but keeps the experience as pure as possible for the players who have been there since day one.
Dark Souls Remastered also introduces a host of quality of life changes, including the ability to use multiple consumables at once (praise the Sun for that), password matching for PvP and co-op, and button mapping. Online multiplayer now supports up to six players, which means that the PvP scene is even more hectic than ever. Being able to freely play the game with your friends is also a welcome addition, and this makes the game so much more enjoyable than it was before. That being said, it does feel like a major missed opportunity not to include some sort of respec feature in the game. Dark Souls gives players so much freedom in creating and customizing a character build, but if you allocate your stat points wrongly or decide to rebuild your character later on in the game, there’s no way to undo your levels aside from starting a completely fresh game. Which sucks.
On the flip side, that means that the game is massively replayable. Not just for different character builds, but for different NPC storylines you can pursue. Dark Souls boasts some of the best NPCs we’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the Souls series, and there are so many things you can do with them to change their fates. You might be too late to save Rhea in your first playthrough, but you’ll have enough knowledge to keep her from harm by the time you start your second run. You might accidentally let Lautrec live long enough to attack Anastacia, and next time, well, you’ll just kick him off the ledge in Firelink Shrine and steal his overpowered ring for yourself before he does any harm.
Dark Souls Remastered is still a masterclass in level design, and it remains the pinnacle of third-person action games. Longtime fans will be pleased with the improved performance on both consoles and PC. And if you’re a newcomer wondering if you should get your feet wet with this entry, the answer is an absolute, resounding ‘Yes.’
Score: 4.5/5 – Great
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