Come on if you think you’re hard enough. That’s the refrain sung by Dark Souls, From Software’s toughest entry in the Souls trilogy. The Dark Souls Remastered edition does nothing to alleviate the pain, opting instead to upgrade visual fidelity and multiplayer functionality while retaining the soul-crushing (but still rewarding) difficulty. But seriously, screw Orstein and Smough.
The premise of Dark Souls Remastered is unchanged. You are an undead, cursed with the Darksign and sent to wander the world of Lordran. There’s something about kindling the fire and ringing a couple of bells. That’s it. That’s about all you’re getting, with the rest of the game’s lore being handed out in passing, on item descriptions and in the setting you find yourself in. And the occasional sparse bit of dialogue but chances are you won’t even notice that info if you haven’t been paying attention to everything else.
Lost in (dark) space
Nothing is signposted and you’re not going to be getting any help from NPCs. You’re not told where to go and what to do, so moving through Lordran is really up to you and your abilities. Want to brave the skeletons without a Divine weapon? Go ahead. It’s possible to get by them early on. But it’s also possible that you’ll just be mercilessly smashed into the ground against a backdrop of gravestones. Again and again and again and again. And you’ll love the game for it.
And that’s because Dark Souls Remastered, like its progenitor, excels at a few things: tightly-controlled combat, epic boss fights, and telling a story using nothing more than the world you find yourself in. The story is explained without words — a remarkable achievement in itself — and will pull in fans and newcomers alike.
Raise your sword
Remastered‘s combat hasn’t changed at all. It didn’t have to, though just about anyone who has taken a sword in the back and then been knocked off a ledge because their weapon clanged off a wall will disagree. Still, if you’ve played Dark Souls before you will know exactly how combat functions: Either swift and deadly or slow and janky — but always charming (until you’ve got to redo the same section for the 900th time).
For those who haven’t played before: player weight and armour actually mean something, knowing your weapon and your enemy’s abilities are essential, and learning the art of the parry will see you through some impossible-seeming fights. There’s nothing quite like perfectly timing a boss character’s strike and then sticking a sword in his gut while he’s defenceless. Of course, to get to that point you’re going to suffer through more than a few insta-kill smashes to the skull. That’s the only way to git gud.
The game’s online system hasn’t changed much either. Players can still touch bloodstains to replay the last few moments of whichever player died on that spot recently. You can still leave messages, some useful, others less so, for other players to read, and you can also summon and be summoned to other games to render assistance. Here’s where things get a little different.
Praise the lighting
Visually Dark Souls Remastered has been upgraded up to 4K, should you have the hardware to support it (on PC, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X) but it’ll run at a smooth 60fps in HD if you’re packing an older model console or an older PC. Anything that gives us a better look at the game’s enhanced environments is okay by us. Control selection is also an option, if you joined the series from Dark Souls 2 and prefer that configuration.
Multiplayer has also been enhanced, giving you up to six players online, the matchmaking system from Dark Souls 3 (so you can play with ‘friends’) has been dropped in and a collection of under-the-hood upgrades are implemented which makes travelling around the Undead Burg a twitchy experience. Dark Souls Remastered is not for the faint of heart but it’ll pay off if you can stick with it. But you need patience, and perhaps an extra controller or two. Because breakages.
Switch it up
As great as the PlayStation 4 version of Dark Souls Remastered is, we’re quite excited for the pending Nintendo Switch version of the game. The same experience (in 720p at 30fps in mobile mode and at 1080p/30fps while docked) on the move? Taking on Anor Londo while in a waiting room? That’s going to lead to a lot of public swearing but Dark Souls on the move sounds like a great idea to us. Better than this? Not visually, but as an experience? Perhaps it’ll be the one to play.
Dark Souls Remastered verdict
Is there much of a change between Dark Souls and Dark Souls Remastered? On a story and combat level, not at all. All of the changes are visual, and extremely well done, or are on a multiplayer level — which is a very welcome addition right up until you’re invaded by another pyromancer. Seriously?
If you’ve played it before, is there a reason to go back? Absolutely. Returning to Lordran, for a long-time fan, is like coming home — even if it’s a bit of an abusive relationship in this case. And if you’re a newcomer? Dark Souls Remastered will chew you up and spit you out. It’s going to be up to you whether you stick around and unlock the rewards the game has to offer. If you do end up staying, don’t forget to praise the Sun.