Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, PC [Version Differences; See Bottom]
Genre: Action RPG
Prepare to die. Again. I could go on and repeat that this whole review and I wouldn’t be telling a word of a lie, but this time I’m not referring your inevitably strewn around corpses. No, Dark Souls II is seeing a release once again. Scholar of the First Sin a combination of the original game, all its DLC content and seemingly some free time the developers had to mix it all up with some new features and throw a bundle of changes your way. Unless you’ve not had the… pleasure? of playing through the game already, this release is only for the hardcore Souls fans.
To be blunt, there’s not a lot of changes in Scholar, or at least not a lot of big ones. There’s been a lot of refinement to the games mechanics, and it’s polished very nicely, making for an overall smoother experience with few hindrances. I’m reviewing the Xbox One version, so was playing with the games bigger upgrades, but I have to admit, I didn’t see a noticeable change in the graphics. The framerate update was terrific though, and made the game run much better for quicker characters and in close range where it was really tested.
In case you’ve not played the original Dark Souls II before, or any of From Software’s similar titles, here’s the skinny; this is an incredibly challenging, difficult game that will test every fiber of your gaming talents. Or maybe just your patience. You’re largely left to your own devices, with next to no direction or narrative, but are done so in a super lore-rich world that is just as captivating and original as it is hard, which is really saying something. By and far this is a game for a niche audience, so don’t be surprised if it’s not your cup of tea. If you do invest your time and energy though, there’s a massive amount of value to be found in the confines of what Dark Souls II offers. It’s very lengthy, full of secrets and given the games approach to letting the player run wild, offers no end to the adventures which you can have, New Game +’s (which are stacked and stacked) actually having a real quality that you can test yourself – and the game – with.
Dark Souls II certainly hasn’t aged gracefully. It’s a prominently ugly game now, which while the art direction and style was a major plus when we hadn’t seen it before, has lost a lot of impact now that most fans have probably played through a good handful of times. The brilliant atmosphere and character design is still intact, but the models and environments aren’t up to scratch, which is probably the one thing other ‘Remastered’ games have done better than Scholar of the First Sin.
One feature that will never get old though, is the score we first heard back when Dark Souls II was released! The musical score still holds up as one of the best for a mature title, with some boss themes being true orchestral gold, and definitely gets the blood pumping. The NPCs have quality voice work, and the very few cutscenes that there are, are unbeatable.
The biggest, and best, new feature in Scholar is the upgrade to Multiplayer. You have to have tried to play with mates in the original version to really appreciate how much better things are now. Dark Souls II has a unique and strange multiplayer system, with no actual matchmaking, instead you’re connected with others through in-game items which you can use to Summon help or invade (attack) others players world instances. The number of players able to be present in a single session has been increased to 6, meaning for some very insane battles for the PvP moments, and some very overpowering help when taking on the nasties in Co-op. It can be hard to find friends without some close communication, but there’s nothing as fun as calling on a mate and successfully taking down a beast who may have ended your life more times than you care to admit.
Dark Souls II will always be a modern classic. It was a labor of love the first time around, and Scholar of the First Sin is the same. It would have been easy for From Software to simply slap all the DLC into the main game and sell it back to us all the same, none of us the wiser. But they’ve gone one step further here, actually rethinking and designing most of the games encounters – enough so that veterans will still find themselves surprised, overwhelmed and… well, dead. The performance overhauls for the new versions are great. A bit unnecessary, given they’ve overlooked again what were already some of the poorer qualities, but welcome nonetheless. Unless you’re a diehard fan, there’s not that much to return too here shy of simply replaying the game again. But for those who haven’t done so, there’s never been a better time to indulge in one of this generation’s finest gaming experiences. Scholar of the First Sin has done a lot right, and I hope that if we do have to keep having these remakes and re-releases, some developers at least take a cue from this title and actually add in unique changes and content to make the game not just newer, but fresh.
A Scholar of Differences
While available as a standalone title on all platforms, there are some noteworthy differences between the game on the different machines. If you already own Dark Souls 2 and its DLC on Xbox 360, PS3 or PC, the new content is available for free through a simple update. However, the ‘next gen’ versions on Xbox One, PS4 and the new PC version (supporting DX11 as opposed to the original DX9), have overhauled graphics, sound and performance, and a new support for up to 6 players in a single session online (that’s crazy), and must be purchased anew.