Before I start, I’d like to start by expressing my sadness at the passing of John “TotalBiscuit” Bain, who died today at the age of 33. My thoughts are with his friends and family, and particularly his wife Genna. I was once an avid watcher, especially back in my World of Warcraft days (TRH – “Bust him down to bencher, sonny!”), and though time saw me drift away – that’s no age to go, and cancer is no way to go. Whatever disagreements people may have with the man – we’ve all had spats online at some point – I had the utmost respect for the man and his fight for the consumer. Go into that 144 frames a second, 8k beyond with the best FOV Sliders the afterlife can offer, and thank you good sir for your time on this world. – Kami
Tackling Dark Souls Remastered is going to be awkward.
So let’s get the obvious out of the way first – on the PlayStation 4, XBox One and eventually the Nintendo Switch, Dark Souls Remastered is probably a decent buy if you’re new to the game. As someone who 100%’ed the original on both XBox 360 and PlayStation 3, I appreciate the only gimmick that appealed to me is the idea of Switch portability but I do think most “fans” will be sadly disappointed with the remaster and how little it changes. Yes, it’s a faithful “remaster”; but Dark Souls could have been more – should have been more, even.
The shadow that has grown to loom over Dark Souls Remastered is another “remaster”, the PS4 version of Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. Yes, improvements were made; framerate was kicked up to 60 per second, texture work was improved and technical stuff made the whole thing more robust and less prone to slowing down. But what made the game so critically different for so many of us was that FROM Software remixed the experience; both to add challenge for old hands, and to better pace out or block off easy routes for early buffs. Running through Scholar of the First Sin – plus it’s additional new NPC and new final boss fight – was a marked change, which meant you were double-dipping but you got what felt like a completely different game from the flawed, sluggish PS3 original.
Dark Souls Remastered is just a technically tidied-up Dark Souls. I mean, that does appeal… but the gauntlet was laid down years ago, the yardstick set. If people are disappointed in Dark Souls Remastered, it’s only because the series has set itself up for much higher expectations.
(And as I’ve said before – it’s a Remaster. It won’t be eligible for my End Of Year lists anyway.)
So, what about the PC Version? That’s a slightly different kettle of fish.
The old version of Dark Souls has been “removed” from Steam to be replaced by this version – and PC Owners have to pay 50% of the cost, which effectively means £18 for what amounts to a patch to fix what was always a pretty dour and basic PC port in the first place. It wasn’t awful – FROM Software certainly improved over the years, and they made it clear that the PC Version was going to be “just a straight console port” (and yet people still seemed shocked that’s “all” they got…).
But again, yardsticks. When Bethesda remastered up The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, owners got the upgraded version for free. Owners of BioShock and BioShock 2 got those remasters for free too. Divinity: Original Sin? Yup, owners of that game got the remastered version for free as well. This is a well-established thing; no-one is against taking down the older version in lieu of the newer remastered editions, that is somewhat common practice, but previous owners should not be penalised for that. Hell, I still have Mass Effect 1 and 2, and Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 (don’t ask!) in my Steam list. EA removed them from the Steam storefront, but I am not penalised for that. I can still download them. I can still PLAY them – if I wanted to, of course. With EA’s behaviour of late, those impulses are pretty minimal.
Charging sets a pretty bad tone, particularly when performance was always the primary criticism.
It also means that the modding scene that flourished around the old Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition has been shafted somewhat. And like many, I have indulged in modding the PC Version to improve it – and significantly so. Matchmaking, texture packs, increased resolutions and framerates, higher foliage density, randomised enemy placements, better UI’s and less radioactive glow on the lava effects… fans have painstakingly over the years been turning a rudimentary port into a fantastic little version of the game. Most of that… is gone now, I mean not “gone” for those of us who have the older version in our library but newer buyers won’t be able to experience any of this community-driven stuff. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s still significant that people really worked very hard to make this the very best game they could envision with nary a thank you or a “by your leave”.
So let’s fix that now; Dark Souls Modding Community – THANK YOU.
Of course, I don’t think it will be long before the modding community gets to work on the Remaster; indeed, I’d rather see FROM Software make modding an official thing with a Steam Workshop. They won’t, of course, because reasons, but they should. Not just because the modding community has been great; but it adds actual value to the game. Long-term value. People can play for years afterwards if tools were released to add in new areas, or new enemies, or new armour. To constantly reinvigorate the experience; disable the achievements (this is a thing most games with a modding scene do) and let them go to town on the thing.
Yes, people would have still complained about being charged for what effectively amounts to an official “patch” (years late), but at least it would sweeten that bitter pill a little bit.
And did this really need a remaster on the PC? I’ve been thinking about that and as I’ve said elsewhere, I think the only console that ‘needed’ this version was the Nintendo Switch; and even then, the moment Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin becomes available – I’d personally move to that instead, because it’s a marked improvement. Dark Souls was an entry point; it was the beginning but the series did do bigger and brighter things going forward. Dark Souls is an unforgettable experience, but put it contextually near Scholar of the First Sin or even Bloodborne (and all its technical foibles) and the original game clearly shows signs of age, and the constraints of the budget available when FROM Software was not considered a top-tier developer. Funny what a few years can change, isn’t it?
But of course, Dark Souls was originally a middle-market game – which I think we’ve all somewhat forgotten midst all the sequels and Prepare to Die editions and all. Perhaps I was easier on Dark Souls when it was firmly wedged in that middle-market region. I think I slightly got harder on the Dark Souls series as it traversed up into “Top Tier”/”Triple-A” status. More money, same old issues kept cropping up. As I said in my last blog post – the pricier the games get, the more critical I think we become of them.
So to see Dark Souls Remastered also kind of makes me sad somewhat. It’s now another “Big Budget” game release; one of the things that made it a curio has been thrown down a bottomless pit by Patches.
That’s not to say Dark Souls shouldn’t be enjoyed – on PS4, XBox One and Switch, this will be the only real option available and that’s fine. It could have been more; it isn’t, but a lot of people will be okay with that as much as a lot of people won’t like that at all. And I don’t blame the team who worked on this; they were contracted to do work and they got paid for said work. They’re not the problem.
But I do think the PC Version should have been offered for free. I think that was a mistake. I think FROM Software have set a pretty rotten precedent there.
But most of all… I think FROM Software should have spent the money on a new Souls game. Demon’s Souls would have made more sense; that’s a game that needs to be preserved (in a lot of ways, I prefer it to Dark Souls… is that something I’m allowed to say?). Or a new Souls game. Maybe even a Souls crossover with another series. Or at least, Bloodborne 2. Dark Souls was concluded; the trilogy is done with, and we should all be moving on. Miyazaki made it clear he wanted to move on. We should be wanting better; this sub-genre is one filled with promise and potential, ripe for development and expansion. And I don’t think that will happen if we keep chasing Dark Souls in circles.
I may decide to leave Dark Souls in my memory now. Look forward to new challenges and new landscapes.
But I’m still going to have half a dozen Solaire Amiibo around the place so I can Praise the Sun at every opportunity… guess that’s going to take a lot longer to get out of my system.