I need to be clear that I came to the Soulsborne series late. I dabbled in Demon’s Souls, killing a handful of bosses and did the same to a lesser extent in the original run of Dark Souls. It was around that time that I realized I wasn’t ready for that kind of experience. Apparently, I just needed to wait four years and for Bloodborne to be announced. I don’t know what finally clicked, (maybe it was just my desire for more games to play on my PS4) but I took to Bloodborne in a big way. I didn’t think I was ready to get back into the Dark Souls series until I was watching some advanced gameplay videos and saw the Abyss Watchers, a boss I thought looked super cool and had an amazing accompanying track that finally sold me on Dark Souls III.
The rest is history and I’ve since put around 360 hours across PC and PS4 into the game. I absolutely love it, and I don’t care what any of the long-time fans think about it. A little over two years since my love at first sight moment I have a new chance to play the original Dark Souls thanks to the recently released remaster. I’m aware of the DSFix mods for the Prepare to Die edition and have used them, but that was still at a time when I just wasn’t interested. Being that this was a publisher-supported release and has features I like in DS3, (password matchmaking) I figured now was the time to give it another shot.
Well, I have some thoughts and most of them aren’t what I was expecting. I understand that the first Dark Souls is a very important game that made waves across the industry. I respect the fact that it kicked off the idea of something being the “Dark Souls” of a genre. With all that being said, Dark Souls had a place and a time, but it’s not here and not now. I came into the game ready to be challenged by tough enemies and crazy bosses. Instead, I was challenged by questionable design decisions and aged gameplay that just didn’t hold up. The act of playing the original Dark Souls is a test of patience, one that requires you to rely on abusing its weaker gameplay elements while avoiding them yourself.
This was most apparent when I finally made it to Gwyn, found out I could stun lock him by avoiding eye contact and just hitting him twice in the back before repositioning myself to do it again as he turned. Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight who killed the dragons and brought about the Age of Fire, was brought to an untimely end by some bullshit game mechanics. Rarely were these bosses difficult at all (I never want to see the Bed of Chaos again) but to have this climactic final battle end with a series of stunlocks was more than a bit of a slap in the face.
I was hoping against hope that Gwyn was going to be the one challenging boss that didn’t rely on a gimmick (NEVER AGAIN BED OF CHAOS). Up to that point, I rarely found myself challenged by the game’s bosses, often beating them in three attempts or less with the only exceptions being boss rooms like the Capra Demon who is accompanied by far more threatening dogs. The biggest challenge for several bosses are not even the bosses themselves but the hazards in the boss area. The Iron Golem is a very easy boss who has a nasty habit of accidentally knocking you off of his small platform, especially if he just decided to stay on one of the narrow bridges. I look at Bloodborne and can’t think of a Dark Souls Remastered boss that even comes close to Father Gascoigne, or to someone like the Nameless King in Dark Souls III. Hell, if you want to fight Gwyn properly go play phase two of the Soul of Cinder fight, that’s a battle.
No, the biggest challenge is always playing the game. In Dark Souls III I always felt responsible for my deaths in the vast majority of cases. It helped me not get frustrated knowing I just had to change my strategy a little bit to finally come out on top. In the remaster, the greatest challenges all feel like poor decisions. How many incredibly narrow pathways over death pits surrounded by enemies can you fit into a game before enough is enough? How many times do I need to miss my attack by millimeters just because I wasn’t locked on? Honestly, Dark Souls, at this point, is a pretty poorly designed game. If you were to release that game today as a brand new product it would get eaten alive by critics and players alike.
Oh, and then there’s the PvP, which is a travesty. Half of all invasions seem to be hackers because, just like the original, Dark Souls: Remastered lacks any sort of anti-cheat system. Even when you get a legit invader it’s just a battle to get the first backstab as you circle around until one of you gets a favorable lag spike (the servers are awful) and can catch the other player off-guard. There’s no skill required to win a PvP battle in the game; just continue to abuse broken mechanics and massive backstab windows, or just abuse the laggy servers. If you think I sound a little bitter about this, I am. I lost too much damn humanity to people who were standing still in front of me only to backstab me in an instant.
I did meet one really cool player who kept invading me as I was trying to wait for a summon sign outside a boss room. At this point, I was just trying to finish the game and the player reached out to me on Steam. Usually, this means they’re salty because I keep leaving and want to talk trash, but after we both established we weren’t trying to be dicks to each other he said that if he invaded me again he’d just black crystal out. I never did see him again, but I believe him. In spite of the other frustrations I had that day with invaders, it was nice knowing that there were some cool people out there who were just trying to have fun and were respectful of others trying to do the same.
As a whole, this remaster doesn’t do much of anything other than making Dark Souls work as it should have on PC without requiring DSFix and brings it to a new generation of players. Most of those players probably won’t like this game unless they already played it, but even the most steadfast of fans seem to be turning on this remaster in some form or another. I’ve seen YouTube videos talking about how it just isn’t worth it and plenty of negative reviews on Steam (take those as you will). Frankly, I think this game needed and deserved a full remake. Take the core game and get it running on the Dark Souls III engine, which actually plays damn well, and tune it to take advantage of all the gameplay and technological advancements that have come in the last seven years. That’s the Dark Souls I want to play.
For what it’s worth, I don’t regret playing the remaster or Dark Souls, I guess I just wish I didn’t wait to play it, but more than anything I wish it were better. In all honesty, I probably never would have played Dark Souls III if I had tried to force myself through this back in 2011. In that regard, I’m glad I didn’t, but part of me will always wonder if maybe I just missed the magic. More than anything, I’m sad to see that this will likely be the last Dark Souls we see for a long time understanding that From Software is moving on from the series. I hope the fans do enjoy this game, but I’m pretty confident in suggesting that newcomers stay away, there just isn’t much worth seeing here anymore.