Jai Price takes a run at Dark Souls II
To call the Scholar of the First Sin edition of Dark Souls II a quick cash-grab would be doing it a grave disservice. For $50 you get the original game remastered at 1080p/60fps with the usual bells and whistles of improved graphics and smooth gameplay, bundled with the three DLC packs, which in may be enough to warrant the purchase. On top of that, you get a shuffled item and enemy placement, each made much more lore-friendly, if not more difficult to obtain/surpass. It’s obvious that developer From Software has worked hard to make what was an already great game into something almost without fault. This truly feels like the game Dark Souls II was always meant to be.
The base narrative of Dark Souls II remains unchanged. You are a chosen undead, drawn to the kingdom of Drangleic in a quest to find the King and rid the land of the curse. That’s… pretty much all the exposition you get. You could very easily play the game from beginning to end only having the faintest idea of how you got there. Much of the story is told through item descriptions and environmental cues, as well as NPC dialogue. While there are nods to the first game (both blunt and subtle), SotFS can be played quite easily with no prior knowledge of past events. The major additions to the story are the addition of a new NPC (no guesses here, it’s in the title) and rewritten item descriptions to elaborate on the harrowing and cruel world you find yourself in.
The gameplay in SotFS is deep, varied and challenging, if a little floaty. It does take a while to adjust to: in the end, you’ll either love the faster pace or you find the weighted, measured approach of the first game to be superior. Thanks to the 60fps upscale, the experience feels much more fluid than that of the vanilla edition. A wide variety of armour and weapons, along with a fair amount of items to reset your stats, means it’s easy to find a play style that suits you, even if you happen to be partway through the game. To stop the game from feeling like a retread for those who played the original, From has mixed up the enemy placement, which has the dual effect of keeping the player on their toes and creating a much more cohesive, organic universe. Hitboxes have also been mended, so there’s no need to fear the ogre in the opening area magnetising your meaty body towards him for a one-hit kill. The addition of a certain item early on means you can access mid-game areas far earlier than in the vanilla game, allowing for a unique take on your quest. My only gripe is the large amount of bonfires (checkpoints allowing you to warp between discovered areas); gone is the stress that comes with not knowing where you’ll next have reprieve, because there’s generally one waiting for you every 10-15 minutes. You’ll still be begging for them, as, thankfully, the rate at which weapons dull has been drastically increased, giving need for a backup option or two.
Multiplayer has always been a key part of Souls games for me, and here it’s as good as it’s ever been. SotFS allows up to six players to assist (or gank) each other at any time, making for some chaotic scrimmages. Thanks to improved latency, you’ll rarely be subjected to an unfair backstab, while the soul memory system of matchmaking means you’re grouped with others who have attained roughly the same amount of souls (currency) as you. This is a welcome improvement from the first game, which had matchmaking based on character level, leading to hell for new players who were easy prey for low-level players sporting high-end equipment. Whichever way you look at it, SotFS is great twang (like… a bowstring. No? Okay.) for your buck. Improved graphics and lighting effects (the ever-present dusk of Majula never looked so pretty), combined with silky smooth gameplay make combat and exploration an absolute joy. Intense PvP and a bevy of covenants to join add interesting quirks to how you play. The inclusion of all DLC (each expansion lasting between 2-10 hours) is icing on an already diabetes-inducing cake. From Software’s keen eye for detail provides a lot for newcomers and veterans to appreciate journeying to the rage-inducing world of Drangleic one last time.