Dark Souls: Remastered releases on May 25, 2018 and a question that’s surely on a lot of people’s minds is “what exactly are FromSoftware going to remaster?” As one of the most important and critically acclaimed video games of the last decade, changing anything about Dark Souls makes for a sensitive issue. Change too much and you risk alienating a hardcore fan base who demand the “true” experience whereas if you change too little, others will surely balk at the notion of buying the same game again just so it can be played in a shinier format. Whether we can expect to see better visuals only or a radical catalogue of tweaks that seek to address some of the game’s more divisive elements remains to be seen, although it’s worth noting how a precedent for this sort of thing already exists in the Souls franchise. That precedent can be found in the kingdom of Drangleic.
When it was remastered as part of its Scholar of The First Sin special edition, the world of Dark Souls II wasn’t really faced with the same dilemma that Dark Souls: Remastered is currently in, likely due to the strong criticisms that people already had for the ambitious and yet sometimes clumsy sequel. This is perhaps natural seeing as it’s the follow up to such a beloved first installment, but the argument goes deeper as it pertains to the game’s design and overall clarity of vision.
It could be argued that Dark Souls II had the misfortune of being developed during a transitional period in gaming history. The hotly anticipated sequel was released in March 2014; mere months after the competing releases of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Because of that close proximity, Dark Souls II was primarily developed with the previous generation in mind and as such it first released on the near decade-old Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (with a DirectX 9 PC port arriving shortly thereafter).
The stark comparison between the preview builds of Dark Souls II with that of its eventual release build is well documented. What FromSoftware had initially envisioned as a realm supported by a suffocatingly dark atmosphere brought to life by stunning particle effects was scaled back quite dramatically in order for the game to run smoothly on last gen hardware. Many were understandably disappointed by the drop in visual quality and by the time Dark Souls II would be remastered itself (as Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin), the game’s humble origins would remain just as evident despite it seeing a reasonable improvement in graphical fidelity. This isn’t to say that the world of Dark Souls II is an inherently ugly one, but there are several in-game areas that suffer from the abandonment of FromSoftware’s intended vision.
The idea of plunging Drangleic into stifling darkness wasn’t just intended as a thematic tie to its title, it was done with the idea of further unsettling the player and encouraging the sort of tough choices that help make this franchise so enjoyable. Difficulty is one of Dark Souls’ most famous talking points and one notable element of that ongoing discussion revolves around the use of shields during combat. Hiding behind the relative safety of a shield is something that has defined many a player’s earliest experience of these games and whilst FromSoftware’s own Bloodborne is rightly attributed with upsetting the balance – by featuring gameplay systems that discard shields entirely – it was clearly with Dark Souls II where they intended to do this first.
With such darkness pervading the land of Drangleic, players would be faced with a very simple choice at numerous areas of the game. Namely; carry a torch in your offhand or risk not being able to see your way through the game’s darkest settlements and dungeon hallways. Of course holding a torch instead of a shield would create a delicious conflict for timid players in much the same way that Doom 3 did with its similar lighting mechanics. Does Drangleic suffer too much because of the loss? Amidst this question as well as many others concerning the game’s enemy placement, encounter design, boss battles, and other mechanics that differ from its prequel, is a sense that the world of Dark Souls II is worth another scrutinising look.
The idea of producing a journal for one of my Dark Souls II playthroughs came to me after reading YOU DIED: The Dark Souls Companion by authors Keza MacDonald and Jason Killingsworth. In a compelling chapter titled ‘Chasing The Sun: A Tour of Lordran’, one of the authors takes us on a guided tour of the first Dark Souls, analysing every location in the game world from a lore and gameplay perspective whilst highlighting the general experience that new players can expect to have in each one. It makes for an insightful read and so I thought, why not produce something similar for the second game?
See Drangleic is intended to be an equivalent record for Dark Souls II albeit with less focus on the lore aspects and more focus on each area’s general gameplay as well any accompanying boss battles or other such defining moments. I’ll try to discuss any major changes between the vanilla and remastered editions of the game and generally seek to uncover whether the benefit of hindsight and looking at the world alone is enough to understand the criticisms that this sequel is often faced with. Indeed, with the community’s Return to Drangleic event now already underway, it seems that the time to jump back in has never been better.
You can start reading the first entry in this journal via the link below where we gain our first taste of Drangleic by way of a weary old hut…
Begin Part 1 »