I have to admit to never having played a Souls game previously. A combination of hard as nails gameplay and a fantasy land that I have very little interest in has meant that previous titles have happily been given a miss. That has however changed with the release of Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin on Xbox One. It’s about time I took in some of the goings on in Drangleic in the hope it can help me change my mind; not just about the past, but also in regards to any future titles.
Scholar of the First Sin will however be instantly recognisable to many. Taking the original Dark Souls II from the last generation of console gaming, throwing in all the recently released downloadable content from that and giving things a bit of a spruce up in the visual department makes the First Sin a very attractive investment. There is no doubting that previous Dark Souls II players will want to get involved in the Scholar tales, as with a complete overhaul of enemy placements, what were once safe zones could now well be circles of death. It matters not a jot if you managed to speed run through the original game, or if you ploughed 100+ hours into your character, for now, Dark Souls II has undergone a transformation, both with a stunning visual style and a completely new way of playing.
That said, death still plays a huge part in proceedings and is something you’ll find a lot of in DSII. Playing on its difficulty, Dark Souls seemingly wants you to fail over and over again. Whilst it wants you to explore new areas, it wants you to meet new characters and it wants you to fully exhaust the arsenal of weapons at your disposal, with all that in mind, it still wants to kill you. Multiple times. In some of the worst ways possible.
Heroes of old will still be able to battle their way through things, but gone are the days of running into an area knowing exactly what will be coming out at you and fending them off easily. You’ll need to learn the huge world once more, but if you do, the chances are Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin will give you a lot back. Thankfully, once you’ve toured through an area and lit your much appreciated fast travel bonfire, most of the trodden path can be easily skipped, ensuring you don’t waste too much time traveling back and forth.
For a complete newcomer to the world though, things are going to be tough. This could come in various forms; you may fall in the river and be swept away, you may get attacked in the Forest of Fallen Giants by some of the biggest beasts imaginable. Or you may just decide to go head to head with a small group of piglets, being forced to run round a table until they ultimately manage to nibble away at your useless corpse. It would be easy of me to put these failures down to my own sword wielding skills, but I believe there is far too many an occasion when a seemingly perfect strike will miss its intended target, instead seeing the attack end up smashing against the nearest rock or hard place. But hey, I’m a newbie and I’m bound to say that!
But yes, Dark Souls II is hard and it’s completely unforgiving for those who haven’t got a clue. Hand holding is not its forte. Not in the slightest.
Whilst the devs, From Software, wouldn’t want to push the new guy away, what they’ve managed to produce really will entertain series veterans and those who have previously taken in the original Dark Souls II on the older consoles. The key demographic is quite firmly the old school battler and if you are one of those, then you’re in luck, because you’ll be treated to something pretty spectacular. All of the three ‘Kings’ downloadable content packs have also been included, so if you never got round to checking those out previously, now is as good a time as any. And even if you did check them out, chances are things will have changed a fair bit!
Visually we’re looking at something of the very highest standard, with both the general feel of the areas you get to explore, the Undead character you’ll be taking charge of and those who will be battling you to the death all coming across with the highest of detail. Indeed, the sheer number of character classes and customisations on offer allow for numerous creations that are only seemingly held back by the limits of your own imagination. If you include a whole wealth of equipment and accessories to kit your undead soldier out with then chances are no two players will ever look, feel and play alike.
The same can’t be said for the audio though as constant droning of a river, or the substandard effects when wading through neck high grass are pretty grim. It’s good to hear steel on steel when taking on some of the other undead that rise from the ground, but other than that, I have to point to some pretty poor audio blasts.
Unfortunately, the price for the Scholar remake doesn’t quite jump out and grab those who have previously played through it before. Unlike the remastered and retouched recent Metro games, a full price point may keep many away and I should expect only those fully ingrained in the Dark Souls universe, and those who need something to wile hundreds of hours away on, to come out fighting.
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin isn’t for everyone though. The general game mechanics and the world in which it is set are both of the highest standard and if you have the inclination to invest heavily into the world of Drangleic, you’ll find tons of hours of exploration and intrigue.
If you don’t though, then my god Scholar of the First Sin is going to be an utter bugger.
Now, where’s that bloody bonfire?