Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin Review

Lee Abrahams

It was just over a year ago that Dark Souls II emerged and we were tasked with “preparing to die” all over again. Despite repeated claims to the contrary it seems as if developer From Software finally caved to peer pressure and has rustled up a brand spanking new version for the latest generation of consoles, throwing in all of the DLC elements, mixing up enemy placements and giving the visuals a fresh lick of paint. So is it worth the trip back to Drangleic?

First of all let’s get the old HD remaster out of the way, as remastering games that have barely been out any time at all seems to be an easy way to make a fast buck nowadays. Not to mention an easy way to swiftly lose goodwill with fans eager for a proper sequel. In truth Dark Souls II did have a few niggles, particularly with its framerate and juddering animations. So an upgrade from 30 fps to 60 fps has really helped to smooth out those minor inconveniences. The game certainly looks a lot smoother and the resolution has improved significantly. Drangleic welcomes the visual revamp, though it is also worth noting that no other significant work has been undertaken. The textures are almost identical and the lighting effects, though slightly more integral, are still way below what was being touted prior to the game's initial launch over a year ago.

It’s good to be back.

The game itself is still the same wonderfully balanced world of exploration and combat with each step along the way being hard earned, against a plethora of weird and wonderful foes. Not many games can still allow you to be challenged, and killed, by even early game foes but Dark Souls II does it wonderfully. Plus, each death is generally down to player error, whether you misjudged a sword swing, mistimed a leap, or ran for treasure without scouting for lurking beasties. It never feels unfair. Such an appraoch is handy, as the rate at which deaths can rack up for the unwary would normally lead to players throwing down the controller in disgust. But just enough progress is allowed, just enough rewards are teased, to make the whole game loop into that one more go mentality.

It’s also interesting to see that From Software hasn’t gone down the avenue of a straight remaster either, as clearly that wouldn’t be much fun for those that took on and conquered Drangleic a year ago. A new NPC, the Scholar of the First Sin is introduced and adds to the story as you progress. Plus, the dev has tweaked each and every area of the game so that enemies, items and NPCs might turn up where you least expect them to. This has the immediate impact of making the game a different experience again for returning veterans. Tougher enemies show up sooner, new NPC invaders pop up where you'd least expect, and even regular foes show up in greater numbers and with increased levels of aggression. It means that you still have to take your time even in areas you thought you knew like the back of your hand. The Pursuer actually shows up in countless areas now to make your life hell, key items have to be sought out in new ways and helpful NPCs sometimes appear off the beaten track. It keeps the game fresh for sure.

However, on the flipside it means a much tougher ride for newcomers especially in early areas as the Forest of Fallen Giants and Heide’s Tower of Flame that seem to have a bunch of new foes in areas that make life a misery for people just learning the ropes. The original Dark Souls II placements were perfectly balanced to introduce newcomers to increasing levels of peril, while the new ones seem to assume a level of understanding with the game which might not be present. Now you reach areas that were previously full of enemies but have nothing, then move onto other emptier areas that are suddenly overrun with foes. It’s obvious why the changes were made, in a bid to lure in players that may have taken on Drangleic already, but the balance feels off. In fact it’s a shame you can't choose between the two as that would be the best of both worlds.


Similarly, while veterans may have more trouble, or at least have to show a touch of patience, progressing through the main areas of the game, most boss fights remain untouched and a number have seemingly been made even easier by the addition of plenty of new NPC summons. For a host of previously tricky boss fights you can now drag in at least two NPCs with ease (you could always do this with online players, but now there are more in-game summons) making them a bit of a pushover. So despite all of the inventiveness in the world of Drangleic, the big boss events remain exactly as you remember them and can be defeated with an alarming level of ease.

The real draw for returning players may well be the addition of all the DLC bundles that were released. Here are a number of clever areas and boss fights that you may not have come across before and all of them are supremely well designed and help to fill in even more gaps in the lore surrounding the game. In fact, having missed the DLC first time around, these areas were my favourite part of the upgraded game as they were as challenging and interesting as the whole game was the first time around. Be warned though, they are primarily for experienced players and, unlike the DLC, you’ll have to hunt down the items needed to access them in game. It’s well worth doing so though as there are some truly memorable moments along with a number of unique items and spells to be had along the way.

The other part of the game that has been given an overhaul is the online aspect of the game. More players can be summoned into each other's games now, you can opt into voice chat if you so desire, and new items make it easier to match up with other players. Plus, a new ring can ensure you stay at the same soul level of online play should you so desire. Certainly there seems to be a lot more people ready to help out, not to mention those quite happy to invade you and teach you a lesson in combat. Players can easily play in offline mode if they so desire but would be missing an integral part of the game by doing so, after all helping out other Sun Bros is a game in and of itself. Praise the Sun!

Dragons - the latest in home security.

Another minor disappointment is the complete lack of any new achievements to go alongside all of the new content. Instead it's the same old list from a year ago and one that you can get through without much problem if you put your mind to it. It’s a shame as there was ample opportunity for From to add in a bunch of new ideas and avenues for exploration.

That is pretty much the overarching issue with this package as a whole, it presents great value for money for new players but not enough new material to truly draw back in people that have already been there and done that. The change to enemy placements is a shock at first but gradually becomes less prevalent as the game goes on, plus the natural inclination to take your time while playing a Souls game negates the shocks anyway. The story, lore and gameplay are still superb and the graphical overhaul is welcome, though doesn’t really change that much from what we had a year ago. So for players seeking a return to Drangleic it is probably only worth delving into this collection if you’ve never touched the DLC, otherwise the minor overhauls may not feel entirely worth it.

On the whole, this is the definitive package of a very good game but also one that feels balanced towards returning players rather than newcomers, as the balance in the early game feels unfair in places. Having gone back to Drangleic for a second time I certainly don’t regret making the trip, as Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin proves that Dark Souls II is still as wonderful as ever, though certainly not for everyone as a slight lick of paint and a few new areas don’t quite justify the cost.

The score is as beautiful and haunting as ever, and every sound and moment has real meaning. The voice work is truly superb too and even though character interactions are sparse, you can’t help but feel for each of them.

While this now moves along at close to 60fps on the new consoles, and the animation and framerate has had a welcome boost, not much else has changed. A minor HD upgrade really for a game that is only a year old to begin with, and one that still doesn’t match that pre-release footage from way back when.

Combat and progression is still as well balanced as ever, though tougher enemies turning up more often may throw you out of your stride. The game is the perfect balance of risk versus reward and every new location and encounter feels well earned.

A minor downgrade really as the changes to enemy placements make for a more frustrating experience for newcomers and throws off the pacing of certain areas entirely even for old hands. A shame really as the game itself is still a delight and the DLC adds plenty of new challenges.

The exact same list as before, which is a massive letdown considering the addition of all the DLC and new elements. A wasted opportunity.

For newcomers Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is a superb package, with the wonderful DLC thrown in and the visuals at the best they have ever been. However, it's also tough going thanks to the remixed enemy placements and new random encounters. For veterans this is a welcome return to Drangleic but not one that is mandatory, as the changes feel all too insubstantial at times. So while Scholar of the First Sin is the definitive package, it isn’t one that is required for repeat visitors.

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