Dark Souls II: Scholar Of The First Sin

360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One


Boy, do we miss Blood­borne. We miss its busy scenery and com­plex ge­om­e­try, de­spite this re­make boost­ing Dark Souls II’s res­o­lu­tion on con­soles to 1080p. We miss its dark­ness, de­spite this re-re­lease’s par­tial restora­tion of the light­ing sys­tem pulled from the orig­i­nal ver­sion. And we miss its pace, with our first hours back in Dran­gleic feel­ing like we’re swim­ming through bricks, de­spite the in­crease to what, on PS4, is a mostly sta­ble 60fps. From­Soft­ware has done a more com­pre­hen­sive job than most in updating a clas­sic, but nonethe­less Dark Souls II was aged in­stantly and dramatically by the re­lease of Blood­borne.

While the eyes and hands ad­just be­fore long to the look, feel and pace, we find our­selves still pin­ing for Blood­borne’s heal­ing sys­tem to the very end. With its re­gain me­chanic and the split-sec­ond snap of a Blood Vial restora­tive, Blood­borne en­cour­ages a re­spect­ful sort of ag­gres­sion. Af­ter that, an Es­tus swig lasts a life­time, and a sub­stan­tial chunk of our many deaths come from des­per­ate chugs from a flask that we had not given our­selves the time or space to com­plete.

It’s a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem against the Fume Knight, end boss of the Crown Of The Old Iron King zone, the sec­ond of the three new ar­eas re­leased orig­i­nally as DLC and bun­dled with this re­mas­ter. While the Fume Knight may con­form to Dark Souls II’s boss tem­plate – a big hu­manoid with a melee weapon – he fights like a Blood­borne boss, hit­ting fast and hard, with a spe­cial knack for pun­ish­ing er­rant Es­tus swigs with the tip of a blade. Half­way through, he im­bues his vast greatsword with fire, and a sin­gle hit does for three-quar­ters of our health bar. Hav­ing read­justed to Dark Souls II’s pace, the Blood­borne part of the brain takes over. We un­equip our shield and wield our weapon in both hands. We take off the heavy ar­mour that’s car­ried us through the en­tire game, and we for­get about heal­ing en­tirely. We put the hard­est boss in the game to the sword wear­ing only our pants, and then comes that Souls feel­ing: a sud­den re­lease of ten­sion trans­form­ing the pre­ced­ing hours of pain into an over­whelm­ing, drug-like rush. Not all of the DLC con­tin­gent’s boss fights are so re­ward­ing. In the first area’s Dragon Sanc­tum waits Elana, Squalid Queen. Vis­ually, she’s a re­skin of the main arc’s Nashan­dra. As if to com­pen­sate for that, From chucks new abil­i­ties at her and the re­sult is a frus­trat­ing fight against a hex-cast­ing, scythe-swing­ing foe who sum­mons help – a band of skele­tons; Un­dead Crypt boss Vel­stadt; or, if you’re lucky, a drift of tiny Ma­jula pigs – and can in­stantly tele­port to any­where in the arena. Im­me­di­ately af­ter­wards comes Sinh, The Slum­ber­ing Dragon, which would be a fine fight were it not for a bug born in the PC ver­sion and baf­flingly car­ried over here: the in­crease from 30 to 60fps means the rate at which weapons de­grade is dou­bled from the vanilla con­sole re­lease. Since Sinh’s tough, toxic scales de­plete dura­bil­ity at one-and-a-half times the nor­mal rate, one of our at­tempts left us with two bro­ken weapons against a boss with half a health bar re­main­ing.

That was our own fault, in a way, for tak­ing in two co-op part­ners, and so giv­ing Sinh a more ro­bust health bar. NPC sum­mon signs are plen­ti­ful through­out the world, and From has raised the max­i­mum player count to six. With this many peo­ple on­screen, boss fights be­come cake­walks, one player drawing ag­gro and the oth­ers bring­ing the pain un­fet­tered. All the host need do is stay alive. It’s an ab­surd sight, re­ally, and makes one DLC boss that’s al­ready set on a busy field thanks to NPC helpers and en­emy mobs look more like an MMOG Dy­nasty War­riors than a Souls game. It’s seem­ingly From’s way of let­ting play­ers blow off steam, and look at well-known ar­eas in a new way.

That’s a re­cur­ring theme, thanks to From’s de­ci­sion to remix Dran­gleic’s en­emy and item place­ments. None of the base game’s ar­eas have been left un­changed, but not all the tweaks are suc­cess­ful. Things start out bril­liantly: in Heide’s Tower Of Flame, what was once a straight­for­ward route to a vi­tal ring is now a gaunt­let of ag­gres­sive enemies with a dragon to fin­ish, the ring moved to the other end of the level. But later on, some of the tough­est mobs have ei­ther been slimmed down or re­moved en­tirely (Shaded Ru­ins, once packed with hard-hit­ting Lion Mages, is now vir­tu­ally a ghost town). Some changes are for the bet­ter, more for the worse, and most seem­ingly changed for change’s sake. The lack of an op­tion to re­store old place­ments sug­gests this is the de­fin­i­tive ver­sion, the direc­tor’s cut From al­ways wanted to make. Only rarely does it feel like it.

In­deed, it says much that the DLC ar­eas have been left as they were. The three ar­eas that com­pose the Lost Crowns tril­ogy are the best the game has to of­fer, sprawl­ing but tightly de­signed, with an em­pha­sis on short­cuts over new bon­fires. In Frozen Eleum Loyce, the set­ting for the Crown Of The Ivory King DLC, From pulls a rare trick, forc­ing you to re­trace your steps across al­most the en­tire level and mak­ing ev­ery step on the way feel sub­stan­tially dif­fer­ent. Each DLC area is pun­ish­ing in the ex­treme, too, a thumb of From’s nose at those who said the base game was too easy and go­ing some way to jus­ti­fy­ing the higher co-op player count.

In­deed, it’s the bun­dled DLC that res­cues Scholar Of The First Sin from that most ig­no­min­ious of fates: be­ing a re­mas­ter that is worse than the orig­i­nal. With its vis­ual en­hance­ments made as good as re­dun­dant by Blood­borne and its game­play tweaks whiff­ing of gim­mickry, only the in­clu­sion of the Lost Crowns tril­ogy makes this a worth­while ex­er­cise. Hap­pily, it show­cases From­Soft­ware’s inim­itable tal­ents at their ab­so­lute best and means that Scholar Of The First Sin, while surely flawed, is nev­er­the­less es­sen­tial.

The three ar­eas that com­pose the Lost Crowns tril­ogy are the best the game has to of­fer, sprawl­ing but tightly de­signed

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