Gameplay: Dark Souls: Remastered

Since October 19, Nintendo’s Switch can now also indulge in its own masochism. Countless screen deaths are waiting to be killed in order to rise from the ashes of the campfires, like the phoenix, and to go back to work strengthened by an adapted strategy. After PS4, Xbox One and PC, Bandai Namco and From Software have now also donated a Dark Souls: Remastered to Nintendo’s console/handheld hybrids, a good four months late. This is a HD port of the 2011 Dark Souls for the PS3 and Xbox 360, developed by the Singapore studio Virtuos, including all DLCs released for it. After Gamers.at has already tested the Windows version for you, this epilogue is the next test of the Switch version, with which Dark Souls is for the first time making its way onto a Nintendo console.

Only in a nominal respect, as far as the file size of the respective versions is concerned, Dark Souls: Remastered has to accept significant reductions for the switch. The ports developed by the Polish studio QOLC for Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One and Windows (Steam) on the respective storage media take about 7.3 (consoles) and 8 gigabytes (Steam) respectively for themselves. The switch version, on the other hand, has (only) 4.2 gigabytes (or eBook?). But what do these nominal differences have to say? A comparison with the (unmodded) Prepare to Die Edition for Windows from the year 2012 should show that Dark Souls: Remastered can also offer improvements on the switch in graphical terms and remains a great action role-playing game with weaknesses that cloud the overall picture, without therefore doing the game fun or addiction potential any harm. The purpose of this test is to examine whether the changes and improvements made are able to compensate for old problems as well as for new ones that have arisen and thus justify a (new) purchase of the game. But first I’ll go into the history of Dark Souls and then the mechanics of the game (combat system, level ascent and level design). If you are primarily interested in the new features/changes of Dark Souls: Remastered and especially the quality of the switch port, you can confidently scroll down a bit further.



The Ages of Ancients, Fire and Darkness or the Story of Dark Souls

As with all outstanding fantasy stories, such as Tolkiens Lord oft he Rings or Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (yes, I’m also eagerly awaiting Winds of Winter), the world of Dark Souls knows several eras. The story of the first dark soul comes at the end of the second age, that of fire. The Age of Fire (Age of Gods) dawned when four beings with human form found and recovered the souls of the princes (Lord Souls – manifestations of contrast) in the fire of the suddenly blazing first flame (First Flame). They are now considered the princes, the (first) gods of the world of Dark Souls: Gwyn, the Prince of Sunlight, the Witch of Izalith and the Grave Lord Nito. Together they violently end the reign of the Ancients, the dragons of the first age (Age of Ancience) and now take over the regency. The fourth princely soul, the dark soul (Dark Soul), is taken by a stealthy dwarf (Furtive Pigmy), the ancestor of humans.

However, the dark soul holds one dangerous power, that of darkness, for the owners of the other three princely souls. While the other princely souls lose power with fragmentation, the power of the dark soul is increased with fragmentation. The role of the stealthy dwarf in the battle against the dragons is just as uncertain as the circumstance of what happened to him during the further course of the Age of Fire or how he behaved to the reign of the Princes of Light. At the beginning of our adventure only one thing is certain: There is no eternal fire. The first flame is at extinction and with it the age of fire, which represented the heyday of the gods. Already now only the embers, which we see constantly gliding through the air in the course of our adventure in the world of Dark Souls, testify to the once mighty blazing fire of the first flame. The age of darkness is approaching. What about him? That of men?























A question of character

First of all we find ourselves in a character editor, in which we are cobbling together a warrior according to our own, albeit limited, tastes. We choose a gender, one of several classes (with different attributes), a start item and a customizable look. The choice of class, however, only determines which equipment we start the adventure with: whether with a shield that protects us 100% from physical damage and sword or weaker, but suitable for riposten, shield or dagger and magic. This means that our character is by no means fixed on this path, but can be developed in (almost) all directions in the further course of the game.

After successful characterization we wake up in a cell in the northern asylum of the undead. We are carriers of the cursed darkness sign (Accursed Darksign) and accordingly condemned to erosion, the loss of our humanity and associated mental health. But before we can begin to wonder why we are proverbially modern in a cell before us, because we have the shape of a ghoul or zombie, we are freed by a knight and the adventure begins. Our first task in the land of the ancient princes, Lordran, will be to ring the bells of revival and to recognize the fate of the undead. In the course of this we learn – often however only with attentive reading of the item descriptions and if we listen extensively to the information of the quirky characters we encounter on our travels – something about the land of the old princes, the beings populating them, the fate of those who once fished the princely souls out of the fire at the end of the age of the ancients, as well as ourselves, the chosen undead and thus presumably direct descendants of the stealthy dwarf.

It is not least this epic background story and the way it is (not) told that makes up a large part of the fascination of Dark Souls, as it creates its own unique atmosphere. Each item description becomes a meaningful text that always contains more than just information about what the item could be used for. Often the full content of these text fragments unfolds first against the background of other item descriptions and information from NPCs. The Dark Souls universe has even produced apocryphal fonts: resourceful users have encountered unused dialog lines of existing characters in the source code of the game, as well as names for existing characters that have remained nameless in the game. So the knight, who at the beginning frees us from the dungeon by throwing a key down through a hole in the ceiling and later equips us with the vital Estus bottle, Oscar, as well as Solaire or the blacksmith Andre, is from Astora and thus probably a high-ranking knight.









Living in Lordran

Driven by our desire for souls and humanity, as well as our newly found destiny, we fight our way through the areas of Lordran. Depending on our concentration on strength (heavy weapons and shields), mobility (fast weapons and bows), intelligence (magic) or faith (miracles), we can face a wide variety of adversaries with shields and thick truncheons or precise long swords, heavy bi-handers or nimble foils, crossbows or bows, magic, miracles or pyromaniac. From undead rats, dogs and soldiers to the bodyguards of the mighty Gwyn himself, we deal with the most diverse types of enemies with riposts, visceral attacks, special attacks or simple blows, stings and (magical or pyromantic) projectiles – whereby bows and crossbows primarily serve to attract individual enemies from a larger group, since they do hardly any damage.

It belongs to the essence of the series that there is no need for a boss to die pixel death. Any normal foot soldier, even any rat, can be our downfall. If most of the standard opponents are relatively easy to get out of the way separately from the group, they sometimes present us with real problems in pairs, for example by surrounding us. In these situations the strategic finesse of the fighting system unfolds, which From Software has almost perfected – e.g. in view of the in my opinion rather messed up fighting system of Assassins Creed Origins, which took clear borrowings from the Dark Souls series, but stopped halfway there. Simply beating us up will bring the blood-red “You died” lettering with ominous musical background before our eyes and ears much more often than prudent endurance management. Because every action in Dark Souls costs stamina, even blocking strokes. If the endurance bar is empty, we can no longer execute or run sword blows. Then only standing still or normal walking helps to regenerate it; even a sign that is still raised slows down this regeneration process. Every attempt to block with an empty or too low endurance level leads to the arm being thrown to our side and we stumble, unable to move for a short time, being allowed to wait for our counterpart to use us as pin cushions for other purposes, which usually cannot be asked twice.

However, the action is at its best in the boss fights. There our fighting skills are put to the acid test. First we have to study the movements of the mostly oversized dragons, knights, golems and the like in order to identify those intervals in which the opponent is vulnerable to targeted blows or magic attacks and when we have to withdraw from the action again in order not to catch a counterattack. In Dark Souls there’s too much of the famous blow that can quickly be fatal and take us back to the last campfire where we lost our temper. The catch: With every screen death we lose our laboriously collected souls, by means of which we improve our attributes and equipment, as well as humanity, which we use to reverse the erosion, i.e. to take on human form and ignite the campfire, i.e. to strengthen it (instead of five or ten we then get up to 20 sips from our Estus bottle, which serves us for healing). After the violent death we have the possibility to go to the place of our premature death and to retrieve the souls and (not yet redeemed) humanity that have remained there. If, however, this attempt should again bless us with the temporal, the souls lost before have now finally and irrevocably disappeared. However, the frustration potential certainly inherent in this game can be alleviated by the realization that progress in this game is measured less by the accumulated souls than by measuring the world, uncovering shortcuts and campfires. In the course of this, souls fall to us in heaps anyway.

This leads us to one of the certainly most outstanding moments of the first part of Dark Souls: the level design. If we first have the feeling of wandering aimlessly in search of the protective glow of a campfire, we soon open iron gates, doors and gates here and there that lead us back to familiar places and connect the most diverse areas directly with each other. On this way we discover Lordran, with a few exceptions, as a coherent organic whole, in which the individual areas are not simply fragmentarily or linearly strung together (as in Dark Souls II, for example), but follow an architecturally comprehensible structure, which is always a pleasure to explore. As already mentioned in the test of the PC version of Dark Souls: Remastered on this page, the somewhat uninspired later section of the game: Izalith and the Bed of Chaos is certainly one of the exceptions. In addition to old-fashioned level architectonics, we encounter recycled bosses and intermediate opponents in large numbers here.















Technical quality of the implementation (2018) compared to the Prepare to Die Edition (2012)

Now that’s enough of the general setting and the actual topic of this review, the quality of Dark Souls: Remastered for the Nintendo Switch in technical terms but also in terms of playability. In contrast to the (unmodded) Prepare to Die Edition for Windows (2012) in the Steam version, Dark Souls: Remastered for the Switch brings 600 megabytes more to the digital scale. But what exactly is behind these 600 Megabyte?

Graphic

The 600 megabyte difference is quite perceptible, as the comparison pictures below show. But even developer Virtuos has not managed to help the technically hopelessly outdated game to greater prestige already for its release in 2011 and 2012. While the Prepare to Die Edition 2012 only reached a resolution of 720p before fans of the game took on the optical misery, the Remastered version 2018 with 1080p has now arrived in the high-definition age; at least in TV mode, in Tablet mode the switch again reduces the resolution to 720p, which doesn’t carry much weight in view of the size of the display. The increased resolution makes the image appear sharper. If the Prepare to Die Edition had to struggle with a clearly blurred veil, it could now be lifted on the switch. Nevertheless, the level of detail of the textures still leaves a lot to be desired, which is why some of them still appear muddy and unclean.

The lighting in the Remaster from Dark Souls was also visibly screwed on. Improved volumetric lighting brings more spatial depth to the image. For example, moist bricks are given a clearer structure and appear much more plastic than before. Furthermore the whole game is much brighter than the original version. This is quite respectable and makes the sky and the sun rays over Lordran shine even more intensely (insert random *praise the sun* reference here). The increased brightness, however, always puts the game at a disadvantage where washed-out textures were once hidden in the dark, but are now washed into daylight.

Even so, disturbing clipping errors still occur. This has a direct influence on the game as opponents attack and hit us through walls over and over again. However, this is often not a one-way street and can also be used for your own purposes.

The following picture gallery shows some comparison pictures of Dark Souls: Remastered for the Switch and the Prepare to Die Edition for the PC (Steam):



























All in all, the remastered version is therefore mixed from a graphical point of view. Visual improvements do exist, but they are very marginal. Old problems, such as the clipping mentioned above, on the other hand, were ported directly and true to the original. And yet it’s quite respectable what Nintendo is able to get out of plug-in module technology time and again and to use it in a virtuoso way.

Performance

In contrast to the PS4 and Xbox One version, the switch still has to work with 30 frames per second. However, these 30 FPS are now relatively stable, contrary to the Prepare to Die Edition. Even in Schandstadt (Blight Town) or when there’s a lot going on in the screen, the frame rate stays at about 30 frames per second, so the resulting input delay can no longer be used as an excuse for various deep crashes. However, as soon as the character moves between two objects positioned closer together, the camera begins to oscillate or oscillate between them (exactly, I mean you, Anor Londo’s brace arches), or even reacts sensitively to objects again and again, enough crashes through no fault of the player are still provided. The camera and lock-on system remain, in addition to the game environment, two of the biggest enemies of the chosen undead and his safe step.

Sound

Some users complained online about problems with the compression of the audio files, which leads to errors or poor quality in the playback of certain sound samples. I couldn’t find this in the test with my Creative Dolby Surround 5.1 system. Here and there a time delay of sound and image crept in, but nothing that could have been reproduced with statistical accumulation. Even in portable mode, the sound is acceptable, although not necessarily intoxicating, since, according to the possibilities of the hardware, much duller and more tinny.

However, I initially had a strange problem with the sound settings and the accurate 5.1 reproduction of the sound via an optical audio cable. The center of my system was first correctly controlled from the moment I switched the switch itself from “Surround” to “Automatic” in the audio settings. At this point, however, the directional audio playback worked perfectly.

Control

The control goes relatively well with the Joy-Cons of the switch. The inputs are converted without delay, unless the connection to the console is (slightly) hidden. It is sometimes already sufficient to cover one of the two Joy-Cons with one leg at a distance of two meters and the switch does not react anymore or only delayed to inputs. However, this is not a Dark Souls specific, but a problem that, in my experience, accompanies the switch on the hardware side across all titles. If the analog sticks are too sensitive for you, you can change their sensitivity by means of controls. However, this only changes a latent nervousness of the control to a limited extent, which above all allows precise manual aiming with the sheet to degenerate into a test of patience. In addition to the sensitivity of the camera (x- and y-axis), the key assignment can, with a few restrictions, be individually adapted to your own preferences. One of the limitations of changeability, however, is the menu control, which allows me to tweak my sparse hair in continuous intervals. In the menu, items and options are selected and confirmed using the B button, whereas the A Buttons are assigned the Return or Close Menu command. This leads, at least in my case, over and over again to the fact that I do the opposite of that, because to do I thought.

In handheld mode the game controls itself just as well. Only the change between the shoulder keys (blocks, riposte and light, heavy blow) doesn’t make sense to me in this case, because I move my wrists slightly, which leads to a change in the viewing angle of the display.







New in Remastered Version

Graphic and performance innovations are, as shown, sparsely sown. The biggest changes also relate to the technology and content of the online multiplayer aspect of Dark Souls. The latter experienced a kind of fresh cell cure and was adapted to that of Dark Souls III. So the event is no longer based on a peer-to-peer (P2P) connection, but runs over dedicated servers, so that the event should be more reliable from now on.

In addition, the maximum number of online players has been increased from four to six. The dried finger item is required for this. Accordingly, this can no longer be found in the painted world of Ariamis (in Anor Londo), but can already be purchased from the undead merchant in the city of the undead (Undead Castle). In addition, there is now the possibility of matchmaking with a password, which makes it easier to play targeted with friends.

Away from the online gameplay, one of the most striking innovations is that the skeleton smith Vamos has been given his own campfire and can be reached via the direct journey. For advanced players a nice comfort function, for newcomers a potential death trap. If you sit at the campfire at Vamos even before you have activated the fast travel function with the Lordvessel, the only way back is through the skeletons. There is frustration, in the truest sense of the word, preprogrammed.

in conclusion

One of the sparse innovations of Dark Souls: Remastered primarily includes official HD textures. Also the online multiplayer mode of the game was changed again (underlying technique and maximum number of players). Not too much has happened besides that. Neither the opponent nor the item placements were changed and also the basic game principle and level design was (fortunately) not changed. This is actually a HD remaaster (as in the case of The Last of Us Remastered ) and not a remake (as in the case of Resident Evil or Shadow often he Colossus) of the first Dark Souls offshoot, which accordingly also realizes the weaknesses of the Dark Souls released in 2011 in part true to the original, without, however, providing in return for graphical high-altitude flights. The textures appear more crisp, but still don’t make the game a visual event. However, this does not change the still atmospheric aesthetics of the game, which has always shone despite the lack of graphic splendour. Thanks to the now at least stable frame rate of 30 frames per second, the game on the switch controls itself very well even with the Joy-Cons. The handheld mode is also convincing, if you dare, for example over the fight against Ornstein and Smough, to suppress the swelling need to bite into the gamepad.

In this respect, Lordran is also worth a visit for switch owners. At least for all those who don’t already own the Prepare to Die Edition of the game for one of the other platforms. The marginal changes justify a new acquisition of the game only under the condition that the DLCs have not yet been owned and played. In addition, all those who own one of the other platforms (PS4, Xbox One or PC) should consider whether the ability to play Dark Souls: Remastered on the go or in bed should be worth them losses in terms of graphics and frame rate. Otherwise Dark Souls also remains on the switch, now polished up, rough diamond, into which one can sink many hours.



What is Dark Souls: Remastered? HD-Remaster of the action role-playing game Dark Solus from 2011, with subtly sharper textures, improved lighting and changes in the online multiplayer area.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Tested: Nintendo Switch
Developer / Publisher: Virtous, From Software / Bandai Namco
Release: October 19, 2018