Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin Review

By Robert Settle on 14th April 2015

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is an ideal package for those who have heard plentiful about the franchise but haven’t had a chance to play the game, but a great package for those who already have. I usually refrain from playing games that are part of franchises if I have already missed some of the predecessors or DLC. Fortunately, a lot of these games are often re-released as bundles with the DLC prepackaged along with some new features that make it worth purchasing for old veterans let alone newcomers. Scholar of the First Sin (SotFS) is exactly this. It is a remake of the highly popular Dark Souls II but on the current generation consoles. This means that we’re blessed with plentiful content and upgraded visuals. Even some of the in-game elements have been slightly remastered to ensure that the experience doesn’t feel too similar for those who have played the Xbox 360 version before.

Recently I have become a huge fan of remastered editions. Developers are consolidating my faith in such games. Before, they used to be an easy way to try and make some extra money off an old franchise without having to put in too much effort in producing new content. Whilst this still may be true, remastered games are generally very good. SotFS is no exception to this. Dark Souls II was often criticized for having very poor framerate issues. When the action got serious, the game would often slow down since the old machines couldn’t handle the amount of rendering needed on-screen. One of the first major changes in SotFS is that the game has been fully upgraded to run in 60fps. Whilst this may seem like a common trend across remasters, a game like Dark Souls II can only be truly enjoyed without major screen tear. This upgrade prevents such problems from occurring.

Apart from the very smooth gameplay animations, the graphics have only been touched up slightly. Dark Souls II was already a pretty game, and whilst I feel that there was a missed opportunity by not rebuilding the world of Drangelic to take full advantage of the Xbox One, it still often looks like a current-gen title. One of the more noticeable changes is the lighting effects, which seems significantly better on the Xbox One when compared to the 360 counterpart. However, I cannot say for certain whether this is just down to how the XBO deals with lighting effects or whether the developers actually tweaked the game to be graphically more superior in this department. It’s still worth mentioning that the lighting effects are still nowhere near on par with some of the titles developed specifically for XBO. Games like Ryse are still far better in this department.

It’s a good time to be a fan of action and adventure RPG titles. With the recent release of Bloodborne (albeit that’s a PS4 exclusive) and now SotFS, we’re getting really spoiled. Let’s not forget that Witcher III is also just around the corner! SotFS is also one of those games that challenges you immensely. It’s not a game that you want to play if you want an easy ride. It’s a game for those who want to be truly challenged in a single player campaign and feel rewarded for beating aspects of the game after countless attempts. The game doesn’t even spend a lot of time easing you in. Some of the earlier enemies are equally as difficult as the later ones. The whole idea behind this is that you’re forced into picking up the game quickly since you’ll need to quickly adopt a skillset required to take on the tougher obstacles later on!

Despite the game being difficult, you will never feel as if it’s against you. I loathe games that make things for you difficult in a cheap manner. Scripted events where you’re just thrown into an impossible situation are not great designs. In SotFS however, if you die, chances are that it’s your fault and you will own up to it. Whether it’s due to a lack of patience or a lack of skill, your deaths will often be down to your mental ability and dexterity. This is extremely important. Without this feeling, you’d end up ejecting the disc and snapping it in half or using it as a coaster instead. Since every death feels like it could have been avoided if you had just done one thing more carefully, it encourages you to take one more stab at the task. This makes SotFS a highly addictive game and you’ll end up playing it for countless hours in a row without noticing where the time flew.

The Dark Souls II experience differs from its original version through the addition of a brand new NPC, aptly named the Scholar of the First Sin. This NPC will continue to show up throughout the campaign. Also, as you progress through each area, veterans will notice that the game has been changed up to include different types of enemy and NPC characters to keep things fresh. With this in mind, SotFS will be a brand new experience even for those who have played DSII. The Pursuer in particular is more of a frequent hassle to deal with. I feel as if SotFS is even harder to finish than Dark Souls II!

For veterans, this may not be a problem. However, this may be a cause for concern for someone who is trying to get into this genre. It’s an extremely difficult game and today’s generation of gamers seems to be a lot less patient. It’s why games like Call of Duty do so well, since it very frequently rewards gamers for doing the smallest of things. However this isn’t the case in SotFS. You need to earn your rewards and you could be stuck in the same place for hours before you finally find out how to beat it. It’s almost as if SotFS was remastered only to appeal to the original veterans of the franchise. I applaud this, however making the game so difficult that it may alienate those who want to begin playing this sort of game is very risky and unhealthy for the genre.

There is already enough incentive for players of the original Dark Souls II to return. It comes in the form of the DLC that is all prepackaged with SotFS. A lot of people only would have played the original game and not purchased any of the DLC. There is a lot of DLC with new areas unlocked and brand new boss battles that are worth taking on. I’d assume that most gamers haven’t played the DLC. With that in mind, SotFS is definitely a worthwhile package. The developers did not need to increase the difficulty further.

The social aspect of Dark Souls II has also been improved. In SotFS, you can partner up with even more players, take part in voice chat discussions and spend less time trying to find someone to play with. Similarly to Bloodborne (although this concept came first in Dark Souls II), you can find players that may be willing to help you out in battle, but some of the gamers may join your room to sabotage it! Often you end up having a war between the human players, which may be exactly what you want if you just want to digress a little from the main story. Generally though, you will find that people are helpful enough to give you a lending hand. It is not mandatory to be connected online. You can play in offline mode and ensure that no other gamer joins your room to wreak havoc.

One major downside to SotFS is that it contains exactly the same achievements as Dark Souls II. It almost feels like a slap in the face for veterans to have to purchase the new game and not be given new achievement challenges to work through. I respect that some may overlap, but having no new ones whatsoever seems a bit lazy. This is one aspect of the game that I believe will appeal more to the newcomers, unless the veterans only care about Gamerscore, in which case it’s another easy 1000G.

With all of this in mind, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is an excellent addition to the franchise that gives experienced players new incentives to play the same game and newcomers only some reasons to invest. If I were a newcomer, I’d certainly be intimidated by the release of this title and may end up looking elsewhere, however one cannot argue that the graphical upgrades, drastic frame rate improvement, prepackaged DLC content and the changes in the story mode make this a remastered edition that developer From Software should be extremely proud of.

Review code courtesy of Xbox