Dark Souls Remastered (Switch) Review
If you’ve paid attention to the mainstream gaming scene anytime in the last decade, you probably know about Dark Souls. You’ve probably heard it’s wildly difficult (it is), that its mechanics are obtuse (they are) and it’s narrative vague and ambiguous (yup). What you might not know if you haven’t played the game though, is that far from making Dark Souls a badly designed mess, these aspects combine with some masterful world and enemy design to create something immensely polarising. It’s the kind of game that you’ll either love to death or find utterly unenjoyable, and it’s a game which pays no mind whether it’s to your taste. It makes no accommodations to appeal to a wider audience but absolutely excels in being exactly the kind of game its designers sought to create. Beautiful and brutal, frustrating and immensely rewarding.
Dark Souls is at its core an action RPG. You begin by creating a character, choosing their physical appearance as well as a class which determines the stats and gear your character will begin with. You’re by no means locked into a particular style of play based on the class you choose, but your stats will give you a little bit of a head start in a particular direction.
That said your character stats are relatively unimpactful in comparison to many other RPGs. Progression of power will come mostly from forging, upgrading or scavenging new weapons and gear, and from your development as a player. Dark Souls is incredibly unforgiving in it’s brutality, and no amount of upgraded armor is going to save you from your own recklessness or inexperience. It’s this very aspect that allows Dark Souls to provide some of the most rewarding experiences in video games, if you’re willing to come along for the ride. To progress in Souls, you need to practise, to take note of the environment and commit to memory enemy positions and attack patterns. It’s by no means an impossible game, and to those with the patience and tenacity to learn it’s intricacies, you’ll find a sense of progression quite unlike any other action RPG. Learning when to make your moves, when to hold back, and when to high-tail it out of a bad situation are key to success. Your character doesn’t so much get better at the game as you do.
The world of Lordran is intricately detailed and an important aspect of what makes Dark Souls special. You’ll traverse one continuous environment, with multiple potential paths to progress down at any point in time. Thorough exploration is rewarded by opening up new paths between areas that can provide a much needed shortcut and demonstrate just how the areas of Lordran weave around each other. Places at first glance might seem disparate, but the moment you look skyward from the bottom of Darkroot Basin and see the imposing bridge you crossed hours before in the Undead Burg you begin to understand a sense of place and realise the interconnectedness of the world. Exploration is can also reward you with bonfires, which act as checkpoints during the game.
These bonfires are important to progression in Dark Souls. When you find, light and rest at one you will refill your healing flask (which has a limited number of uses between refllls), but the choice to rest must be a calculated one as when you do, all previously slain enemies in the area will reappear. When you die, you will reappear at the last bonfire you rested at, keeping all of your equipment but losing your souls, which act as both experience points and currency, unless you can fight your way back to the place you died to reclaim them. Die on the way there however, and they’re lost forever. Souls is by no means the first game to do something like this (I vividly remember the anguish of losing my equipment in much the same way in Diablo 2), but it’s an excellent way to create tension and place greater significance on your gameplay decisions.
The online community features of Dark Souls were forward thinking and progressive in their day, and even now still feel innovative. In a way not entirely dissimilar to the Miiverse integration in some Wii U games, players can leave messages in the game world that will appear in other players’ games, offering advice, warnings or guidance. Or trolling, which also definitely happens. You can place a sign in your game which signals to others in the area that you’re willing to help, and through this other players can summon you into their game world for help with tricky foes. Alternately, it’s possible to invade other players’ worlds as a malevolent phantom aiming to hunt and kill the player to steal their souls and humanity. These online features reinforce a sense of community already fostered by the opaqueness of the game’s mechanics and story – and can offer some slight reprieve when you find specific encounters are just more than you feel you can handle.
The original versions of Dark Souls on PS3 and Xbox 360 (and to an unfortunate extent, PC as well) each suffered from noticeable performance issues. Certain areas would force the frame rate to a crawl, which can have real gameplay implications in a game where timing and reading opponents is so important. The Remastered edition of Dark Souls on other consoles totally solved these problems with performance to spare, allowing for a near constant 60fps presentation there, but Switch is much less powerful and so can’t quite reach those heights. It can however still provide a marked improvement in performance when compared to the original game on last generation’s consoles. Previously problematic areas like Blight Town are far easier to deal with now thanks to a more consistent frame rate. Additionally, the Switch version of Dark Souls Remastered doesn’t appear to use the divisive new lighting engine from the Remaster on other platforms, staying truer to the source material in this regard. Whether 60fps performance matters more to you than the option of portability will be the biggest deciding factor between the Switch and other versions of the game, but you can be confident that you’ll get a perfectly well-performing version of the game if you do play on Switch.
Audio, however, suffers from an immediately noticeable downgrade even compared to the original game. Possibly to save space on the system or game card, audio sounds heavily compressed when compared to any other version of the game. If you’re lucky enough to not be sensitive to audio compression artefacts (it sounds more like FM radio than say, a high-quality stream) then it may not be an issue, but personally, I really noticed the lower quality sound – especially in the clanks of sword on armour, or even footsteps. It’s something I was able to get past to the point where it didn’t hurt the experience but it is something to be aware of.
It’s difficult to really put into words just why Dark Souls succeeds. It pursues a singular vision of what it wants to be, to the exclusion of gameplay and narrative accessibility but in doing so fostered an incredible community of those dedicated enough to pay attention to minute details and decode the narrative threads of Lordran and its inhabitants. Souls is punishingly difficult, but this makes the camaraderie of joining another player in jolly cooperation all the more impactful, and the joy of victory over what felt like impossible foes into a rush that’s seldom found anywhere else. Dark Souls demands patience and flexibility, persistence and tenacity. It’s not for everyone and isn’t trying to be. But if you’re someone who finds reward in developing deep mechanical understanding in games and is willing to die, a lot, in a bleak and uncaring world in pursuit of this understanding, Dark Souls Remastered could be a new favourite.
If you’re someone who finds reward in developing deep mechanical understanding in games and is willing to die, a lot, in a bleak and uncaring world in pursuit of this understanding, Dark Souls Remastered could be a new favourite.
- Engaging combat
- Innovative online features
- Great world to explore
- Audio compression
- Definitely not for everyone