Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin review for PS4, Xbox One, PC

Platform: PS4
Also On: Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: From Software
Medium: Blu-ray
Players: 1-3
Online: Yes

I really, really enjoyed Dark Souls II when it originally released on consoles, and still enjoy it to this day. You can debate how it stacks up to the other Souls titles, or the more recently released Bloodborne developed by From Software, but I don?t think there?s any real argument as to whether it?s a great game or not. So saying that this new-gen port containing all the DLC is worth picking up shouldn?t surprise anyone, especially if you somehow missed playing Dark Souls II when it originally released or was ported over to PC. That said, and surprising me quite a bit, is how worthwhile this release seems to be for those of us that have already dropped 50 to 60 hours into the original.

That?s right, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, isn?t simply a prettied up version of the game we already played. Well, OK, it is that, with better framerate and visuals that put this release more on par with the excellent PC port. But it?s also the ?Master Quest? version of the original release, to coin a Legend of Zelda term. It becomes pretty obvious just minutes in that this isn?t quite the same game world you explored with trepidation and fear early last year. Enemy placements are different, with tougher breeds being encountered earlier in the game, along with larger numbers in areas that you least expect them to be.

Dark Souls II SotFS - Forest_of_Fallen_GiantsThis change in enemy placement and variety makes Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin a pretty different experience overall. After getting taught a tough lesson or two, I quickly found myself reverting back to my original, less sure way of playing the game. While the majority of the game mechanics are the same here, just moving enemies around, or surprising you with unexpected encounters early on will really knock away any confidence you have at the onset of the game. These changes are compelling enough to keep you engaged and pressing forward, as opposed to a new-gen port you pick up because it looks better, or runs smoother, but ultimately get tired of halfway through. Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is a port that I want to see through to completion, something I can?t necessarily say about every last-gen PS4/Xbox One re-release I?ve played this year.

The expected upgrades, that being graphical fidelity and framerate, are also worth noting. While we?ve already had a really great version of Dark Souls II via the PC port, it?s nice that now console gamers can get a similar experience. There?s some definite improvements to resolution and lighting, which are easy enough to see as soon as you enter Marjula. But the framerate is certainly the most noticeable difference, and while it?s not always rock solid, it manages to stick pretty close to 60 frames per second throughout most areas and fights. Overall, it?s a far better experience from a technical standpoint than the previous console versions of Dark Souls II, making this a must-have upgrade if you skipped out on the PC port.

Dark Souls II SotFS_5The only real drawback, and one that you may have already heard about, are the issues related to durability. This is a carryover bug from the PC version, apparently caused by the higher framerate, and noticeable as soon as you exit Marjula and start to encounter enemies in greater numbers. I had nearly gone through all of my starting swords before being able to purchase the Blacksmith key, three total, which can be a bit of a shock to both new and returning players. The odd thing is that this isn?t a new bug, it?s one that?s been present in the PC version of the game for months, but it?s not something that seems to be concerning to From Software or Bandai Namco. Maybe it?s some sort of weird, unfixable thing, but it can be frustrating in the early hours of the game. Eventually you?ll adjust and equip enough weapons to counterbalance durability issues, but for me this is the sole black mark to be made against an otherwise fantastic port of a great game.

So outside of the durability issue, there?s little reason to not double-dip on this version of Dark Souls II. If you?re coming from the PC version of the game, Scholar of the First Sin is a bit less enticing. But if you?ve only experienced the Xbox 360 or PS3 version, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin certainly comes off as a definitive version worth checking out. The changes in enemy placement can be a bit jarring at first, but I think you?ll agree that these changes keep the overall game feeling fresh, regardless of how many hours you devoted to the original game. And if you?re coming off of Bloodborne, and wanting more From Software goodness, than Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin certainly fits the bill.

Grade: A-