Bearer of the Curse…
While Dark Souls 2 was well received and got stellar reviews on release, it didn’t take long for the most hardcore fans of the series to turn on it, analyzing every detail of the game, and exposing some of its more questionable design decisions. You’ve probably read some of those analyses or seen some of those videos yourself. Fast forward to one year later, and Dark Souls 2 is widely considered a step down from its predecessor in almost every way, with a rabid section of the fanbase going as far as disowning the game completely. Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is an updated re-release that not only includes all the DLC released for the game, but it’s also meant to improve on and fix some of DS2’s most glaring issues. Did it succeed?
Seek souls. Larger, more powerful souls.
On the technical front, Scholar shows several improvements over the original release. The game’s graphical engine has been updated, showing improved lighting effects, but that unfortunately are still pretty far from the ones showcased on the reveal trailers and early promo material. On the upside, the current gen versions run at a steady 60 fps with almost no drops to speak of, a great improvement over the sub 30 fps from the PS3 and 360 versions.
One of the selling points of this new version was also the revamped enemy design in some areas. Some players complained about some of the enemy placement on the original game being cheap, with regular enemies attacking as gank squads with infinite stamina, especially in the earlier part of the game. Scholar does a great job at changing some of the enemies’ placement, or even adding or removing new enemies altogether. Some of these new placements make the game easier, some make it harder, and some of them make more sense not only in a gameplay sense but also story wise, like the dragon guarding the entrance to the Cathedral of Blue, or Heide Knights appearing before you reach Heide. Not to mention, The Pursuer finally living up to his name. While most areas are improved by the new enemy placement, some of them were made quite harder in the update, like the aforementioned Heide’s Tower of Flame, or the Iron Keep. Some of the boss battles have been tweaked as well, which is especially noticeable on the reduced amount of Skeleton Wheels during the Skeleton Lords fight, among others.
At the same time, some areas got geographical changes, like additional shortcuts, petrified bodies, or more light sconces in The Gutter, where you have a good reason to carry a torch now.
While most (if not all) of these changes make for a better game experience, some of Dark Souls 2’s shortcomings are still present, since they’re there by design: Levels are still too short with too many bonfires, world feels disconnected and disjointed, covenant system is still a half-baked mess, movement still feels floaty, hitboxes are still iffy. But fixing these issues would’ve implied completely reworking the game, so it would’ve been irrational to expect this re-release to do it.
But Scholar not only makes changes to the existing content, it actually adds new gameplay and story elements in the form of the titular Scholar of The First Sin, a mysterious new character that will guide the Bearer of The Curse through their journey, and that ties directly to the story of the game, as well as providing some answers regarding some of the mysteries in the original release. Of course, this being Dark Souls, you’ll end up with more questions than true answers.
(Also of note: this additional story content was also added to the base game as a free update, but it doesn’t include the new enemy placement or gameplay tweaks.)
Seek the King, that is the only way.
Scholar of The First Sin includes all the DLC released for Dark Souls 2 to date, namely the “The Lost Crowns” trilogy, comprised of Crown of The Sunken King, Crown of The Ivory King and Crown of The Old Iron King, which tell the story of King Vendrick’s predecessors, and the rise and fall of their Kingdoms. If you haven’t played the DLC yet, you should do it now. In my opinion, level design is miles better than anything on the base game, and it offers some of the best boss battles in the game, and, dare I say it, the whole series. While the DLC is inconsistent on its quality (with Crown of The Sunken King being the best of the three chapters by a wide margin,) all of it is worth playing and Scholar is a great deal for those who haven’t had the chance to do so. The DLC also provides additional insight on the game’s story, and there’s a nice reward for completing it before beating the main game, which I won’t spoil for you here.
Also, if you’re a trophy hunter: while the base game only required every weapon and magic in the base game for the related achievements, you are now required to get every weapon and magic on the DLC as well in order to unlock them. How’s that for a challenge?
Lest this land swallow you whole… As it has so many others
Dark Souls 2 looks and plays better than ever, thanks to Scholar of The First Sin. While some of the issues from the original game persist, pretty much every single change From have made for this version has been for the better. If you still haven’t played Dark Souls 2, want to check out the DLC, or just want to jump back in for whatever reason, Scholar of The First Sin is your perfect chance.
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Reviewed Platform: PS4