The power of current-generation consoles gives Dark Souls the smooth framerate it always needed.
When we first reviewed Dark Souls in 2011 we gave it a 9.0 for Amazing. Here’s what we said about it then:
“If you take the time to get under Dark Souls’ Skin and understand its twisted mindset, what you’ll find is one of the most absorbing, deepest, hardcore gaming experiences in existence. But it’s also brutally unforgiving and inaccessible, especially at first. If you play games just to be entertained, then Dark Souls isn’t for you. But if you’re at all interested in just how far a video game can go, how singular and focused it can be in its vision, Dark Souls is unmissable.” Read our original Dark Souls review.
The Remastered version delivers that same exhilarating experience and all its DLC, while offering noticeably sharper performance and a number of graphical enhancements. It’s a shame there’s not much here by way of new or behind-the-scenes content for fans returning to celebrate the original, but playing this smoother and more polished version is its own reward.
Dark Souls Remastered runs from 1080p at 60 frames per second on PS4 up to 4K/60 on PS4 Pro. That’s a far cry from the original PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, which ran at 720p and had trouble maintaining 30 frames per second.
The difference between 30fps and 60fps can be life or death.
That framerate bump is the most significant change. In a game that requires such precise timing in combat, the difference between 30fps and 60fps can be life or death. I didn’t spot a single frame dropped as I fought my way through Blighttown to take down the Chaos Witch, or while scouting for loot in the darkest corners of The Depths. Both of those areas are infamously chuggy on Xbox 360 and PS3, and experiencing them running smoothly for the first time is a revelation. Blighttown’s archaic wood mill elevators finally felt like a fair challenge, for instance.
Outside of that, perhaps the most noticeable enhancement is the volumetric lighting, adding an entirely new layer of detail to an already impressive-looking game. As a result, Soul Spheres are now much brighter, and foggy doors are now their own light source. It brings them more in line with Dark Souls 3. Bonfires and lamps also look considerably more detailed, thanks to the added bloom, smoke, and particle effects. Not only do they look much better, they also don’t have nearly the drag on performance as they do in the original.
It holds 60fps 99% of the time on both PS4 and PS4 Pro. I did, however, notice some minor dips in framerate on a standard PS4, but only when faced with heavy explosions or fire effects. A more persistent issue is the slight inconsistency with texture quality. Some areas, like Anor Londo or the Undead Burg, will look absolutely gorgeous, but others might look a bit smudgy. Sen’s Fortress and The Depths are some of the worst offenders.
Along with a smoother framerate and sharper resolution, Dark Souls Remastered makes a number of small quality-of-life improvements. The biggest change is that you can now change factions at covenants, rather than having to track down other characters scattered throughout the land. Also, text and item images are higher resolution, and the menu can now be scaled to take up less of the screen. This allows for a much better view of any lurking enemies when you stop to swap gear on the fly. These are nothing game-changing, but it removes some of the little annoyances.
Dark Souls Remastered is very much just Dark Souls, remastered.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: outside of performance, Dark Souls Remastered is very much just Dark Souls, remastered. Enemy placement, item locations, the HUD, and menus all remain the same. Fans expecting any changes to the gameplay to bring in modern conveniences from the sequels, or additional content to offer new surprises for a new playthrough will be disappointed. If you’ve already played the Artorias of the Abyss DLC, you’ve already played everything in Dark Souls Remastered.
Multiplayer has also received an upgrade, in that Dark Souls Remastered now allows for up to six players at once during arena battles, compared to the original’s four-player cap. Dedicated servers and private matches with friends have also been implemented, making online play work similarly to how it does in other Souls games. This means that you’ll never get matched against overpowered players, and it’s easier to get matched up with friends. When the guest player’s character and weapon levels are higher than the hosts, your levels will adjust accordingly to even things out.
Healing items are no longer available during PvP, with the exception of Estus Flasks, and the number of flasks has been cut in half for phantoms to prevent long and drawn-out battles. However, when you defeat an invading phantom, your Estus Flask is restored. It makes taking down invading players that much more of a rewarding experience.