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Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin review

Tom Morgan
13 Apr 2015
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Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin 1
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
30
inc VAT

An even tougher challenge than the vanilla release, and not exactly a must-buy for PC gamers, but Xbox One and PS4 owners should snap it up

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Specifications

Available formats: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PS4

It's a great time to be a glutton for punishment this month, at least if you're a PS4 owner, with console-exclusive Bloodborne giving players a hard time with its brutally difficult bosses and unforgiving gameplay. PC and Xbox One gamers don't have to feel left out, however, as the definitive version of FromSoftware's previous game, Dark Souls II, has now arrived on all formats. Scholar of the First Sin is more than a graphical update for the current console generation, although it also mixes up enemy placement, expands the co-op and competitive multiplayer modes, and creates a new challenge for those that learned the original release inside out.

Dark Souls can be played in any number of ways, but there's no doubt its swords and shields gameplay lumbers forward at a much slower pace than the frenzied fighting of Bloodborne. Until you master parrying, you'll rely on heavy armour and shields to protect you from even the weakest of enemies, which can easily kill you in a few attacks if you let your guard down at the wrong moment. Scholar of the First Sin makes the early game encounters even tougher by ramping up the enemy count; where previously there were only two or three undead soldiers in an area, there are now nine, all with the capacity to send you back to your last bonfire checkpoint.

It almost feels unfair, particularly for new players experiencing the game for the first time, and doesn't sit quite right with the previous games' approach to difficulty. Whereas before it was a joy to learn an enemy's attack patterns, animations and weaknesses over time after a few failed encounters, to the point you could breeze past them on your way to more challenging battles, it's now much more of a grind to make any significant progress.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin 2

The overarching mechanics remain unchanged, meaning you accrue souls for defeating enemies, which can be used to buy equipment or upgrade your character in Majula, the one only true safe area in the hostile landscape that is Drangleic. However, if you fall to an enemy, all your banked souls will be lost; die a second time before returning to where you originally lost your souls and they are gone forever. Anyone returning to Dark Souls after playing Bloodborne will be alarmed at how quickly your health depletes and recoil in horror when they remember every death will drain a chunk of your health bar's maximum.

The Dark Souls games have always let you make a huge number of choices when it comes to character creation and development, and it's no different here, meaning you can specialise in heavy weapons to deal the most damage, increase your arcane knowledge with each level up in order to cast spells, or specialise in agility to perform faster attacks and increase your dodge reactions. There's much more freedom to explore as well, although every step is now that much more precarious thanks to the repositioned enemies – many of which are significantly more powerful than you are and take several minutes of back-and-forth to bring down.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin 3

Anyone that loved the original game's multiplayer will appreciate the new 6-player cap, which can include a mixture of cooperative partners and PvP enemies spoiling for a fight. There's even a new NPC invader that will pursue you between areas until you finally bring it down.

There's no question FromSoftware has improved the graphics for Scholar of the First Sin, boosting the resolution for console gamers up to 1080p and doubling the frame rate to 60fps. Unfortunately, this has at least one nasty side effect; all your attack animations now have half the invincibility frames they did previously, meaning the window to land a hit without taking damage yourself is significantly smaller.

The improved lighting system is the most noticeable visual upgrade on PC, with light sources casting much deeper, more impressive shadows that help give the game's many dungeons a more atmospheric look. If you were already running the original at 1080p or beyond, however, the remaster doesn't look significantly different.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin 4

PC gamers that bought the 32-bit, DirectX 9 original Dark Souls II can at least upgrade at a reduced price, but it's a slightly convoluted system. Upgrading to the 64-bit, DirectX 11 Scholar of the First Sin will cost £20, a saving of £10 over the full retail release, but if you bought all the DLC that price drops down to £12. Now that the remastered version costs the same as the original, even with all the DLC bundled with it, there's no reason not to opt for the update.

Whether it's worth spending the extra if you already own the game is another matter. If you struggled to finish it before, the new enemy placement will only make things tougher, and there's no option to revert to the original game's enemy locations if you're struggling to make any progress. The graphical upgrades are welcome, though still not up to the high standards we were promised in the pre-launch video footage that failed to materialise when the game arrived.

Console gamers that missed out the first time around will appreciate the challenge, even PS4 owners that are already getting stuck into Bloodborne; the two games share many gameplay elements, but allow for drastically different play styles and each have their own merits. If you like your fiendishly difficult RPGs to give you at least a little time to breathe between near-impossible boss battles, Dark Souls II is still our game of choice.

Availability
Available formatsPC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PS4
PC requirements
OS SupportWindows 7, Windows 8.1 64-bit
Minimum CPU3.1GHz dual-core Intel, 3.2GHz quad-core AMD
Minimum GPUAMD Radeon HD 6870, Nvidia GeForce GTX 465
Minimum RAM4GB
Hard disk space23GB
System requirements
Price including VAT£30
Supplierstore.steampowered.com
Detailswww.darksoulsii.com
Product code335300