Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin
Hands-On Preview
"Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, from what I've seen, is the must-have version of the game. It includes all the previously released DLC... along with, depending on your platform of purchase, an upgrade to 1080p and a stable 60 frames per second."

You are walking down a corridor. It's dark, almost pitch black, and the only light helping you find your way is a gentle white glow emanating from your own body. Constricted inside a heavy suit of armour, your breathing is ragged as you heave your kite shield up in one hand, drawing your longsword with the other. Blood dribbles down your arm through a gash in your armour; an injury sustained only minutes ago. Suddenly, there's a sound, like wood against stone. You approach the archway at the end of the corridor and take a deep breath, stepping through with shield raised. A short moan sounds to your left, and you turn just in time to block the sword from the decaying Hollow in front of you. Your body shudders behind the weight of the blow, but you strike back, slashing into the undead's flesh with your blade. It collapses to the ground and you feel its strength, its soul, well up inside you. There's a low rumbling, and you turn just in time to see a boulder racing towards you. You try to dodge, but your armour weighs you down. The huge rock smashes into you, shattering your body.

YOU DIED


By now, I think we all know what to expect from Dark Souls. It's a brutal, difficult and unforgiving game, but it challenges players in a way few titles do; not to mention that awesome feeling of accomplishment when you finally take down a boss that's killed you a dozen times. Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, from what I've seen, is the must-have version of the game. It includes all the previously released DLC (Crown of the Sunken King, Crown of the Old Iron King, and Crown of the Ivory King) along with, depending on your platform of purchase, an upgrade to 1080p and a stable 60 frames per second.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, Dark Souls is an combat-focused action-RPG. It uses minimal storytelling and NPC interaction and thrusts the player into a world with virtually no tutorials or guidance. By killing foes, you earn souls — a type of currency used to barter with merchants as well as experience for levelling up. As you grow, you gain points you can assign to head-scratchingly convoluted stats and specialise in anything you want: club, hammers, katanas, longswords, bows, sorcery, miracles, and more. Aside from brutally difficult bosses and enemies, the environment is against you too and features traps, poisonous swamp, and endless chasms.

I had nearly three hours hands-on with this new and improved version on PlayStation 4, and the upgrades blew me away. In regards to textures and models, the game is much the same, but experiencing it in 1080p is noticeably more impressive. The lighting is vastly improved too, and I truly felt frightened in the far darker corridors and underground locations. Most importantly, no longer did my framerate stutter and drop when I threw a firebomb or engaged a horde of enemies at once. While this didn't make the game easier per se, it did make it less frustrating. If you have ever felt cheated with the framerate issues present in the original PS3 and 360 versions, then an upgrade to PS4 and XB1 will solve all your problems. I didn't get any time with the new PS3/360 releases though, so I can't say if there's any improvement there also.

While I didn't get a chance to experience any of the new story content or engage with any new NPCs, I did discover that, in certain locations, the types of enemies and their placements have been altered. As an experienced Dark Souls II player, this kept me on my toes; I knew I couldn't let my guard down just because I thought I knew the layout of an area. In the Forest of Fallen Giants, where I spent my hands-on time, a couple of larger, more powerful enemies have been added, for example. If you've already played the original, this will add an extra layer of difficulty to your experience.

Aside from these more obvious changes, there are some subtle additions to Scholar of the First Sin, too. Some of the item description text has been rewritten, the bonfire warp screen aids you in finding other online players, and conversation text is now easier to read, along with various bug-fixes and minor adjustments. Most of these modifications will be actually released to all Dark Souls II players, hopefully by the time you're reading this preview. For a full list, take a look at Bandai Namco's Official Tumblr.

From what I've played, Scholar of the First Sin is the best version of Dark Souls II and the one you should get if you haven't played it yet, particularly if you have a PS4 or XB1. If that's you, I'd encourage you to take a look at our resident Dark Souls expert Robert Steinman's review of the original. If you have played before, then the improvements and upgrades will likely appeal to hardcore fans, but if you've never enjoyed the series, then nothing here will change your mind.


© 2015 Bandai Namco Entertainment, FromSoftware. All rights reserved.

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