Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about Dark Souls 2. Was that dragon always there? I though these knights didn’t respawn? I’m sure he dropped some Saints Ashes last time? For the uninitiated this remaster offers all of the infamous challenge and varied locations, but for those returning to Drangleic, these dungeons hide entirely new secrets.
It’s a brilliant way to remaster a game and a smart way of bringing the veteran players back to this long lost kingdom. The changes aren’t obvious initially; a giant hippo monster here, the lack of a slumbering knight there. However, the deeper you push into the twisted and crumbling land, the more Drangleic crawls into the unfamiliar. It’s unclear if From Software did this on purpose, but it’s an effective way of lowering the players guard, even when they know to expect change. On top of the enhanced graphics, the new layout of the world means that the more seasoned the warrior, the more carefully they must tread. Drangleic will not forgive the over confident.
With the power of the next gen consoles, it’s not just arrogance that makes players lose their footing. The world of Drangleic is a gorgeous and diverse place, from the towering ruins of Hiedes Flame Tower, the lush overgrowth of the Forest of Giants and the eerily serene waters of the Shrine of Amana. Each area has a beautiful yet dreadful air that hangs over it, and a distinctive feel to boot. What has really improved is the lighting effects that dance disarmingly playfully between the ruins and trees. In Scholar of the First Sin, the light is fading from the world, and this is felt and seen in everywhere you trudge through as your cursed wander.
Like Dark Souls before it, this title’s narrative is enigmatic at best and absent at worst. You are cursed, and seeking salvation is the dwindling ruins of a once powerful nation. Its residents now turned into maddening beasts and decrepit souls. You’ll meet other travellers on your quest to, but their fate is for you to discover as you coax out each fragment of story you can find.
The Dark Souls series has always been a challenging affair, with players forced to endure tough enemies, navigate impossible labyrinths and fight bewildering bosses, and Scholar is no exception. You’ll die over and over again, pushing a little further before falling flat and trying once more. Like Dark Souls 2’s original release, killing the same enemy enough times will eventually cause it to disappear from your trail, allowing even the most stumbling of heroes to make it through eventually. Its a mechanic you’ll have to use to deal with the fact that every time you die, you’ll come back with a little less health, all the way down to half health. This forces you to master each segment, memorising enemy movements and defeating them flawlessly if you have any hope of continuing without using the rare items that restore your health and your humanity.
But you won’t be alone in Scholar of the First Sin, as they’ll be an entire university of eager sin students to help and hinder your progress. Much like the previous games, you’ll find the shadows of other players drifting in and out of your world. And on top of that, the more helpful of those will offer assistance to you, allowing you to summon them as phantoms to help in beating a tricky boss or area. This is a good trick to do yourself in order to scout out the path ahead without fear of dying; less helpful players might however enter your world uninvited with ill intentions. These invaders will hunt you down, and create some of the most intense combat situations. You might face them on narrow bridges not designed for combat, or in the middle of a mosh pit of other NPC foes wanting to join the rumble.
Preparing for such encounters has long been part of the lifestyle for a Dark Souls player, but for now Scholar of First Sin still offers a chance to new players as some of the more PvP oriented spells and items might not be where the-would-be invaders go looking for them.
And that’s because Dark Souls 2 is big game. You might not think so with its seamless transition between locations (unless you’re warping), but there is a lot to explore in Drangleic and in fact, Scholar of the First Sin offers some of the best examples of risk versus reward mechanics. You’ll frequently be given branching avenues, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll find anything but a sticky death by venturing down the road less travelled. You’ll often reach just a quiet dead end and a pack of quietly approaching enemies from behind. But sometimes you’ll find that special sword, spell or piece of armour you were looking for. It’s a fantastic feeling when it all pays off, though it can feel deeply frustrating when it doesn’t.
Unfortunately, the depth and complexity, not to mention the sheer toughness prevented this lowly reviewer from coming close to completing the game, or trying out the DLC. Although it all comes packaged with the game, From Software hides these spoils in late game and new game plus, so that only the most dedicated might find them.
Scholar of the First Sin a great addition to the Souls series. It carries with it the weight and challenge of its forebear, while intertwining feelings of the new and changing the world of Drangleic for the better. No longer are you merely travelling through the old ruins, as you’ll feel like you’re interacting with the space a lot more. Enemies change their behaviour based on you, paths reveal themselves or obscure depending on your actions.