Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, this remaster has grown new teeth

This is how the opening stretch of Dark Souls II’s Forest of the Fallen Giants is supposed to go: you exit a tunnel, emerging onto a leafy riverbank. There are a few Hollowed soldiers to clear out near the bonfire downstream, then you head up a ladder to a tumbledown rotunda, where a Heide Knight slumbers against a rickety old tree. After smashing his head in and disposing of some more Hollows, you’re free to proceed down a tunnel to the level proper.


We’ve played through this area more times than we can count, so when the newly announced Xbox One version calls for a revisit, we immediately settle into a groove. Exiting the tunnel with dagger and shield in hand, we trot breezily down the river bank and almost stumble into an Ogre. Hmmm, that’s different. Fortunately, the podgy oaf has its back to us, so we’re able to slip past and make for the nearest bonfire. There are Hollows to fight, as expected, though their distribution seems… off. One lunges unexpectedly from a corner,  clipping us with its axe. But then, perhaps we’re misremembering. The mind plays tricks on you, doesn’t it? Shrugging off our doubts, we hack our way up to the ladder and scale it, ready for our clash with the Heide Knight. He isn’t there.

Souldier Boy
Scholar of the First Sin can be a depressing prospect, and not just because Dark Souls in general is to happiness what locusts are to a thriving orchard. On paper, it’s yet another cheeky, inessential new-gen revamp of a fairly recent game, doused with worthwhile but incremental updates tweaked weapon balancing and online matchmaking, a resolution and framerate hike, an additional plotline and a mysterious new NPC. What’s more, many of these new additions and changes will be released for  the existing game in the form of a downloadable patch.
From Software is counting on the fact you think you know what’s coming, and messing with you
Why should veterans give the Xbox One version a second glance, then? Well, here’s the thing: From Software is counting on the fact that you think you know what’s coming and as ever with From Software, the developer is using this knowledge to mess with our head. And if you’ve yet to play the game, this is shaping up to be the definitive edition of one of the Xbox 360’s finest action role-players, with all three of the original’s marvellous DLC packs included. But if you’re a seasoned explorer, it’s going to feel like walking out of your own front door to discover that you’re on another planet.

Key foes among them, we’re told, bosses have been repositioned, specifically to troll the complacent. Another example: after gawping for a second at the patch of grass where the Heide Knight used to live, we embark on a cautious circuit of the rotunda. Big mistake. There are more Hollows up here than there were previously, all posing as corpses, and the archer up above them now throws down firebombs an especially nasty touch, given that loitering below the wall used to be one sneaky way of handily avoiding his arrows.

Having roused a regular army of Hollows the game now supports a much larger AI headcount we attempt to escape up a second ladder to the right, only for yet another Hollow to clamber down and trap us mid-ascent. Our last thought before we’re kicked into the horde’s embrace is a predictable mixture of admiration and rage. Well done, From. Consider us well and truly schooled by the Scholar.

Phantom pain
A new console generation means better multiplayer
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin supports six-person multiplayer on Xbox One. There’s  also a new item, the Agape Ring, that absorbs souls in place of the wearer, so you can stay at the same soul memory level as people you’d like to matchmake with. Last but not least, there’s a new online Covenant, the Way of the Champion, which allows you to farm enemy spawns for longer.

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