Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin Review (XONE)

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DSII Scholar of the First Sin screen. Bandai Namco

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Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin on Xbox One is more than just another re-release or remaster with better graphics.  With remixed enemy and item placements and lots of tweaking and tuning, it feels like a fresh experience even for a DSII veterans with 300+ hours of experience.  It isn't just "different", either, it's actually mostly better thanks to the changes, save for one little annoyance regarding weapon durability, but we'll get to that later.

  All in all, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is a great new version of the game that fans, as well as newcomers, will love.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Bandai Namco
  • Developer: From Software
  • ESRB Rating: “T" for Teen
  • Genre: Action
  • Pros:  Nice visual / performance upgrade; remixed enemy placements are awesome; The Pursuer actually pursues you!; added NPC summons
  • Cons:  Weapon durability; loads more spiders

Differences Between Last-Gen and Current-Gen Releases

To clarify what exactly this new Scholar of the First Sin Xbox One / PS4 / DX11 (PC) version of Dark Souls II is, it is essentially a remixed / director's cut version of Dark Souls II + the DLC.  Not to be confused with the Xbox 360 / PS3 / DX9 (PC) version of DSII: SotFS which only includes new items and the DLC but everything else is the same (see more details on the 360 version of DSII: Scholar of the First Sin here).  Unfortunately, the XONE version does not have an option for the original enemy placements, etc., which is sort of a bummer.

 

Changes in Scholar of the First Sin for XONE

On Xbox One, the game is actually quite different from the original X360 release (read our original Dark Souls II X360 review).  Enemies have been moved around and new enemies have been added to every area of the game, including some "boss" enemies that now appear right out in the normal flow of gameplay.

  Saying anything more specific will spoil the fun for returning players, so I won't say too much, but despite playing the original a ton, Scholar of the First Sin has still really surprised me with the enemy placements.  Key items have also been moved around with some useful items (such as certain keys or the dull ember) being available sooner now.  Weapons have also been respec'd a little bit with different stat requirements.  For example, the Drangleic Sword, which you can get early on (and is my favorite sword I used to use the whole game ...) now has high stat requirements so you have to wait a while to use it.  Another big change is that there are now a lot more NPC summons to help you clear out areas and fight bosses.  Other tweaks include more detailed item descriptions so you actually know what everything does and an additional summon slot (either for an NPC or online player). 

For the most part, I think the changes are for the better.  The Pursuer boss, who's whole thing was supposed to be that he chased you around the game (but really only popped up in a couple of places before) now shows up a lot more frequently, which is cool.  Certain areas of the game that were difficult, or even unfair, before really benefit from having enemies moved around (or removed).

  Sinner's Rise is different now thanks to less enemies and the fact you can get the key to open the locked doors without fighting the Gargoyles.  Drangleic Castle is very different now with a totally new enemy layout and certain traps and puzzles work differently.  The Dragon Aerie and Dragon Shrine are also very different in some surprising and pleasant ways.  The game overall is just more balanced and better now.  The surprising thing is that there are actually more enemies in most areas than before, but somehow the game is easier because of the way the enemies are used and placed. 

An Easier, Smoother Experience

I was concerned before release that adding all of these new enemies and changing things would make the game too difficult for newcomers, but I think Scholar of the First Sin may actually be easier than vanilla DSII.  Admittedly, there are a lot more enemies in most areas now, but if you take your time you can still be successful.  What has a bigger impact is the addition of several new NPC summons that you can use to help you get through areas.  They NPC summons aren't just placed next to boss doors anymore, either, they're all over the place now to help you not only fight the boss but fight through the level to get to the boss.  You can also, of course, still summon other players on Xbox Live to help you as well.  Many boss fights have been nerfed a bit to make them easier (Lost Sinner in particular) and when you can take 2-3 NPCs into the fight with you, things are a lot easier. 

Don't get me wrong, the game isn't "easy" now by any means, and you still need to have a good understanding of how everything works to be successful (and even then you'll still die a lot), but a lot of the road blocks and bottlenecks that impeded player progress before have been smoothed out.  New players will still face a steep challenge, but it's more fair than it used to be.  Returning players will be mostly pleased with the changes as well.  I do have to say that while some areas got better, some got more challenging (Iron Keep's Alonne Knights aggro from miles away now, and there's loads more spiders in Brightstone Cove Tseldora, for example), but I don't think these were bad additions.  Other areas got easier, these got harder, so it balances out. 

Weapon Durability

Not as positive of a change is that weapon durability is half of what it was on the Xbox 360.  This also happened in the PC release of DSII, and players speculated it was a glitch where playing at 60FPS caused the wear to your weapons to register twice.  From Software never fixed it on the PC version, however, and released the PS4 and XONE versions (now also at 60FPS) with the same "glitch". 

After playing through the game, I think the complaints about durability are somewhat overblown.  You do definitely wear out your weapons at the start of the game way, way too fast, but once you get out of the Forest of the Fallen Giants and pick up better equipment, the durability issue mostly goes away.  Consider this - in vanilla DSII, I never broke a weapon and never even needed to use the repair powder.  The game gives you loads of repair powder and lots of weapons to use, so it seems like you were supposed to be using them, but no one had to in vanilla DSII.  Now you actually have to use it. 

At the beginning of the game, make sure you have 3-4 weapons you're comfortable with and switch between them when you need to and. voila, the durability problem goes away.  Everything gets fixed up whenever you visit a bonfire (as long as you don't totally break the weapon first) so as long as you're careful it isn't that big of an issue.  And, like I said, once you get better equipment the problem goes away.  Almost like it was designed to work this way from the start and isn't a glitch at all.  But that's just my theory.

Update:  From Software is actually working on a patch for this now, so I guess it was a "bug".  I beat the game through New Game + 4 with the bug, though, so it wasn't that big of a deal.  Interesting that it is getting fixed.

Graphics & Sound

Visually, Dark Souls II has never looked this good before on consoles.  At 1080p everything is sharp and detailed and you'll see stuff you didn't notice before, like you can see all the way down to the town at the bottom of Brightstone Cove from the top or the machinery working in the depths of the windmill at Earthen Peak.  Enemies look better and the damn spiders look detailed and horrifying now instead of just orange-y blobs.  The game also runs at a mostly solid 60FPS.  There are some dips now and again, but it is a massive upgrade over the sub 30FPS of the vanilla release on 360.  Last but not least, the lighting has been given a massive overhaul.  Dark areas are actually dark and torches are a necessity.  And not just in areas like The Gutter or Black Gulch, either.  Any room without a light source is pitch black now, so you'll need your torch a lot more often now. 

The sound is just as good as ever.  Combat has a nice metallic clang of swords against armor, and strikes against bare flesh are rewarded with a meaty "thud".  The music is also fantastic and I still love the singing in Shrine of Amana. 

Bottom Line

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is a great remixed version of an already very good game (DSII was our 2014 Xbox Game of the Year).  It is debatable whether this or the vanilla release of DSII is better, but if I had to recommend anything it would probably be to play through both (2x the achievements, baby!).  I had a really great time with it on Xbox One, though, and was constantly surprised and impressed despite spending a ton of time with DSII on X360.  If you already played Dark Souls II, you'll find a lot of new stuff to like here.  If you haven't played a Souls game yet, Scholar of the First Sin isn't a bad place to start.  It is still brutally difficult, but a smoother experience overall compared to the other games in the series (Dark Souls 1 review)  thanks to NPC summons, better item descriptions, and a lot of fine tuning to enemy layouts.  Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is a fantastic game that I can't recommend enough. 

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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