Dark Souls II and I got off on a bit of a wrong foot. Between the playable demo at TGS 2013 and the actual retail release, From Software was forced to heavily compromise the final product's graphics to allow it to run properly on the aging PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Without prior warning of this, my anticipation came crashing down, and it created a bit of a hurdle in the way of my enjoyment.
Initial impressions have been difficult to get over since then, but I am still hopeful that Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin makes all the right moves to correct these wrongs. Eurogamer's Digital Foundry has painstakingly tested the PlayStation 4 port of the game and compared it to the PlayStation 3 version, and its findings conclude that this is "the best-looking incarnation of the game to date."
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin on the PlayStation 4 runs "a perfect 1920×1080 resolution" and "holds at 60fps for a majority of the time." Quite an impressive feat seeing that the original version chugged "at around 20fps."
The art design of Dark Souls 2's world, compromised on last-gen with low-res textures and sub-native alpha, now attacks in full force. Normal map quality is boosted, and new assets are drawn for mountain-sides around the Forest of Fallen Giants area. From effects to shadows to motion blur, the settings are cranked up on every front – making the upgrade from PS3 very stark indeed.
But it's more than that. Dark Souls 2's lighting is updated for this new edition, creating a more vivid, high-contrast look than any earlier release. Of course, the world is crisper on PS4 by dint of the 1080p push, but outdoors areas are re-lit, in places brighter as a result, and details now pop out more vividly. Those who recall the footage of Dark Souls 2's earlier builds, featuring textures, geometry and lighting not used in the end product, will see a similarity in this release's stronger lighting.
Personally, the most telling example of an upgrade is in the foliage seen at the :42 second mark. I distinctly remember realizing that something was amiss on the PlayStation 3 version when this muddy, Nintendo 64 quality grass and mold scattered the scenery, covering up the limited textures on the wall. Digital Foundry's comparison video shines a whole new light on that foliage, and it looks far more wholesome.
The new frame rate also does wonders for the graphics as well, as demonstrated in the video above. From Software's incoming PlayStation 4 exclusive Bloodborne, a spiritual successor to the Dark Souls games, takes advantage of the PlayStation 4's power by creating more impressive character models and environmental textures, but it has capped its presentation at 30fps to run it all smoothly.
Tough call on where to prioritize your efforts, but Bloodborne still looks incredible at the slower frame rate. Dark Souls II does not.
There are some who would argue that the value of the Dark Souls franchise does not come with the graphics but solely the gameplay. I disagree. I see games as a culmination of everything working together in tandem to make a marvelous product. Demon's Souls and Dark Souls were not exactly graphical powerhouses either, clearly a product of their time, but both of them used the power of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to maximize their gorgeous artwork and, most importantly, run smoothly.
The original release of Dark Souls II did not do that. The graphic engine was obviously created with the next generation consoles in mind, and the glaring sacrifices it was forced to make stood out like a sore thumb, especially when compared to the previous game. Its gameplay might have reached the same levels of its predecessors, but the overall package was not as enjoyable because of these flaws.
If Dark Souls II's graphic engine was indeed created with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in mind, then we might be getting the chance to take one step closer to the actual original vision. It will almost certainly not be on the level of the reveal trailer or the TGS demos, but the effort is there to correct the short-comings of the previous generation releases. In that case, I will try to enter it with a blank mind free from the deception of the originals and try to find a new appreciation for the game.
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin will be released for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC on Apr. 7th.
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