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Handheld Dark Souls is every bit as brilliant as you’d have hoped

  • April 1, 2019
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Seven years after it first came out, what is there left to say about Dark Souls? You know that it’s harsh but fair; that it’s enigmatic yet enriched by the deepest lore; that its combat is weighty and well-balanced, and that it’s the most fastidiously dissected, widely praised video game of this generation or the last.

Other games have sold more, and have had a wider cultural impact, but none have penetrated as deep, or generated so much analysis. There’s reams of the stuff out there, and after seven years on it’s next to impossible to find anything new to note. Writing about Dark Souls in 2018? It’s the Dark Souls of writing about games.

But the Switch version of Dark Souls Remastered is on the cusp of release – after an unexpected, extended delay – and before Digital Foundry comes along to give you the technical verdict (expect that on the site very shortly) let’s have a crack at reminding ourselves what makes this game so beloved. Let’s put aside the need to say anything new and just revel in Dark Souls’ delights.

And let the first revelation be that Dark Souls, it turns out, is astounding. And you know what else? It’s an incredible amount of fun. One of the more unfortunate myths to arise from Dark Souls’ growing legend is that it’s a punishingly, often frustratingly difficult game, but that’s just nonsense – and I sincerely hope it hasn’t scared away any potential players of this modern masterpiece. Dark Souls is exacting, its combat a work of weighty momentum and precise timing.

All of which makes returning to Dark Souls a joy rather than a chore. There’s something so very, very satisfying about perfecting a run from bonfire to boss without taking a scratch, harvesting souls along the way (with that schlopping audio feedback that’s in itself every bit as satisfying as the arc of light you uncork upon pulling off a headshot in Destiny). Coming back to it all, there’s that same satisfaction of rediscovering well-worn pathways and unearthing the occasional new secret.

I’ve played through Dark Souls at least half-a-dozen times since its release, and playing it like this is easily the most enjoyable – you can settle into Dark Souls’ soothing patterns playing on the sofa with the Switch while you catch up with this week’s Bake Off. Dark Souls, contrary to what you might have heard, can be kind of relaxing, never more so than when you’re dipping in and out wherever you may be.

Maybe some of that calming effect comes from familiarity, though I think once you’re in tune with the rhythms of Dark Souls it’s enough to pull anyone in. The other thing about Dark Souls is that, despite being widely imitated in the years since its release, it’s never really been bettered. Games have mimicked its mechanics, but never really managed to capture its, well, soul – that ambience and atmosphere that’s entirely Dark Souls’ own. Even its sequels haven’t quite been up to the task (although I remain a defender of Dark Souls 2, and how dearly I’d love to see Scholar of the First Sin make its way to the Switch too), with only the PlayStation 4-exclusive Bloodborne its true equal.

And so Dark Souls’ legend remains undimmed, and on the Switch where it runs just as well as it did back on the last generation of hardware (with a few small tweaks here and there – yes, Blighttown is fixed) it shines as bright as ever. It’s an absolute great, and its presence on Nintendo hardware just shows how ludicrous the Switch’s library has become in 18 months, where it finds a place alongside all-time greats such as Breath of the Wild and Skyrim. There’s every argument to be made that Dark Souls is the best of them all.

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