Until this year, I had never played Demon’s Souls. I know that many in the gaming community view this as some kind of cardinal sin but there it is. I’m not ashamed to admit it anymore. I guess I missed out on playing it because I was more invested in the Xbox environment at the time, not paying much attention to the PS3 and its exclusives (like the original Demon’s Souls), though the PS3 controller’s terrible design didn’t help. Seriously, that thing is the worst piece of design in modern gaming and I will not be convinced otherwise.
Anyway, once Bluepoint announced that they were remaking Demon’s Souls for the PS5 I was all in; ready to go back to the origin of the Souls series and see where it all began. I was already familiar with Bluepoint from the work they did on the gorgeous Shadow of the Colossus remake on PS4, as well as their ports of the first two God of War games for the PS3 so I knew this remake was in good hands. I even went back to play the original Dark Souls to get myself in the right frame of mind. I decided to go into Demon’s Souls completely fresh, not spoiling myself on the bosses or even some of the game mechanics. So here are my very first impressions of the remake as well as Demon’s Souls itself after all this time.
The World might be mended
The first thing you notice when first playing this game is how it looks. Good lord is it stunning. The character models are rendered beautifully and it’s clear that special attention has been paid to make them as lifelike as possible, the weapons and armour shine as they catch the light, and the environments are a sight to behold. From the dank disgusting depths of the Valley of Defilement to the bright sunshiny exterior of Stonefang Tunnel, the world and everything in it is captured in full 4K for the first time. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this version makes the original look like Lego in comparison.
As I said in my Spider-Man Miles Morales review I’m not normally one to use photo mode in games, but here I just couldn’t resist. Especially when photo mode is so well fleshed out, letting you change your character’s pose, the lighting and composition of the shot and even apply a permanent filter to make your game look like the original while you play. While adventuring through the ruins of Boletaria and taking down some fantastically designed bosses you really get the impression that this is what the developers had in mind when making the original game, now fully realised in as close to photorealism as the medium currently allows.
You shall obtain the demon soul, and power beyond human imagination
The way the game feels is something else as well. The PS5’s Haptic Rumble feature massively enhances the gameplay experience. You feel every step the Slayer of Demons (your character) takes, as well as each hit that reverberates off your shield or armour. When facing the largest boss in the game you can even feel his breath when you get close. Similarly, with the speaker in the controller, you hear every time you hit an enemy or wall, and indeed when the enemies hit back. The key to this, much like the Switch’s HD Rumble is that it barely registers on a conscious level. It just makes sense that you’d feel when you hit something or that you’d hear your sword grinding against concrete. It’s so well integrated with the game that it’s a key part of the experience without even trying.
The core gameplay loop is broadly similar to that of any SoulsBorne game. You kill enemies to gather souls that can be traded in to level up your stats. This will help you progress to killing bigger enemies and bosses so you can rid the world of the Scourge du Jour. That’s where the similarities end, however and the differences make this, in my opinion, the easiest game in the franchise. Now bear in mind that this is still a Souls game so it’s absolutely not “easy”, it’s just a bit more beginner friendly than any of its counterparts. Let me explain.
Anyone who has played Dark Souls, Bloodborne or Sekiro will know that you make your way from area to area on a relatively linear path with bonfires or lanterns to serve as checkpoints on your journey. Sometimes you have a hub that you can travel to in order to upgrade your equipment or character. Firelink Shrine or The Hunter’s Dream for example. Demon’s Souls is much stingier with its checkpoints, only offering you one when you beat the boss of a level (yes, I said level, I’ll get back to that in a minute). This means that on their first few tries beginner players will have to adopt a much more cautious play style so as not to lose what can sometimes be hours of progress. One advantage of this, however, is that it divides the game up into chunks of easily recognised difficulty.
What’s all this “level” talk? Well, the 5 main areas of Demon’s Souls are totally unconnected and can be tackled in any order. That’s right, gone are the spaghetti-like pathways of newer games in the franchise in favour of 5 distinct worlds all connected to a central hub, The Nexus. You can now dip in and out of levels as you see fit. For example, if you’re having a difficult time navigating your way along the spires of Upper Latria, you can peace out and head to the Shrine of Storms to see what the skeletons are up to. This empowers the player to cut their teeth on lower-level enemies before taking on the bigger baddies and Arch Demons that await later in the game.
You have a heart of gold. Don’t let them take it from you
Each world also has its own independent “World Tendency” value, a sort of morality system that shifts and changes depending on the player’s actions. Slay a Boss? Your world just got slightly better. If you die or kill a helpful NPC? You’re in for a rougher time of it now, buddy. Some events in the world are locked behind “Pure White” or “Pure Black” world tendency so there are advantages to experimenting throughout your playthrough to see if you can find any secrets!
The typical SoulsBorne multiplayer setup is back as well with a combination of friendly collaborators as well as treacherous invaders poised to help or hinder you along the way. This feature is only accessible when you’re in your Human form though (eg. Haven’t died yet after beating a boss) so you don’t need to worry about the possibility of a high-level player wiping you out just as you’re about to take on a boss or difficult area for the ninth time.
The main set pieces of any SoulsBorne game are the bosses. Everyone remembers their first newbie fight against the Asylum Demon or Father Gascoigne, or their last encounter with Isshin the Sword Saint or Slave Knight Gael. Demon’s Souls offers up some memorable boss fights of its own and, as with everything in this game they’re a little different from what you might expect. Whereas bosses in other games in the franchise can be beaten by grit, determination, and a little bit of luck, most bosses in Demon’s Souls are basically puzzles that can hit you, with nearly all of them having some kind of gimmick or secret that gives you a very satisfying “Eureka” moment before you take them down once and for all. There are a couple of stinkers in there too, unfortunately. Leechmonger and the Dirty Colossus spring to mind. But these are in the minority and, to be fair, fit in beautifully with the theme of their respective levels and neither is as disappointing as the Witches of Hemwick or Pinwheel.
This really is a fantastic game and a wonderful update to an old classic. If you’re a fan of the series you probably don’t need that much convincing, but if you’ve never tried a Souls game and are interested in dipping your toe in the waters this is the perfect game to do that with. I cannot recommend this game enough. From its looks to the minute details of its gameplay it’s a real modern masterpiece. Umbasa.