I’ve got a weird double relationship with Dark Souls 2. From a purely gaming point of view, it’s still one of my favourites of the year. It has some flaws (Soul Memory, a few wonky hitboxes,) and if pushed I’d say the original Dark Souls is the true masterpiece, but I have a hard time understanding anybody who thinks it’s a bad game.

From a consumer-advocacy perspective, the way Bandai Namco have treated PC Dark Souls 2 players has been poor; and the publisher has now managed to annoy those people all over again with the announcement of Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin.

dark souls 2 scholar of the first sin (4)

A drake at Heide’s? I’ve got to admit, that’s … interesting.

Before we get to all that, a quick recap of some history.

The PC version of Dark Souls 2 was comfortably the best one, with higher resolution support, instant loading times, and a frame-rate of 60 over it’s weaker console counterparts. FromSoftware did a much better job with the PC release of the sequel; though there were still problems with the mouse and keyboard controls (for those who use them,) and a persistent bug with weapon durability.

But there was also the rather abrupt removal of the fancy lighting system which had shown up in most of the pre-release demo footage, and the shameless delay of the PC version to encourage players to double-dip with the console releases.

I’m just about convinced (based on testimony from PS3 beta testers) that FromSoftware altered the lighting model for both performance and gameplay reasons. Console frame-rates were clearly suffering, but it seems as though the intent to force players to hold a torch in their off-hand through various sections hadn’t worked out as well as planned either. However, a view persists that the lighting was only removed from the PC version to maintain parity across all platforms.

That last sentence is important to bear in mind when trying to understand why people are upset. There’s a feeling that the “better graphics” were already taken away from the PC release, and are now being “sold back” as part of Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin.

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The Gutter has always been gloomy, so this is pretty inconclusive.

This is probably a good time to try to figure out what’s actually happening with the free/paid aspects of Scholar of the First Sin on PC. That’s not exactly easy, because Bandai Namco are being quite vague about it.

According to the Dark Souls 2 official tumblr, here’s how it breaks down between the free update patch and the bits they expect people to pay for. This is probably the clearest delineation I’ve found:

All versions of the game will include the following features (Existing Dark Souls II owners will receive a patch to implement these elements):

– Additional NPCs added for an enhanced story experience.
– Parameter adjustments for improved game balance.
– Augmented item descriptions.
– Improved online matchmaking functionality.

Xbox One, PS4, and DirectX 11 versions of the game will include the following features (in addition to those listed above):

– Additional upgrades to graphics, sound, performance.
– Increase in maximum online players in single session (6 total).

The DLC “Lost Crowns” trilogy will all be included with Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin too. That’s not part of the free update to existing owners, but that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

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Imagine six players dropping “I’m Sorry” stones on a human face, forever.

That may not be a definitive list however, because this Japanese language chart (as translated by NeoGaf user duckroll) lists “Enemy and game design adjustments” as something only the Scholar edition will receive.

More worrying, it implies that the DirectX 9 and DirectX 11 PC versions will use separate servers. Splitting the player-base for multiplayer titles in this fashion is always an idiotic move, so I’m clinging to the hope that the chart is just misleading or incorrect in some manner. Equating two PC versions with (say) a PS3/PS4 divide doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. People with DirectX 11 cards aren’t on a completely different platform.

Speaking of the DX11 aspect, the lists above show that if PC players want the DirectX 11 visuals version, they’ll have to pay an as-yet-undetermined amount of money for it. This has been further confirmed by Patrick Klepek. But Bandai Namco don’t exactly seem sure what that amount should be, yet.

They’re implying (again, a frustrating lack of anything concrete here) that more details about PC “versions/upgrades” will be coming in the future.

To me, that suggests a kind of Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition type situation, where people who already own Dark Souls 2 on PC will be encouraged to pay … something … for the Scholar version. That ‘something’ will presumably also depend on whether the person already owns all the DLC.

Price-permitting, I’m not entirely down on that idea; but I wish the “free patch” side of things would include a universal multiplayer update to keep the community together (even if the ability for 6 players to join a session is limited to the Scholar version.) This seems pretty crucial if Dark Souls 2 is to stay at optimal health on PC.

At this stage it’s difficult to judge whether the extra DirectX 11 bells and whistles are worth an additional purchase. I’m also somewhat sympathetic to those who feel that such graphical tweaks should’ve been an option on the PC version from the beginning. Dark Souls 2 won’t even have been out a year on PC when Scholar of the First Sin is released; it’s not exactly a game from the 1990s getting a full 1080p texture makeover.

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Looks … kind of like the current PC version, honestly.

Based on the screenshots released for Scholar of the First Sin so far, the infamous pre-release lighting model is not making a comeback. I’ve been dotting the Scholar images throughout this article and if you look at, say, the Majula one above, it really doesn’t look much different from a PC shot taken in the same place.

In fact, let’s make that comparison right now.

I’m not running any additional mods here, it’s just vanilla Dark Souls 2 with everything as high as possible. The PR shot looks like it’s been run through a sharpening filter a couple of times, but otherwise they’re pretty close.

dark souls 2 scholar of the first sin (1)

I couldn’t quite stand in the same place, sorry.

And here’s a sharpened version, which makes it look basically the same (minus weird lens flare.)

dark souls 2 scholar of the first sin (1)-sharp

The amazing power of the “sharpen” tool.

That’s maybe not the best possible spot to test, but the shot of The Gutter doesn’t look a whole lot different from its current (PC) state either.

In fact, since FromSoft are already patching in so many aspects to existing versions, it’s difficult to shake the idea that Scholar of the First Sin on PC should’ve just been a Game of the Year option for those who wanted an easy way to get the game and Dark Souls 2 DLC in one bundle. The extended 6-person multiplayer and an in-game graphics toggle for “do you want a couple of extra DirectX 11 effects?” could probably have been squeezed into a separate PC patch and everybody would’ve been kept happy.

I’m intrigued and delighted by the new bits that’ll be added in the free patch. This could’ve been an easy PR win. Instead, old resentments have resurfaced.

When Bandai Namco finally gets around to figuring out what the implied “upgrade” pricing details are on PC (something which should have been sorted out before this news was released,) let’s hope it’s a relatively sensible fee. Otherwise, the publisher risks further tarnishing the game’s reputation in the eyes of its PC player-base.

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