(DEMON’S SOULS is out now exclusively for the PlayStation 5. Distributor provided review copy.)
A return to the darkness
Initially released in 2009, DEMON’S SOULS quickly became a sensation worldwide, earning a reputation as a hard-as-nails action-RPG, where even the slightest mistake had harsh consequences. Unfortunately, the cult classic suffered from a limited pressing and PlayStation 3 exclusivity, which meant that many missed out on the first installment of From Software’s genre-defining adventure. By the time DARK SOULS, the sequel which grew into a franchise of its own arrived, fans were already salivating for more punishment.
Over a decade later, Bluepoint, the developer behind the masterful remake of SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS, has given new life to the aged classic. In their hands, DEMON’S SOULS turns into a brilliant reimagining and a bold, definitive take on the material in the new console generation.
Dark gothic fantasy of the highest order
Set in the kingdom of Boletaria, a land plagued by an endless mist filled with monsters, DEMON’S SOULS pits you in the shoes of a wandering soul in search of a way out of this hell. Your quest takes you through both the real world and the afterlife, as your death is inevitable in the trials ahead. Beyond awaits The Nexus, a hub for departed souls wandering in torment, from where you travel to the many corners of the kingdom. Malicious spirits rule each realm, and they must be all vanquished to lift the curse – if it even can be.
The world of Boletaria splits into multiple different biomes, each wholly different yet equally deadly. While it’s possible to access almost all of them right off the bat, there is a level barrier, ensuring cocky adventurers find only pain and humiliation. After all, this is the game where even the very first enemies you encounter can kill you if careless. The Nexus, a central hub for much of the actual roleplaying, sees travelers come and go, each with unique quests and trials.
Not for the faint of heart
For the uninitiated, DEMON’S SOULS will feel overwhelming at first. Very little has an explanation, and the rest is obtuse by design. The world and its lore feel like they’re fading from memory even as we experience them, and the people trapped in the fog lose pieces of themselves by the day. You’ll discover items on the journey, but there will be little indication of their value or use until much later. Down the road, someone might ask if you’ve come across a thing, and if by then you’ve sold it or discarded the thing, well, you’re out of luck. At least until you start your journey again.
Such is the case with the boss battles, which appear impenetrable and mortifying upon the first encounter. A head-on charge will result in a swift death, and the only way to win is to study the movements of each enemy carefully in hopes of finding a crack in their armor. Some will require quick reflexes, while others have only short periods open for attack. It’s one of the pains and pleasures of the series, and, for many, DEMON’S SOULS will prove too taxing because of this.
There is no “easy” mode or assisted setting, and each time you die, you’re transported back to the last waypoint (a bonfire) with all the enemies reset to the original places. In later installments, this mechanic saw much-needed quality of life improvements, including additional waypoints closer to boss battles. But DEMON’S SOULS, even remade, holds on to its hard-as-nails roots. It’s a gauntlet of trial and error, one which requires constant vigilance to master.
Better with age
But there are certain elements that Bluepoint has changed, each welcome additions in their own right. The controller (the most significant innovation on the PS5) vibrates in tune with enemies drawing their bowstrings, giving players a split-second to react. It’s a small but noticeable improvement, one that makes even larger fights feel just a bit fairer.
The controls, likewise, feel tighter and more sophisticated than their decade-old counterparts. But that might have more to do with the solid 60fps refresh rate, a necessity for a game like this. Thanks to the technical wizardry at Bluepoint, DEMON’S SOULS doesn’t just look spectacular; it plays better than any other game in the series to date. At least on consoles.
A technical masterpiece
Visually there isn’t a single thing to fault. From the beautiful light shafts to the impeccable background work, Bluepoint has remade From Software’s epic into a brilliant modern spectacle. Animations are smooth throughout, character detail pops, and especially things like armor and weaponry look pristine. From the groaning of wood to the roar of dragonfire, the sound design is detailed and massive. This might be the best sounding game in years with a good headset (like Sony’s own PS5 gear).
If you can get past the painfully high difficulty level and steep learning curve, DEMON’S SOULS reveals itself as a vast, darkly gorgeous adventure game unlike anything else out there. It’s certainly bleak, but the gothic fantasy is also spellbinding in detail and haunting melancholy. Every victory feels earned and every fate compelling. It draws you in and, like the eternal fog surrounding Boletaria, refuses to let you go.
If you own a PlayStation 5, you need to own DEMON’S SOULS. It’s that simple.