At this point, ports of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games to the latest generation of consoles are a dime a dozen. But according to Bandai Namco and From Software, Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin will be something different.
First revealed in November last year, Scholar of the First Sin is a package that will include a revised version of Dark Souls 2 with all three of its downloadable content add-ons plus other new additions. It will be available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but Dark Souls 2 global producer Atsuo Yoshimura is focused on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC versions of the upcoming release.
"This is not just a remaster," Yoshimura tells Polygon. "It's almost recreating the game."
The major changes to Scholar of the First Sin include a new multiplayer cap of six players (up from four in the original Dark Souls 2), which can include a mix of cooperative partners and PvP players seeking to ruin your day. In addition to changing the number of players able to appear in your game at any one time, From Software is also tweaking how those characters get there.
"not just a remaster"
In Dark Souls 2, your ability to join someone's game (whether as friend or foe) was determined by something called "soul memory" — basically a stat tracking how much currency a player had earned and spent throughout their total time in the game. Many players complained about this system, as it was difficult to determine the best soul memory range to ensure that you could find people to play with or against.
From Software isn't dumping soul memory altogether, but Yoshimura says that players will now have ways to control the range of soul memory that the game searches for when connecting to other players. This will also allow friends who want to play co-op together to find each other more easily, a long-standing request from many fans.
"I'm not saying players can directly communicate with their friends, "Yoshimura says. "Indirect communication with other players is the unique aspect of the Dark Souls franchise. We're not going to change that. But we will let players control soul memory to at least let them match more easily."
Another major change in Scholar of the First Sin is enemy placement.
"We revised the enemy placement completely for all maps in the game," Yoshimura says. "This new enemy placement completely changes the gameplay experience. All those safe zones that players remember from the original Dark Souls 2 are no longer safe. Players need to come up with a new battle strategy."
In addition to different enemies in different locations and enemies from the DLC making their way into the core game's zones, Yoshimura says that enemy AI has been improved across the board. More dense packs of enemies have been placed in some areas, and they'll now track players for much longer, effectively ending the strategy of just running past less bad guys.
If that doesn't sound challenging enough, From Software has also come up with a new enemy named "The Forlorn." Like some other non-player characters in Dark Souls 2, the Forlorn is an "invasion NPC" — a computer-controlled opponent that pops into your game in the same terrifying way as a real-life PvP opponent. Unlike other invasion NPCs, though, the Forlorn can and will show up at multiple points throughout the game, hunting the player mercilessly.
Yoshimura won't spill details on new weapons, armor or items in Scholar of the First Sin, but he makes it clear that defeating the Forlorn will provide rewards that players will want.
Along with the Forlorn, a new friendly non-player character will provide story developments. The titular Scholar of the First Sin is a mysterious character who has fresh information on the tragic past events of the world that Dark Souls 2 takes place in.
the Forlorn can and will show up at multiple points throughout the game
Yoshimura is quick to note that the original story is not being replaced. "It's supplemental," he says. "Scholar of the First Sin is happening simultaneously with all the story elements from the original Dark Souls 2."
Despite that assurance, Yoshimura coyly hints that the cryptic Scholar could lead to a new final boss encounter or perhaps even a new ending altogether. Clearly there are many mysteries yet to be uncovered, even for players who have done multiple playthroughs of Dark Souls 2.
Scholar of the First Sin also features a bevy of technical improvements for players grabbing the new-generation console and PC versions. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game will both run at 1080p and a variable 60 frames-per-second.
While nearly all of these changes are being patched into the existing PC release of Dark Souls 2 — the patch actually went live today, good news for those of us who've already purchased it there — the DirectX 11 graphical upgrades are limited to an entirely new release. Moreover, Yoshimura says From Software took inspiration from the game's incredible fan-created patches.
"It really surprised us how quickly fans released their own patches for the PC version of Dark Souls 2," Yoshimura laughs. "In the From Software office, we joked about how awesome it was and how we should just let the fans do the official updates on that version."
While From Software is offering a lot of intriguing changes in Scholar of the First Sin, its April release is mere weeks after the developer's much-awaited PlayStation 4 exclusive, Bloodborne, a title that builds on the same core gameplay as the Souls series. The studio and publisher Bandai Namco aren't sweating the closeness though.
"Bloodborne is a different game," Yoshimura says. "It's being created by [Dark Souls 1 director Hidetaka] Miyazaki, so we're close to it. I want to say good luck to their team, but Miyazaki has said the same thing to us. We believe both games can co-exist.
"There are not any concrete plans for a sequel"
"It's almost like two brothers. They share DNA, but they are different people. I really hope that fans pick up both games."
Yoshimura believes fans hoping for a new Souls game will be satisfied by the differences in Scholar of the First Sin.
"There are not any concrete plans for a sequel," he says. "We're open to any possibilities. We're all aware that fans are waiting for the next Souls game. But at this moment, Scholar of the First Sin is the answer to that request.
"I'm really confident saying that players will feel like they're playing an almost entirely different game."
Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin is set to launch April 7, 2015 on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC. For more on Dark Souls 2, take a look at our review of the original game.