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The new Demon’s Souls is the old Demon’s Souls, but shinier

The PS5 game feels simultaneously modern and a decade old

A knight battles Flamelurker in a screenshot from the Demon’s Souls remake Image: Bluepoint Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Twelve hours into the new Demon’s Souls for PlayStation 5, I’m starting to realize how much developer Bluepoint Games has blurred the line between remaster and remake. There is no doubt that Demon’s Souls is a graphically stunning recreation of the original PlayStation 3 game — and little doubt that Sony and Bluepoint were hesitant to change almost anything about FromSoftware’s sacrosanct role-playing game.

Sometimes that works to my advantage. The PS5 game’s enemies may be occasionally powerful and terrifying, but they remain as predictably brainless as they were in 2009’s Demon’s Souls. To wit: A pair of Black Phantoms who hide at the bottom of Stonefang Tunnel’s underground mines looked intimidating as they jogged toward me. “Surely, I’m dead,” I thought, because I was still using my starting weapon. But thanks to muscle memory, and the developers “keep[ing] the core of the game untouched,” those phantoms were easily dispatched with a handful of backstabs.

In that sense, nothing has changed since 2009. Every enemy is in the exact same spot in the new Demon’s Souls as it was in the old Demon’s Souls. Every enemy still behaves identically. Every landmass is unchanged, and therefore intimately familiar to someone like me, who platinumed the first Demon’s Souls. (This is less of a brag than a reassurance that I spent a lot of time exploring the game’s kingdom of Boletaria. I remember almost all of the shortcuts, but in the PS5 version, I’m still trying to take my time and see every new coat of paint.) The same tactics I used to beat Demon’s Souls a decade ago are still applicable here.

Everything I see in Demon’s Souls is now gorgeous, from the glow of the giant Armor Spider to the stained glass of Fool’s Idol’s church to the blood-filled ticks in the Valley of Defilement. What was once drab and sparse is now hyper-detailed. The Tower of Latria prison is more foreboding because of its stunning lighting effects and its pitches of black. The Shrine of Storms now has, well, actual rain storms, and the scale of its final demon, the Storm King, dwarfs the player to the point of cosmic terror. Boletaria ranges from lived-in to decrepit to decaying. It truly feels ancient.

A knight stands before a church altar and stained glass windows in a screenshot from Demon’s Souls Image: Bluepoint Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment

What has changed is minor, and is mostly welcome. Storage is much easier; you really don’t have to worry about how much weight you’re carrying, because it can all be magically teleported back to the friendly man who watches over your stuff. Moving from archstone to archstone takes just seconds, thanks to the PS5’s speedy SSD storage. That makes a world of difference.

I’m also loving what the DualSense brings to the experience. Through Sony’s new controller, I can feel the thrum of a giant demonic heart in one level, and a soft hum when my sword is imbued with magic. I’ve played with both wireless headphones and with TV speakers paired with sounds coming from the DualSense speaker. I might prefer the latter.

The stuff I’m quibbling with so far comes down to small aesthetic choices that homogenize portions of Demon’s Souls’ original design. There’s a redesign of an enemy here, a change to a name of an item that used to be called Sticky White Stuff there. Edges have been sanded down, but not at the expense of the game’s groundbreaking mechanics or depth. I find it easier to control, because the DualSense is a far better controller than the DualShock 3. I have yet to slip off the edge of the world, which I credit to the precise controls of the DualSense.

What is clear, before I’ve finished the game, is that Demon’s Souls is a rare thing to see at a console’s launch: It’s a game that shows off the graphical, audio, and other technical capabilities of Sony’s new PlayStation 5, and it’s also a game that will likely be played for years to come, instead of for a month before being forgotten. I’m still wondering if Bluepoint has changed too little about the original Demon’s Souls blueprint, which is laborious in stretches, but that’s a battle I’m having with my own inner demons.

The next level of puzzles.

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