In addition to that, From Software also provides a whole lot more story that resolves confusion! The story makes a lot more sense. The addition of the “Scholar” explains a lot of details the original game left out, and the boss fight that accompanies it remains a nice addition all the same. They could integrate this a little better, quite honestly, but it works for what it is. But, in terms of content, that’s surprisingly little for a complete re-release! From what I can decipher, the DLC areas did not change with the transition to Scholar of the First Sin; the only thing that changes them at all comes from AI that chase you, which probably makes them a touch more challenging than before (trust me, far as I can tell, they were challenging already!). It’s nice to see them bundled into the game from a retail perspective, but zero effort was made to put them into the base game, or really tell you when to play them – I just assumed release order and hoped for the best. Sure, you now need to find the keys to unlock these areas, rather than simply using a key that gets dropped in your inventory, but that won’t motivate most players to find them – and that’s a shame!
Why? The DLC areas just crush the base game in quality, from map design to lore to challenge. They feel like individual parts of a game that From Software developed, and then just happened to drop into Dark Souls II. They demonstrates a design cohesion that lacks in the main game. Just for example, most Dark Souls II areas in the base game consist of a few big rooms, and a few corridors; then, it’s off to the next area, that feels very much the same, whether forest, cave, or castle. That “sameness” holds Dark Souls II back, as if these half-finished areas somehow came into being due to deadlines and a lack of completeness. The DLC, on the other hand, provides a labyrinthine experience with fresh new gimmicks, stage designs (vertical/horizontal, or frozen/unfrozen), and challenging bosses. They are parts of a better Souls game affixed onto an “ok” Souls game, and their disparate design hurts the experience.
Additionally, I can say the latter half of my 60 hours through Scholar of the First Sin really took place almost entirely in the DLC areas. They are so densely populated with stuff to find and difficult obstacles that I found them a delight in themselves, a wonderful reason to power through the original game (which took about 35 hours after defeating the optional bosses in the base game, King Vendrick and Ancient Dragon). I honestly wouldn’t say this if I didn’t think them worth it, but trust me – they are worth the time investment to get to them, assuming your original Dark Souls II save didn’t carry over (Neither PC release of this game has Steam Cloud support, which is baffling).
With all that said, Scholar of the First Sin massively improves Dark Souls II in nearly every facet. In fact, I enjoyed this playthrough enough to tackle every single optional challenge I could muster, from Darklurker to multiplayer bosses that surely required multiple people to beat in any reasonable way (those dual tigers, man). The added difficulty forced me to try new tactics, find new means of success, and really get in the head space of Dark Souls again, in a way that I missed from Dark Souls II’s initial release.
So, I think I can genuinely recommend Dark Souls II, at least Scholar of the First Sin. While still not quite reaching the heights of Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls in terms of complexity, challenge, and enjoyment, there’s really nothing that bugs me so much in Scholar that would detract from the experience for the vast majority of people. I guess you could say that From Software’s B-team (which seems an accurate summation of where this game came from) somehow created a rather solid video game out of a bunch of disparate parts. Its world remains inconsistent, seemingly pieced together from lots of disparate concept art, but as a pure video game with solid mechanics, I enjoyed it immensely.
I guess you could say Scholar of the First Sin upended my expectations. I assumed I’d try it out for a few hours and get bored of the game, but something about it really drew me in for one more (60 hour) go, and of a game that I assumed I’d never touch again! That, I think, is the strength of expectation – it can make us enjoy something far more than we assume, and also make us dislike something we thought we’d love. My two playthroughs of this game reflect both: the hype from the original Dark Souls II (coming straight off Dark Souls) didn’t aid in my enjoyment of this very, very different game; time and distance, with zero expectation of enjoyment, made Scholar of the First Sin wonderful!
However, it is wonderful to believe in and serve a God who does not disappoint, and who fulfills our vast expectations – even those we didn’t even know we should have!
20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations [n]forever and ever. Amen.