Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin: Worth Upgrading?

Whether it's The Last of Us, Borderlands or Halo, some of the best games on the current console generation are remasters of the last gen's greatest hits. The zeitgeist has its ups and downs, as paying $60 a second time for a game you may have only finished a year ago is sure to leave a bad taste in your mouth. On the other hand, when it works, it really works, and Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin works.

When Dark Souls II premiered on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC last year, I gave the game 4.5 out of 5 stars, and mentioned that there were only a few technical issues that held it back. Let me make it explicitly clear: Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is the 5-star version of that game.

What Is Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin?

For those who are just joining us, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is an action/role-playing game developed by From Software, the company behind Demon's Souls and the recent PS4 hit Bloodborne. The Souls series has become a fan favorite among dedicated gamers due to its brutal difficulty curve, gorgeous worlds, precise gameplay and minimalist storylines. In Scholar of the First Sin, you'll die over and over again, but you'll also become incredibly powerful and explore unforgettable locations.

MORE: 'Dark Souls II': Read This Before Playing

Scholar of the First Sin is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC (and, in a move that's invited the ire of PC gamers everywhere, you do indeed have to buy it again to get all the new content). But this is more than just a current-gen facelift for a beloved game. Scholar of the First Sin can best be described as a director's cut of Dark Souls II, complete with full 1080p graphics and a consistent frame rate of 60 fps.

All the same basic content is there, including the three substantial Lost Crowns downloadable packs, which originally retailed for $25 altogether. But it's not exactly the same Dark Souls II that you may remember. Some familiar paths are blocked off until later, and some unfamiliar ones open up early on. Tough enemies block your way at first, but former chokepoints are now much easier to get through. The game is much more difficult than before, and yet it also feels more balanced and accessible.

Series veterans will also be pleased to know that Scholar of the First Sin includes a new final boss. In Dark Souls II, the final boss made sense from thematic and storyline perspectives, but didn't put up much of a fight, especially for players who had already faced down the monstrously tough DLC bosses.

(Fair warning, though: In one early stage, to access an important enemy, you will now have to fight a dragon that shows up out of nowhere. Scholar of the First Sin is, indeed, the kind of game where your reward for beating a boss is an even more difficult boss.)

Should Newcomers Get Scholar of the First Sin?

Absolutely and unreservedly, yes — if you think it's your kind of game. Dark Souls II is maddeningly difficult. If it's your first time going through the game, get ready to replay the same sections over and over, getting just a little bit farther each time, before getting crushed by a grotesque boss and losing most (but not all) of your hard-earned progress. If you're impatient or want a game to help you unwind, this probably isn't for you.

However, while Scholar of the First Sin isn't relaxing, per se, it can be strangely calming. Playing the game for a few hours at a time creates an intense sense of focus and determination. The game's mind-bogglingly deep character customization and nuanced combat are rewarding, and besting the title's numerous challenges is a joy. Dark Souls II asks a lot from its players, and gives a lot in return.

If you have a PS4, Xbox One or PC, Scholar of the First Sin is definitely the way to go. Dark Souls II on last-gen systems might appear cheaper, but the content on that version is not as refined, and the graphics not as good. Scholar of the First Sin is also available on Xbox 360 and PS3, but those versions simply bundle Dark Souls II's DLC packs with the core game, and don't herald many of the major gameplay changes that the current-gen editions do.

Should Veterans Get Scholar of the First Sin?

This question is a little harder to answer, but as someone who's been playing the series since 2009's Demon's Souls, I say yes. Whether you've played through Dark Souls II once or a dozen times, there's a lot about Scholar of the First Sin to surprise and delight you. Besides, Souls fans love any excuse to start up a new playthrough. This one admittedly costs $60, but for the amount of content you get, that's a bargain.

Those who played Dark Souls II on the PC also don't have to shell out the full retail price. If you own Dark Souls II on PC (the DirectX 9 version), you can upgrade to Scholar of the First Sin (the DirectX 11 version, with improved graphics and revised content) for $20 if you already own all the DLC, and $30 if you don't.

MORE: Bloodborne: Everything You Need to Know

To be fair, many features of Scholar of the First Sin already exist in the last-gen Xbox 360, PS3 and PC versions of the games. A few months ago, a patch for the game implemented improved multiplayer features, a few new items and, perhaps most importantly, the titular Scholar himself. If you find the Scholar, you can fight the new final boss on last-gen systems.

While the patch does change Dark Souls II for the better, Scholar of the First Sin still feels significantly different. No matter how many times you've been through the game, you'll find yourself exploring every nook and cranny for new items, and tackling the stages in a different order as you hunt for ways to open previously familiar paths.

Furthermore, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is a no-brainer for Xbox One owners, who did not get the PS4-exclusive Bloodborne. While Scholar of the First Sin isn't quite as good as getting a whole new Souls game, it's currently the only way to experience dozens of hours of masochistic fun in the Dark Souls series, courtesy of From Software, on Microsoft's latest console.

Marshall Honorof is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.