It's almost time for a long overdue return to Lordran. We've seen plenty of early areas in the Dark Souls Remaster already, from the Undead Asylum to the Taurus Demon, and most recently in the Network Test right up to the Bell Gargoyles. Performance has been impressive across the board on both Xbox One and PS4, but for many, there is only one performance test that actually matters: Blighttown.
It is notorious and legendary as a performance metric, but up until now we've not been allowed to test it. This area is dark, punishing and difficult to navigate even without its stuttering frame-rate. You had winding wooden platforms, elevators, ladders, poisonous wasps, rock-throwing golems, and a toxic swamp to avoid. All of that had to be dealt with in the usual trial and error fashion, but excessively poor performance made it even harder to handle. All of those structures - and that complex elevator system in particular - hit the rame-rate hard. Back in 2011, it was impossible to overlook its ability to hard lock down to 15fps - a rock-bottom frame-rate incurred by the environment on its own, even before enemy entities are in view. In fact, with this area being so widely criticised after its release on Xbox 360 and PS3, the team at From Software went so far as to apologise for the state of the game's performance overall.
Combined with its high difficulty level, it was a grind to play through, and even when played on Xbox One X via back-compat, the performance readout is still poor. Moving to PC's Prepare to Die version, Blighttown does improve significantly but removing the title's default 30fps cap shows that the engine's reliance on single-thread power still causes issues for modern CPUs. Even a monster like AMD's mighty Threadripper 1950X can't tackle Blighttown at 60fps. This puts the problem into some perspective.
The big news is that Blighttown is fixed in Dark Souls Remastered - and we can prove it. We've had access to a promo copy of the game on PlayStation 4 and while we're still limited in what we can show you, the fact is that this stage of the game running on a standard, base console runs flawlessly at 60 frames per second. Despite flaunting a new lighting model, ambient occlusion, updated effects, and higher native 1080p resolution, PS4 is still delivering on its 60fps promise in a big way. Equally, Dark Souls' signature problems with 30fps frame-pacing is also resolved thanks to the remastering effect - a new frame is synced with every refresh of the display.
Going one further, PS4 Pro playback predictably runs without any issue as well. Factoring in its boost to a 1800p resolution, there's no sign of any GPU stress points throughout this area of the game, and the hand you're dealt is the same: 60fps all the way, bar one solitary, single, unnoticeable frame drop. After slogging through this section on Xbox 360 at 15fps, we're hardly going to begrudge it for that. Blighttown now runs beautifully on both PS4 systems, and that bodes well for Xbox One X performance when we get our hands on it - the only potential concern being the standard Xbox One. In our network test analysis, performance was fine overall, but where the game did struggle just a touch, the S model was hit hardest.
The key understanding here is that, while Blighttown is fixed at last, there haven't been any obvious downgrades to get the job done. Visually speaking there's no apparent trade-off; looking down onto that swampy stress point, the enemies, lily-pads and stonework all render in on PlayStation 4 just as they did on 360 back in the day. Level of detail settings were ambitious for last-gen systems, and you get the sense that From Software took a no-compromise mentality to avoiding pop-in. Just as importantly, the shader-work on the swamp surface is still in place, and light points for lamps render from the town's entrance point too. Close optimisation on PS4 systems is at the heart of the turn-around then. It's consistent with the preview and network test builds, and the game's playability at 60fps is the biggest advantage of the remaster.
More analysis of Dark Souls Remastered will need to wait until the game's release - which will be accompanied by a day one patch we don't yet have access to. Fortunately, we don't need the updated code to tell you that Dark Souls' most notorious big bad has been comprehensively vanquished - the on-disc gold master code proves that on PlayStation platforms at least, Blighttown's performance problems are a thing of the past.
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