How will the PS5 change gaming? For months now, that's been something of an unanswerable question. Sony has struggled to showcase the potency of the SSD, the power of its next-generation system architecture, and the benefits of key advancements such as the Tempest 3D Audio and the haptic feedback embedded in the chassis of the DualSense controller. That isn't because the system isn't impressive, but rather so many of these evolutions feel nebulous; difficult to appreciate without a 4K TV parked inches away from your eyes, and easy to take for granted in lieu of the opportunity to experience them for yourself. But in the Demon's Souls gameplay we can see a glimpse of the future.
Bluepoint Games' generous reimagining of Demon's Souls looks like a launch title in the traditional sense, in that it appears to be delivering a degree of visual fidelity and fluidity that's seldom been seen in the games that have preceded it. Our first look at Demon's Souls gameplay presents an opportunity to understand the promise and potential of the PS5, particularly to those anticipating a return visit to the kingdom of Boletaria. I never for a second believed that a relic from the seventh generation would be the driving force behind investing in the outset of the ninth, but in Demon's Souls we see the emergence of a true system seller.
Hell ain't a bad place to be
Demon's Souls was famous for setting the tone for a new wave of uncompromising action-RPGs when it launched in 2009, although it was equally infamous for its unpredictable performance. That created something of a strange dichotomy. Players were pushed to navigate a labyrinth of obtuse systems and demonstrably difficult dungeon crawling, all while grappling with an unstable framerate that made it tricky to commit the patterns that were required to survive the terrors of Boletaria to muscle memory. Players persisted, and a legend was born in the ensuing aftermath.
That's what makes this such an attractive proposition. Bluepoint isn't trying to rewrite the rulebook here, it is trying to preserve it for future generations. I shouldn't need to sit here and extol the virtues of 4K at a stable 60 frames-per-second versus the original 720p/30fps presentation, but hot damn does that Demon's Souls gameplay look good. The tutorial area is almost unrecognisable to the one I vaguely remember trudging through back in 2009, when I imported the game on a whim from Asia to see what all the fuss was about. What was once a world masked in fog is now a densely detailed tapestry of torture.
Movement of enemies and avatar alike are smooth and fluid. It appears easier than ever before to anticipate attacks, read signals in the world around you, and fight back against foes without needing to wrestle against an unstable framerate. Of course, that isn't to say that the game will be any easier. Demon's Souls is notorious for its challenge, perhaps even more so than the games that it inspired. I just hope that the difficulty will be there solely by design, not because of limitations of the hardware that hosted the experience.
The power of the PS5 isn't just going towards some beautifully animated character models, it's also being used to good effect across the entire presentation. Outside the lair of the Vanguard, it's worth noting that gorgeous lighting and reflections, a true showcase of ray-tracing technology. The environmental detail and particle effects, to both enhance immersion in spaces and the combat taking place within them, is incredible, as too are the little touches – blood spatter on shields, wind billowing through leaves, smoke obscuring light, an actual thunderstorm at the Shrine of Storms. In this demo, we see just some of the benefits of the PS5's powerful system architecture, and what it can deliver when it is combined with strong and defined technical art direction.
It's worth noting how molecular Bluepoint is getting here. It isn't an exact 1:1 conversion, but rather a mirror image warped by glass waning under the restless march of time. With greater fidelity to hand than FromSoftware could even have dreamed of at the time Demon's Souls was designed, Bluepoint has been able to go in and adjust every corridor and character, not to mention each of the environments and encounters. This is a space that has been left to exist in the imagination for a decade – never receiving a remaster, forever trapped on PS3, spoken about with careful reverence for the ways in which it inspired Dark Souls and Bloodborne – and to see it realised as meticulously as this is thrilling.
There's one particularly impressive moment towards the beginning of the demo that those new to Demon's Souls might have missed; as the player character touches the Archstone they are warped to a new arena in a fraction of a second, that's a transition that could take 10 seconds on a launch PS3. If the speed of the SSD can be utilised all-throughout, including restarts following death, then this will be the most frictionless 'Souls' has ever been.
Change is coming
There are still questions to be answered, of course. Bluepoint has promised that Demon's Souls for PS5 is being fine-tuned to appeal to new players and reflect the way that games play today. Some players are, rightfully, I think, concerned by how close the camera sits to the shoulder of the player character. More importantly, of the impact this stricter field-of-view will have in Demon's Souls more claustrophobic areas (The Tower of Latria and The Valley of Defilement spring immediately to mind), not to mention its tougher Archstone encounters – Maneaters, Old King Allant, and Flamelurker.
The World Tendency system needs an obvious overhaul – 11 years later and I still don't understand it, I don't think any of us do. The upgrade, health, and magic systems needed rebalancing in 2009 and they definitely need it here in 2020, and let's not even get started on the item burden requirements. However, the biggest test for Bluepoint will be in whether it leaves the Soul Form system intact. Demon's Souls was simultaneously old-fashioned and visionary, and many of its unique mechanics have aged better than others. Soul Form, a state that you enter upon death that slashes your HP pool by 50%, can only be reversed by obtaining either a relatively rare item or by defeating a boss – every time that you die, you're effectively tying another arm behind your back. I don't see that playing well now, even for those that have grown up with Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro – historically, Demon's Souls enforces its difficulty with cruel delight.
I'm also eager to see whether the more subtle effect applied to knockbacks and deflections when shield blocking is in fact a concession made to DualSense – where we might not need to see such drastic weighting depicted on-screen, not when we'll be feeling it so acutely in our fingertips. These are all questions that will be answered in time. For now, however, it's fine to sit back and appreciate Bluepoint's sensationally good looking Demon's Souls remake for what it is: the game you'll need on day one to showcase your system, justify the early adoption, and make anybody that comes around to see Sony's new console in action jealous they didn't get a PS5 pre-order in when they had the chance.