What first began as a PS3 exclusive back in 2009 — which I personally had to import from Japan to play early — soon paved the way for an entire genre. Yes, while Demon’s Souls may be the grandfather to FromSoftware’s signature formula, it’s safe to say that 2011’s Dark Souls is the aunt that everybody knows and loves. After all, it was the studio’s sophomore effort that really helped to solidify and popularise the core gameplay loop we find so fiendishly addictive to this day.
But what if you’ve played all of the From Software classics and you’re on the hunt for even more punishing gameplay? Better yet, what if you need a break from FromSoft-developed titles? Well, we thought that now would be the perfect time to run down the top 10 best Souls-likes to check out if you’re jones-ing for more. The twist? We’re not allowed to include any titles from the beloved Japanese studio that helped to establish the genre in the first place.
So, without further delay, let’s get into it!
10. The Surge
If you’re in the market for a Souls-like with some sci-fi flair, then Deck13’s brand of cyborgs-run-amok set against a dark, dystopian apocalyptic future is a surefire winner. Evil corporation? Check. Super cool mechs? You betcha. Angry robots? For sure. Seriously, this one ticks all the right boxes.
Indeed, not only does the moment-to-moment gameplay feel satisfyingly crunchy, but its unique execution system is surprisingly grisly stuff. As you go toe-to-toe with a myriad of mechanical monstrosities, you’ll be given the chance to target specific limbs; much akin to a real-time VATS system from the Fallout series. These slow-mo finishers are a spectacle to behold, and even tie into the game’s loot system.
While its 2019 sequel is another terrific contender and is arguably a more polished experience, the first game offers plenty of bang for your buck and is undoubtedly worth checking out as well.
9. Mortal Shell
If at first you don’t succeed,
try die, try die again. Yes, that’s pretty much the Souls-like gameplay loop in a nutshell, right? But Cold Symmetry sought to shake up this established formula by introducing a new mechanic: the second chance.
In essence, Mortal Shell gives players a second lease of life as soon their HP is depleted instead of sending them kicking and screaming back to the last checkpoint a million miles away. Sure, you’ll be transformed into a ghostly, ethereal form who can only take one more hit, but it’s still a luxurious novelty in the punishing Souls-like world of Fallgrim.
In fact, the concept was such a smart addition, another well-known franchise went on to pilfer the idea. Can you guess which one? (Don’t worry, we’ll clue you in down below!)
Ashen is one of those games where screenshots and gameplay footage don’t really do it justice. To be honest, I was pretty nonplussed by what I first saw, but when I finally got a chance to go hands-on with it, I was incredibly impressed.
While the art-style is minimalist, with muted cel-shaded colours, and the challenge is pitched quite low for a Souls-inspired experience, there’s a real sense of wonder to be found in the game’s somber art direction and sparse environmental storytelling that’s hard to articulate.
Really, at its core, Ashen has a wondrous sense of atmosphere that’s paired with a solidly entertaining combat system. While it forgoes the stat management of its kin, there are plenty of unique weapons that feature their own distinct game-changing stats. Don’t sleep on this one!
It’s fair to say that the Souls series isn’t really renowned for its fast and fluid combat. Instead, the franchise leans into a more methodically tactical, exacting combat system which is a touch slower than the fast-paced action of its brethren. As a result, if you’re looking for a more action-centric take on From Software’s familiar blueprint, then Team Ninja has well and truly got you covered with Nioh and Nioh II.
Set in feudal Japan and steeped in rich historical lore, players step into the shoes of explorer William Adams who has been incarcerated in the Tower of London. The beginning of the game sees our protagonist escape his jail cell, and from here things start getting pretty bonkers as he befriends some celestial guardian spirits who grant him special supernatural powers.
Challenging bosses, a bunch of loot, and its terrific hack-and-slash gameplay all complete this package, but it also boasts a surprisingly entertaining narrative that is just as charming as it is barmy.
6. Salt and Sanctuary
Transplanting the typical Souls framework from a 3D plane to a 2D perspective was never going to be an easy task, but Ska Studios’ 2016 action-platformer succeeds with aplomb.
Almost every aspect of the trademark formula has been recreated save for the three-dimensional plane. Instead of souls, players will be busy accumulating salt to level up their hero in a bid to bring peace to the cursed Isle. Amazingly, there are over 600 weapons, spells, armor pieces, and items in the game, and in true Souls fashion, the weapons and armor can even be upgraded as well.
Don’t let the more limited 2D style put you off. This is an experience that understands its influences to a blood-soaked tee, and clearly has a deep reverence for the source material that inspired it. Speaking of which, another two-dimensional title wants to introduce itself…
5. Blasphemous II
If you’re anything like me and went to Catholic school, you’ll get Blasphemous II. Or as I like to affectionately refer to it as, Catholicism: The Horror Game. Yes, if you’ve ever wanted to play a Souls-like that’s been beamed through the prism of religious fanaticism, then oh boy, have I got the title for you.
Players take on the role of The Penitent One, a mysterious survivor of an enigmatic collective known as The Congregation. Having taken a vow of silence, our protagonist isn’t much of a talkative type. Instead, they let their sword do the “talking” as they bring justice to the evil monstrosities that have pervaded the lands.
Strictly speaking, this side-scrolling action-platformer blends the best parts of the Metroidvania genre and infuses it with Souls-like trappings like respawning enemies, i-frame dodges, and minimalistic storytelling.
As a result, we’d probably call this more of a Soulsvania than a straight-up Souls-like. Nevertheless, it’s clearly inspired by FromSoft’s work, and it shows.
4. Eldest Souls
A surefire way to shoot an arrow straight through my heart is to craft a title with gorgeous pixel art that harkens back to the nostalgia-soaked glory days of the 8-bit/16-bit era. And Fallen Flag Studio has done just that with their isometric 2D Souls-like, Eldest Souls.
In essence, the game is ostensibly a boss rush mode that pits players against a host of super challenging tyrants, punctuated by some leisurely exploration and undemanding environmental puzzles.
While it may not have the sheer depth of some of the other contenders on this list, it does make up for it with its silky smooth performance, just-one-more-go feel, and thrilling gameplay. This one is an underappreciated gem!
3. Hollow Knight
Another title that fits the aforementioned Soulsvania mould, Team Cherry combines the design philosophies of Soul-likes, fashions it into a moody Limbo-esque monochromatic art-style, and pours this harmonious mixture into a Metroidvania mould. All this is then topped off with a liberal sprinkling of weighty anguish and gloomy despair for good measure.
Set in Hallownest — a dreary bug-infested world that has succumbed to a mysterious and oppressive force — Hollow Knight boasts rich environmental storytelling, exacting real-time combat, and a bunch of dastardly bosses. These are all juxtaposed effectively with an eerie cuteness that makes you question whether you should be murdering all these insect-like critters in droves. I mean, they’re pretty adorable, right?
This is one of those rare games that does a whole lot with just a very little, and is a showcase for how truly powerful art direction can be. Somber, lonely, and beautiful, this is an essential for those who’re hankering for a Souls experience that confidently ploughs its own distinct furrow.
2. Lords of the Fallen (2023)
If you were to put Lords of the Fallen and Dark Souls side-by-side, I’m pretty sure that the average Joe wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Seriously, this is as close to a Souls game as you can get without the Barcelona/Bucharest team getting angry letters from FromSoft’s legal team.
Nevertheless, what’s impressive is how Hexworks has brought some surprisingly smart ideas to the Souls-like table. Namely, its dual dimension conceit, which helps augment the moment-to-moment combat, grinding, and the environmental puzzles across your epic journey is a genuine stroke of genius. And, yes, they were indeed the studio who half-inched the second life idea from Mortal Shell. But to their credit, they’ve built and iterated on the idea with the dual plane mechanic.
While it may be pitched a little too punishingly in some of the late areas, and the level design occasionally leaves a lot to be desired, there’s a whole lot to get your teeth into here with its epic world, impressive boss encounters, and methodical yet satisfying combat.
1. Lies of P
Despite my daily prayers, we still do not have a fully-fledged Bloodborne sequel, and that makes me profoundly sad. I mean, even a measly 60FPS patch would put some pep in this grumpy ol’ fart’s step. But here we are in a world without Bloodborne II.
Don’t despair though, folks! Neowiz Games and Round8 Studio have done the seemingly impossible: they’ve crafted a spiritual successor to 2015’s gothic meat grinder, and amazingly, it’s an absolutely blast to play. In fact, we’d go as far as calling it the best Souls-like outside of the core Soulsborne titles thanks to its fluid and flexible combat system, meticulously designed world and bosses, and moreish grind.
Plus, on top of all of this, Lies of P features a pretty creative narrative that’s loosely based on Carlo Callodi’s classic children’s tale, Pinocchio. On paper, that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. But in practice, it’s a legit home run and the best use of the source material in years. Who would’ve thunk it, eh?
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