FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series has made its mark on the gaming landscape for years to come. It changed the gamers’ expectations and it paved the way for new types of challenges. One may wonder what is the secret of success of the series and if there are other similar games to Dark Souls.
What makes a Dark Souls experience?
The Dark Souls games can be crudely boiled down to three aspects. A scarce storytelling demanding that the players figure the story on their own. A looping map design providing a sense of place. A seemingly insurmountable challenge forcing you to learn and adapt in order to overcome it.
|Blasphemous||2019-09-10||Adventure||The Game Kitchen||80%|
|Code Vein||2019-09-27||Action||BANDAI NAMCO Studio||87%|
|Deaths Gambit||2018-08-13||Adventure||White Rabbit||86%|
|Hollow Knight||2017-02-24||Action & Shooter||Team Cherry||35%|
|Monster Hunter World||2018-08-09||Action||CAPCOM CO., LTD.||80%|
|Outward Definitive Edition||2022-05-17||RPG||Nine Dots Studio||68%|
|Rain World||2017-03-28||Action & Shooter||Videocult||80%|
|The Surge 2||2019-09-24||RPG||Deck13||92%|
|The Surge||2017-05-15||Action & Shooter||Deck13||91%|
Ashen didn’t get much attention at release, and continues being rather low-key, but it’s a pretty good game, and its combat philosophy bears some resemblance to that of Dark Souls. To begin with, it uses a stamina meter, so you’ll want to make the most of your attacks, blocks, and dodges. The bosses are also going to put you through your paces, as they should.
Ashen also has a modicum of multiplayer, but instead of risking getting impaled by a treasonous player, you’re just sharing the world, and like in Journey can team up or just ignore each other. The game an interesting aesthetic, making the characters look like roughly carved figures, angular and not very detailed, but easy to read and quite evocative.
|Developer:||The Game Kitchen|
For a game with pixel-based graphics, Blasphemous is pretty dark. There is blood, there are brutal finishers, and pretty wicked enemy designs. It owes a lot of its style to Spanish painters, by developers’ own admission, and the world structure, a 2D, combat and exploration-heavy game has obvious Castlevania influences. But, of course, there are also some things for Souls fans.
For one, your supply of healing items is limited, and only refreshes at checkpoints. Similarly, the enemies once dead come back to life, such as it is. There are also secrets and stories to uncover off the beaten path which will provide more depth and backstory to the weird world you slay your way through as The Penitent One. One of the best 2D Souls-like games out there.
|Developer:||BANDAI NAMCO Studio|
Before the release frequently dubbed “Dark Souls with vampires” or a variation of it, it turned out to be more or less that. However, between the pretty cool setting, and an engaging combat system Code Vein more than stands on its own. It also features a really good character creation system, especially good if you want to make stylish animesque characters.
A fun feature of the combat system, aside from it’s soulsiness, it that you can mix and match the special abilities of different archetypes to suit your desired playstyle, and that you need to perform Drain moves to get fuel (Ichor) for these. Seeing what you can slap together in Code Vein’s combat system is the most fun part of the game, although the story is quite entertainingly anime.
In Death’s Gambit you play as a soldier who entered a pact with Death, and in return for functional immortality, he has a perilous task to perform. He wage war on other immortals, who ravage the land called Siradon. The story bits come often enough, although they never distract from the core of the game: fighting powerful beings with an array of weapons and good timing.
Death’s Gambit doesn’t innovate much in terms of gameplay. The combat tends towards a fast pace, but your possibilities are limited by the familiar stamina meter, which encourages some deliberation rather than charging headfirst. There also a progression system which will see you improve your attributes so that you are able to keep up with the increasingly strong foes.
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
Hollow Knight is a beautiful 2D Metroidvania set in a forest kingdom, where everyone is a gently anthropomorphic insects, including your playable character. The story involves deified entities, and the conflict between them, involving the freedom of their subjects. Your Knight encounters the sorry state of the village of Dirtmouth, and then about itself, leading to one of several endings.
One of the key similarities to the immediate Dark Souls philosophy is that, should you die, you will drop your currency and some of your mana substitute, called Soul. The combat itself can be a bit of hit and run, since the Knight doesn’t have linear health as much as several “masks” which acts like “lives”. The levels are also well-interconnected, resembling a bit the looping maps of Dark Souls.
Monster Hunter: World
|Developer:||CAPCOM CO., LTD.|
Monster Hunter is a series with some pedigree, and Dark Souls bear some resemblance to them. Is stands to reason that the series’ latest incarnation, Monster Hunter: World (with the Iceborne expansion) is a really good stand-in for Dark Souls, if what appeals to you are tense, challenging boss fights. MHW is functionally a boss rush with occasional fights with lesser enemies.
MHW doesn’t drain your stamina on most attacks, although some of the most powerful ones might wind you, but running and dodging too much will exhaust you. The monsters require learning their moves and tells, and failing to do so will have you carted back to camp. Each monster has different resistances and weakness, so picking the right tool for the job is absolutely necessary.
Although admittedly resting more squarely on the survival and action RPG side of the genre diagram, there is something for Souls fans still. See, death comes easily in Outward, and is just as likely to arrive from the hands of a bandit as from starvation. But you don’t actually die, rather: lose consciousness and wake up elsewhere in the world, bereft of your possessions.
In general, Outward is happy to challenge you every step of the way, so between the painful, but not permanent death and the general easiness of losing life and consciousness, may make it an appealing prospect for fans of being curb stomped by circumstances they weren’t prepared for. Not quite the nightmarish boss-fighting game, but one that will appeal to fans of challenges.
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
The places you, as Slugcat, explore in Rain World are invariably hostile, eager to kill you, and the enemies you encounter are quite often going to be more than you can handle unless you’re ready for them. The game also doesn’t give you much assistance at all, leaving you to figure most things out. One constant is that if you don’t make it to the hibernation point in time, you’re out of luck.
You can freely explore the world via a system of pipes, easily passable for the Slugcat protagonist, and as a result potentially find all 1600 rooms across 12 regions. You’ll encounter many enemies, some of which you’ll even be able to kill, rather than just fend off. As you hibernate after eating enough food, you’ll gain karma, which, while lost on death, can unlock new locations.
The Surge (2)
The Surge, as well as its 2019 sequel, The Surge 2, are, in essence, science fiction Soulslike games. But it also has some mechanics, which make it stand out. The big thing about The Surge, is your player character is wearing a hi-tech exo-suit which can be customised and upgraded as you progress through the game. And you get parts for that by dismembering your enemies.
The combat tends towards a familiar, deliberate tempo, with parries and dodges as your chief defensive options, and special attacks that might leave more scrap for you to pick up. The maps are also share some of that looping design which made exploring the realms of Dark Souls so satisfying. Before long you’ll know the Jericho City inside out.
You can only take one hit, you have only one arrow, and your enemies, once stripped of their defences, also go down in a single hit. Now good luck in figuring out how to get them to expose their weak spot. In this 2D top-down game good timing and knowing the patterns of your enemies is the only way to succeed. Pick a bad time to stand your ground to shoot ad you’re dead in a flash.
You also need to stand in one place to call your arrow back, which also exposes you to enemy attacks. All in all, Titan Souls is a boss rush which makes use of your tactics as much as of your reflexes. The game has clean, easily readable visuals, and the bosses you’re going to fight all have pretty unique designs which work really well with this art style.
Sekiro : Shadows Die Twice
Sekiro is a journey back in time to the Sengoku-period Japan. It puts you in the role of a shinobi nicknamed Sekiro, who, after suffering a crushing defeat while on duty, has to save his young master and deal with a conflict that escapes the bounds of the mundane world.
source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OgoTZXPACo (Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – Official Trailer | E3 2018)
As a FromSoftware title, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a very difficult game, requiring of the player quick reflexes and tactical mindset, even as it also forces an aggressive playstyle on them. With the Posture system, duels between Sekiro and his enemies are tense games of tug-of-war in which both sides try to press their advantage and force an opening for a deathblow. It’s faster than Dark Souls but offers as much challenge.
|Genre:||Action & Shooter|
Dead Cells looks like a Metroidvania, with more than just a few shades of a Rogue-like to it, and the difficulty inherent in these descriptors make it a great fit for this list
source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvGaSPTcTxc (Dead Cells – Launch Trailer | PS4)
In DC you play as an… entity with the ability to latch onto and animate the dead, using them as its body. You begin in sewers and have multiple levels of increasingly complicated, procedurally-generated dungeons to fight through. The difficult enemies demanding you learn their patterns, the importance of death as a game mechanic, and a risk-reward approach to available currency (cells, instead of souls) makes it reminiscent of FromSoft’s Souls games. Except Dead Cells is nowhere near as humorless
Lords of the Fallen
Lords of the Fallen have come at the height of Dark Souls popularity, and ended up being capable, if noticeably easier, take on the Action RPG formula popularised by the Soulsborne series.
source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXqaRhJNEAk (LORDS OF THE FALLEN | Trailer [HD])
You play as Harkyn, a convict with the runes of the crimes committed visible as runes on his face. You can define what kind of fighter he is by picking one of the schools of magic and matching it with one of the types of equipment. For example, a Solace magic user with heavy armor and weapons becomes a Paladin. There’s also a risk-reward mechanic governing your EXP: the longer you stay alive and avoid checkpoints, the higher your EXP multiplier. But you lose it when you die and fail to retrieve it in time
Dive into the fever dream of Gothic horror and Lovecraftian monstrosities hovering at the edge of your sanity.
source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTDvYvlyPaE (Bloodborne – Official Story Trailer: The Hunt Begins | PS4)
Bloodborne turned the defensive Dark Souls formula on its head by removing the trusty block, demanding that the players take a more aggressive approach. It also created Trick Weapons: a special class of implement, which can transform between two forms: fast and good for combos and a heavier, dealing more damage per hit. It’s a FromSoftware game through and through, with stamina-draining maneuvers, a map designed to feel like a coherent space, esoteric narrative, and very challenging combat. Whatever fate will befall your Hunter, it won’t be easy to parse, accept, and/or understand.
|Developer:||KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD.|
Nioh takes a little bit more inspiration from history than Sekiro does, but this journey to the Sengoku-period Japan is still full of fantastical beings and motifs.
source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNtFcHDMhRg (NIOH Official Launch Trailer PS4)
You play as Willian, an Irish sailor-turned samurai when he wound up in feudal Japan during an ongoing conflict. The game was designed by Team Ninja (or Ninja Gaiden fame), and its combat system uses three stances changing the way you use your weapons, selected from a broad gallery of famous ones like katanas and a bit less well-known, like the kusari-gana. Whether you specialize in a single weapon or explore all possibilities, you’re going to have a good challenge ahead of you.
Although there can only be one Dark Souls series, there is no shortage of games demanding that you learn by trial and pain how to beat them. You could look to the long-running Monster Hunter series, with its latest entry: Monster Hunter World for a series of difficult fights against creatively designed reptilian monsters. You could also try NieR Automata, with its stylish combat and bullet-hell segments.