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.
Games sharing some of Dark Souls DNA
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.
- Tense and fast duels
- A beautiful recreation of Sengoku-period architecture and armaments
- The story moves smoothly from a mundane war to celestial concerns
- Very satisfying deathblow animations
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
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
- Crisp combat system
- Procedurally generated dungeons
- Excellent Roguevania
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.
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
- An interesting world reshaped by a god’s death
- Nine different classes to play around with
- Compelling risk-reward system
- An enjoyable and challenging combat system
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.
- A thick Gothic horror atmosphere
- Trick weapons changing how you approach combat
- Interesting Beasthood and Insight mechanics
- Aggressive playstyle
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.
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.
- A three-stance combat system
- A multitude of weapons to try
- A fantastical vision of historical figures and conflicts
- Every weapon type has its own skill tree
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.
Its a good time for every fan of challenging combat and high protagonist mortality.