Demon’s Souls started it all. Sure, folks will argue that the concepts that would go on to become the modern-day Soulslike started even earlier in From Software’s history with games like Shadow Tower or the King’s Field games. But the modern incarnations feature challenging action/RPGs that offer battles with larger-than-life bosses, risk/reward offerings, mysteries to explore, and tight combat mechanics that force the player to commit to their choices.
For the purposes of this list, I’m acknowledging that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has plenty of Soulslike framework, but due to some significant differences in player development and build options, it’s being left out of consideration here as a Soulslike. That said, it’s a great game and you should give it a try if you haven’t already. Alright, let’s hit up the list and find out what Soulslike titles are most worthy of your time as we wait with unbridled anticipation for new options to arise and take their own places on this list – including Elden Ring!
And as a quick aside, qualifications and quantifications for what exactly falls into the Soulslike category can be somewhat nebulous, so before you opine at its lack of inclusion here, we love Hollow Knight, but don’t exactly consider it a Soulslike. You should still play it! As more and more Soulslikes enter the ring, this list may change in the future, so keep an eye out as more genre players come hailing from lands afar.
We chastised this one quite thoroughly in our review, and the issues stand. That said, as a pick for getting your anime on with some catchy tunes while you wail away on enemies, you could do worse in the Soulslike category. This isn’t the only Soulslike that features sidekicks, but having a companion on the journey can also make the challenges a bit more palatable, depending on your tastes. While this recommendation comes with considerable caveats, it’s a solid choice if you’re anime inclined, and you can even build relationships with your favorite character for special rewards.
The Surge 2
While the first Surge is quite divisive, the second outing has been much better received. With a multitude of weapons to explore and aspects to upgrade and improve, your search for scraps, metal, and parts never end. Folks are always asking for options in the Souls vein that fall outside traditional or dark fantasy, and Surge 2 might be exactly what you’re looking for. Targeting various limbs and zones on enemies adds a new wrinkle to combat, and winding levels will keep you exploring. If you want a little more sawblade and nanomachine in your Souls, Surge 2 has you covered.
Salt and Sanctuary
Salt and Sanctuary is a Soulslike through and through, with one of the primary differentiators being that it’s 2D. This translates to a more significant focus on platforming elements that third-person offerings have mostly eschewed, where you can hop around scenery for advantages in boss battles, jump around treetops, and climb the castle walls. Some exploration elements are also present, encouraging players to revisit earlier areas with new abilities like being able to walk upside down on structures in a sort of anti-gravity jolt. Big bosses abound, and the dark aesthetic makes the somewhat cartoony world plenty grim. If you want something that takes all of the core mechanics that make Souls great and turns it into a kind of side-scrolling 2D soiree, look no further than Salt and Sanctuary.
Remnant: From the Ashes
Multiple games have tried to mix Souls with shooting, and most of them have failed. Remnant: From the Ashes succeeds, combining fast-paced third-person shooting and looting with Souls features and mechanics. Gristly stages can hold more than one boss option, making traversing the same places or playing through more than once interesting, and co-op play is encouraged and fun. Bring a friend along, crush some levels, get some intriguing perks kicking and even make a build as you amplify your weapons. A roguelike mode is also available if you’re looking to keep things flowing long after you’ve completed what the game has to offer. It’s dark, fast, and a lot of fun.
The original Nioh is also highly recommended, but feel free to go immediately to Nioh 2. Nioh 2 has all the bells and whistles of the first game, and more options. While the mechanics added to Nioh 2 don’t really add a whole lot to the equation, there are more weapons, more playstyles, more challenges, and basically just a whole lot more of the good stuff all around – you’ll have a hell of a time exhausting the content on this beast. Not only is there a lot of meat on the bones here, but it tastes pretty damn good. Nioh 2 owes plenty to the Souls series, but also defines itself as a wholly separate entity with a slew of engaging features. If you’re feeling particularly spicy, try the fist weapon out and really get in there. If you want, the Nioh Collection eloquently delivers all the action you could desire and more.
Demon’s Souls (PS5)
From Software and Hidetaka Mizazaka would usher in the entire subgenre with this title, and Bluepoint’s recent remake is a stellar vision of the original PS3 title. If you never had an opportunity to play the original, you can play it today – with incredible graphics. Encounters that simply couldn’t relay their intended majesty in the original due to hardware limitations like The Storm King are absolute joys to experience here, and the game runs buttery smooth. Demon’s Souls is an easier and simpler Souls game than what would come after. It features numerous puzzle/gimmick bosses that are fairly easy to defeat but levels that can overstay their welcome significantly without convenient checkpoints. That said, Bluepoint’s remake is something special to behold and an important part of anyone’s Souls journey.
Dark Souls (Remastered)
Dark Souls solidified and popularized the genre with its powerful atmosphere, deadly bosses, and world full of secrets. Dark Souls was willing to let players fumble and find their way, with learning coming from mishaps and mistakes, whether that’s being run over by a boulder trap or simply falling off the edge of a cliff with an errant sword swing. The first time I played Dark Souls, it was a short journey indeed, as I incorrectly assumed that the only routes from the bonfire were either into the cemetery or into New Londo. As anyone who has played can tell you, these routes are probably not ideal for a first-time player. Of course, when I came back to the game a bit later and found my road into Undead Burg, my love for Souls was locked in. Finding your own way through Dark Souls’ many challenges is an experience and an adventure, no one tackles it quite the same way. Triumph over adversity in a weird, wonderful world.
Dark Souls 3
Dark Souls 3 is my recommended pick for first-time Souls players. It’s the most streamlined and polished of the titles, even if it doesn’t conjure up the same mystique as some other games in the series. While it contains some of the most difficult and challenging encounters in the series in the DLC, the standard game has more of a traditional difficulty ramp instead of some of the frontloaded brutality found in the others. What does this mean? It means you’ll still be swimming in the deep end, but you’ll have time to get your toes wet first. Dark Souls 3 has a ton of excellent content, and the DLC contains some of the most exciting and intense battles available in games today, including the inimitable Sister Friede and Darkeater Midir.
Dark Souls 2
Dark Souls 2 is one of the more divisive titles in the franchise, but its bold additions and experiments are a blast. The use of bonfire ascetics to let players replay areas on NG+ without completely finishing a run, power-stancing, and an absolutely vast array of bosses and locales make it stand out. There’s no arguing that the adaptability and agility effect on rolling and invincibility frames wasn’t a great change, so if you plan to play, I suggest putting points in these stats early to get a “traditional” roll that feels like normal. I also don’t particularly care that having a molten castle above a swamp windmill breaks some kind of immersion – this is a fantasy world, and while I admire the interconnectivity that is often heralded in the series, it’s not a dealbreaker of any kind. Dark Souls 2 also has some of the best bosses in its DLC, including the notable duel with Sir Alonne, Fume Knight, and more. If you have been putting off Dark Souls 2 because it’s seen as the black sheep of the Souls family, don’t. It’s really, really great.
It’s rare that every aspect of a game syncs up like a singular mastercraft work of art. Bloodborne is one of those games. Atmosphere, gameplay, music, art, and sound come together as a singular entity of classic Victorian horror giving way to cosmic terrors. Bloodborne’s slight deviations from the Souls formula encourage unbridled aggression, ramping up the tension for its incredible battles and rides through hellish landscapes. While we’re all hoping that we’ll get to play Bloodborne on other platforms and in 60 FPS someday, the core game and associated DLC is one of the best games you can play today. From snake-filled forests where your eyes deceive you with every shadow to nightmares and dreamscapes, Bloodborne serves up a buffet of horror and whimsy in one fell stroke.