What makes a good souls-like?
By now, I’m guessing about three-quarters of our audience will have had a run-in with the term souls-like. In fact, it has become so infamous through its overuse that some YouTubers have made a career off souls-like bashing. However, instead of running away from the classification, we’re going to face it head-on. The label doesn’t apply to a combat system, it requires a certain set of themes, a way of telling a story. But you know what the secret is?
No game except Dark Souls will ever be Dark Souls.
For that reason, games which feel inspired by it will be judged on the merit of particular traits. Traits, which ultimately cater to a gamer’s desire for self-loathing, ego and masochism.
For the sake of the reader, this list will introduce lesser-known games. We’ve all heard too much about Lords of the fallen and the Surge (If you haven’t, check those out too).
Welcome to, the souls-like awards 2018, let’s dive right in.
Award for surreal landscapes – Infernium
It’s become a staple of the Soulsborne games to provide beautiful yet surreal landscapes. Bordering on magic realism, the mountains of Dark Souls 3 or the hunter’s dream in Bloodborne are just two examples of this trend. Infernium by Carlos Coronado is the winner in this category. Described as a survival horror mix twist on Pac-man, Infernium delivers crisp level design and enchanting landscapes. There is an ominous tone to the various locales the player visits, made worse by the general lack of music.
The enemies can’t be harmed through conventional means, so the whole game plays out like a puzzle where your progress is incremental and made easier by shortcuts. Also, you drop your “essence” on death.
You may think it all a bad dream.
Award for despairing NPCs – GLOOM
If the title didn’t tip you off, Hunchback Studio’s Gloom is not a game full of colour. In fact, it’s pretty monochrome. Visually and thematically, the game takes a lot of influence from Lovecraft’s work, so its a perfect fit for the gothic / Bloodborne fans.
The 2D rogue-like asks you to make your way out of a shared dream by means of defeating increasingly difficult levels.These are generated randomly every playthrough, and those are pretty short. You died a lot in this game, but progress gets a bit easier each time because you can purchase weapons or upgrade materials from an NPC in the starting hub. Which takes me to my point, the NPC’s.
They’ve got a bad case of the Monday. They don’t smile. They laugh at you for thinking you can escape the dream, and generally facilitate the creeping despair which the game bathes in. Right up your alley, I know.
Award for punishing combat mechanics that can be abused – Absolver
I’m only half kidding about the second half of that tile. The combat in RPG brawler Absolver is rewarding but ultimately weakened by the fact that certain combinations were abusive in the first few months after release. The game has a fantastic sense of space and the world which the player explores is beautiful if a little empty.
Ultimately, it’s that lack of content which would mean players didn’t come back to the game. That said, Sloclap has taken steps to add more content to the base game, so if you haven’t already tried the game, it’s definitely worth the money. As a bonus, the story is told in a sufficiently indirect manner to make you wonder about the world. Who are these bosses, why should I care about them? Ultimately, what is my place on this martial arts island?
Hardcore factor Award
It’s no secret that Soulsborne players like suffering. That’s why I’m recommending you play Sundered if you haven’t already. The hectic Metroid-vania (SOULS-LIKE) developed by Thunder Lotus Games is absolutely infuriating but wonderfully constructed.
Its enemy placement is not as purposeful as fans of the Souls series might like, but the constant requirement for players to adapt to a hostile environment definitely is. Add to that a Lovecraftian world in which a corruption can either be rejected or embraced the player, along with obtuse lore and you’ve got yourself a good cocktail… OF DEATH.
By now I’m just recommending games which the fans of hardcore RPG’s will enjoy, so here are a few more:
Dark Maus – The influence is clear, it doesn’t really make sense until you try it.
Immortal Planet – Great level design, challenging boss fights which are sadly held down by a bit of grinding for souls.
Davyria: Heroes of Eternity – Weapon lore, an eternal warrior and the proper use of the word “rubbish”. BUY.
If it wasn’t clear enough, there is an element of satire in trying to fit all these games into the souls-like title. Ultimately, however, all of them are fantastic and deserve that you play them. Hopefully, you’ve found something here that peaks your interest.