Three entries later, the significance of the Souls series can’t be denied. Just like System Shock 2 pioneered environmental story-telling and introduced gameplay elements that, today, we take for granted, and Deus Ex perfected the open-world game design, Dark Souls inspired a whole generation of gamers and developers.
While the ‘’Souls-like’’ moniker can be difficult to define, we can pinpoint a few elements characteristic of the series’ design and gameplay philosophy:
- No hand holding. Players are left to discover the game’s world and intricacies on their own.
- Open or semi-open game design that encourages experimentation and multiple styles of playing.
- Brutal, but fair difficulty. There’s a clearly outlined difficulty curve and a process that you have to follow if you want to progress. Button-mashing will only get you a spike between the ribs. Or you’ll end up mauled by a pack of undead dogs. Or both. Whatever the case, it won’t end well for you.
- Cryptic, non-linear and at times ambiguous story. Again, it’s up to the players to connect the dots and unravel the plot. And even then, nothing’s set in stone.
- A sprawling, interconnected world. Dark Souls is a masterpiece in level design, unequaled to this day even by the sequels.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that while some games may be similar to Dark Souls from a gameplay perspective, they might have little in common in terms of story and atmosphere, or vice-versa.
The following list contains games that are closer to the spirit of Dark Souls more than anything else. With that being said, here’s a list of games that you can play once there are no more bonfires to light.
Developer: Motion Twin
Publisher: Motion Twin
Release Date: May 10, 2017
Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux, PS4, XboxOne, Switch
Dead Cells is a marvelous fusion of genres that combines everything good from Metroidvania, roguelike and, you guessed it, Souls games. While the procedurally generated world and the idea of areas/doors/levels being accessible only after acquiring certain items and abilities are elements borrowed from the roguelike and Metroidvania games respectively, the combat itself and everything that goes with it is pretty Soulsy.
More specifically, the similarities with Dark Souls lie in the difficulty of the combat and the themes, which deal with (repeated) death, decay and resurrection. Another similarity is the gloomy and oppressive atmosphere. In the case of Dead Cells, it’s presented in a more humorous tone, maybe to distract the players from the dreadful prospect of dying violently, only to come back to life and suffer the same fate, over and over again.
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Koei Tecmo
Release Date: February 2017 (PS4), November 2017 (PC)
Platforms: PS4, Microsoft Windows
Initially released for the PlayStation 4 in early 2017, Nioh was, for a while, the ‘’go-to’’ game if you were looking for a Souls-like experience. Ok, maybe ‘’Souls-like’’ experience is a little inaccurate. It would be like comparing, say, Skyrim with Far Cry.
Sure, they both play from a first-person perspective, but they’re two very different beasts. A more apt description for Nioh would be ‘’Souls-light’’, as you get almost everything Dark Souls has to offer, but not what makes it, you know, Dark Souls.
Nioh was primarily praised for its fast-paced combat, a wide selection of weapons, and support for multiple fighting styles. Also, somewhat praised was its brutal difficulty, though many players expressed frustrations with Nioh’s neurotic difficulty jumps and cheap combat encounters.
Also absent are the stunning vistas and the sprawling level design. However, these things shouldn’t be held against Nioh, like the combat, the main focus of the game, is satisfying, even with all the flaws.
Developer: Team Cherry
Publisher: Team Cherry
Release Date: February 24, 2017 (Windows), April 11, 2017 (macOS, Linux), June 12, 2018 (Switch), September 25, 2018 (PS4, XboxOne)
Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux, PS4, XboxOne, Switch
Ok, ok, I know. Hollow Knight is more Metroidvania than Souls, but to be perfectly honest, isn’t Dark Souls a light, loving tribute to Metroidvania games? Even so, one can’t deny that the devs drew some Souls influences when designing Hollow Knight.
The gloomy atmosphere, the difficult combat, the benches that offer respite, the weird enemies, the backtracking and the need to visit the spot you died to recover your lost items are definitely Souls-ish in nature.
The feeling of frustration and hopelessness when facing insurmountable odds will certainly be familiar to Souls veterans, but that’s just part of the process. You get up, roll your sleeves and try again and again until you prevail. Add to that an adorable cartoonish aesthetic and you got one of the most novel Souls-like titles.
Salt and Sanctuary
Developer: Ska Studios
Publisher: Ska Studios
Release Date: March 15, 2016
Platforms: PS4, Windows, macOS, Linux, PS Vita, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Salt and Sanctuary is, to put it simply, Dark Souls in two dimensions. Developed by a small developer called Ska Studios, Salt and Sanctuary check all the items of a spiritual by-product of the Dark Souls series.
A gloomy and oppressive atmosphere ✔
Brutal, but difficult combat ✔
Intricate level design ✔
Stunning vistas that will leave you in awe at the decaying beauty of the world ✔
Was lore delivered in a vague and cryptic manner ✔
Environmental storytelling ✔
Salt and Sanctuary is a masterful translation of Dark Souls’ concepts and mechanics into the 2D realm. It throws players into a bleak and depressing world and leaves them to fend for themselves using whatever tools they deem fit.
Salt and Sanctuary contains a varied cast of enemies and bosses, whose weaknesses and attack patterns you’ll need to learn, together with wearing the right gear. Players can even leave cryptic messages throughout the world, with varying levels of helpfulness (don’t even get me started on that).
Salt and Sanctuary iterates masterfully enough to be considered a worthy tribute to Dark Souls and innovates enough to stand on its own. It’s a love letter to everything that made Dark Souls so good, and it shows.
Hyper Light Drifter
Developer: Heart machine
Release Date: March 31, 2016 (Windows, OS X, Linux), July 26, 2016 (PS4, Xbox One), September 6, 2018 (Nintendo Switch).
Platforms: Windows, OS X, Linux, Ps4, Xbo One, Nintendo Switch.
Hyper Light Drifter is a deeply personal project based on the vision of its main developer, Alex Preston. Born with congenital heart disease, he’s been in and out of the hospital most of his life with various digestive and immune-system issues.
His personal health struggles lead to the development of Hyper Light Drifter, which Preston saw as an outlet to deliver an intimate story to a larger audience.
The combat, which is an interesting mish-mash of melee and long-ranged elements, it fluid and varied enough to keep players hooked throughout the duration of the game. However, the game’s Soulsiness lies not necessarily in the combat, which by Souls standards is pretty unchallenging, but in the overall experience of playing Hyper Light Drifter.
Fittingly enough, the story’s central themes revolve around death, disease, and decay, with its main character being haunted by a deadly illness that could end their life at any time. The story, which is delivered wordless, coupled with a beautifully twisted and mysterious world, will make Souls fans feel right at home. It’s deep, personal and beautiful.
This wraps up our list of games similar to Dark Souls. While there are certainly more titles that borrowed elements from the acclaimed series – Lords of The Fallen and Ashen -, we’ve tried to select the games that most resemble Dark Souls from a thematic and gameplay perspective and are not overly-derivative.
You can find the titles present here, and hundreds more, in Unleash The Gamer‘s Complete List of RPG games, where we’ve gathered hundreds of known and less-known titles.