The legacy of FromSoftware’s Souls series is not defined just by the amazing games that its made up of, but also the subgenre that has been given life thanks to its very existence: the soulslike. To celebrate this sub-genre (and to whet our appetite for the upcoming Elden Ring, of course) we’ve rounded up our top 10 favorite soulslikes of all time.
Now, defining exactly what constitutes a souls-like game is a bit tricky, because there’s a lot of core elements of Souls games, but for the purpose of this video, here are the key things that a game must have to be a soulslike:
- Punishing consequences for death
- Souls, or a similar currency gained by defeating enemies that is integral to character progression and can be lost upon death.
- Methodical combat, typically tied to a stamina meter
- Checkpoints that reset the world.
Top 10 Soulslikes
Also, we’re gonna keep this list FromSoftware free. This is a list of the best soulslikes, not the best Souls games – and yes, we’re including Sekiro and Bloodborne under that banner, too. Now that we got all of that out of the way, check out the video/gallery above, or scroll down for the full list!
Arguably the first game to directly crib the mechanics and feel of Dark Souls, Lords of The Fallen applies the genre’s hallmark stick-and-move combat to a more conventional, loot-driven action RPG. Though it doesn’t test your mettle quite the same way as its masochistic inspiration, but its riff on the bonfire system – which lets you bank experience at checkpoints when you reset the world or keep it on you to earn more via a multiplier that increases with every enemy you slay – tests and tempts players in its own way.
Don’t underestimate Code Vein for being “anime Dark Souls.” Bandai Namco’s post-apocalyptic sci-fantasy vampire adventure brings deliciously brutal combat and some mechanical interesting twists.
Switching classes and experimenting with lots of weapons and playstyle is strongly encouraged. You can (and are basically expected to) play the whole game as part of a duo with either a friend or an AI companion who backs you up through hectic battles that are tough enough for two.
Each Darksiders game has been a different flavor of hack and slash, with the first game being largely influenced by The Legend of Zelda and the second being a mixture of a variety of character action games with Diablo inspired loot. But Darksiders 3 was a soulslike through and through. Though its combat is not tied to a stamina meter, something generally intrinsic to the soulslike genre, it is still nonetheless the same style of methodical and deliberate combat that is exceptionally punishing for every mistake. Darksiders 3 also stands out from the rest of the soulslike genre thanks to the lingering influence of The Legend of Zelda that carries over from prior games. There’s a larger emphasis on puzzles and environmental problem solving than is typical within the genre, making it an interesting departure despite its firmly established soulslike roots.
Mortal Shell is shorter and less complex than many of the best soulslikes, but it has two unique mechanics that really make it stand out. You control a ghost who possesses the corpses of different warriors with different weapons and abilities, and you can charge up a block by “hardening” your corpse shell, so you can take a hit while attacking and not get hurt. Its spooky vibe and stress-inducing combat channels the Souls games that inspired it. It doesn’t get more “Souls-like” than this.
One of the more defining and weirdly endearing characteristics of a great soulslike is how obtuse it is in how it reveals its enemies, items, and story as it slowly unfolds. 2018’s Ashen from studio A44 and Annapurna Interactive is just the right amount of obtuse to inspire players to inch forth through its treacherous, minimalist world. Ashen is tough, unforgiving, and brilliantly stripped down to the core DNA of what makes a soulslike tick. Sure, most of its characters barely have feet, or even faces, and the art direction feels deliberately stripped down and cel-shaded compared to its grizzled and lavish Soulsborne bigger brothers, but all of that just makes it feel so much more haunting, austere, and isolating. Not too isolating, though, because Ashen really clicks in passive co-op multiplayer where friends can team up to explore – and subsequently die in – its sprawling, eerie world together.
Mixing bleak, dystopian sci-fi horror with hard hitting melee combat, labyrinthine environments, and tough as nails boss fights may seem like your standard-issue soulslike formula but Remnant: From the Ashes adds emphasis on a very iconic video game weapon class: guns.
Balancing excellent shooting mechanics with brash, heavy-duty ground combat – complete with procedurally generated stages – makes Remnant feel different enough from its counterparts while staying paying homage to the games that inspired it. Most importantly, though, it’s a ton of fun and occasionally tough as nails and has some really unique lore to boot. And if the main game sinks its hooks into you, there’s also two DLC packs and an entire prequel spinoff game to keep you going.
Both The Surge and The Surge 2 take the multiplier/countdown mechanics introduced in Lords of the Fallen and add a Monster-Hunter-esque crafting system to put a unique sci-fi stamp on the SoulsBorne genre. Dismembering zombified cyborgs to craft new weapons and armor offers a grisly injection of strategic fun, and some really excellent environmental design and storytelling in the first game provides a great setup to the series’ dystopian future. While the story might get a bit unwieldy as it progresses, the 2019 sequel improves the gameplay mechanics and progression loop that made the original such a satisfying action-RPG.
One of the first truly notable soulslikes, Salt and Sanctuary is perhaps the one that most unabashedly embraces that identity. This is a game that wears its Souls inspirations proudly on its sleeve, but what makes it so special is that for as much as it sticks to the core fundamentals of a soulslike, it also introduces completely new elements, many of which are only made better by the 2D perspective.
There are platforming sections that play with the rules of gravity; there’s couch coop play, making it one of the best soulslike to play through with a buddy; there’s a super in-depth skill tree that allows for a ton of customization in terms of playstyle; and all of this on top of super satisfying combat, a great variety of weapons that behave very differently from each other, deep progression mechanics, and much more.
At first glance you may not think Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order much of a soulslike. Lightsaber battles, Force-assisted parkour, and an actual story not hidden in item descriptions – but the blood of Souls games can still be found running through its veins. Many of its challenging battles against the Empire or deadly alien fauna come down to a strategic understanding of an enemy’s moves and style – when to dodge unblockable attacks, or parry at the right time, even interrupting with a well-placed Force push. While no stamina meter is present, Fallen Order relies on wearing down an opponent’s stun meter with perfect strikes and blocks – similar to Sekiro. Checkpoints to rest at are sparse, and enemy ambushes plentiful – rewarding careful progression and an eye for secrets. And let’s not forget the most loveable robot estus flask ever to grace the screen: BD-1!
1. Nioh (series)
The best soulslikes find a way to use what the Souls series did as a starting point and then find a way to leap off from there and do their own thing. None do this better than the Nioh series. It still has all of the essential qualities of a soulslike, but Team Ninja manages to tweak each of those qualities in ways that make the Nioh games feel familiar, but also completely distinct.
Take combat, for example, it’s still got that careful and deliberate pace thanks to a stamina bar that governs your every action, but on top of that is a ki pulse mechanic that allows you to regain that stamina with well-timed button presses after each attack, which facilitates a much faster pace to the action. Add on top of that the unbelievably deep gear system, the huge skill trees for each weapon and type of magic, along with a lengthy campaign and tons of postgame content, and it’s easy to see why the Nioh series is placed on such a high pedestal among soulslikes.
And that’s our list! What do you think? Agree, disagree? Still think Hollow Knight should’ve made it? Let us know in the comments, and for everything else, keep it here, on IGN.