Who knew that the unassuming 2008 title Demon’s Souls would wind up innovating an entirely new subgenre of games?
Let’s face it– modern games are getting easier and easier. Players are rewarded constantly for simply walking the character to a map marker and mashing one attack button. Combined with frequent checkpoints that totally negate all risk of failure, modern games are often just a flashy walk in the park.
Soulslikes offer something different, something more reminiscent of the good ol’ days.
Days when a careless mistake would get you killed. Days when the simple skeleton in the first level was not just there for decoration. Days when you had to stop and think about how to succeed instead of button mashing your way past.
Since FromSoftware released Demon’s Souls and the equally influential Dark Souls series, “Soulslike” games have attracted gamers looking for challenging gameplay, deep character building, and worlds steeped in lore.
Here are 10 of the most underrated Soulslike games available now.
10) Remnant: From the Ashes
Would guns ruin Dark Souls?
Remnant: From the Ashes shows that you can, indeed, get away with throwing liberal use of ranged weapons into the mix and still get great results. You and your two compadres are teamed up to dispose of an ominous evil known as “The Root.”
If that sounds a little cliché, well that’s because it is.
Remnant doesn’t thrive on its storytelling, but rather in the depth of the experience and the pure adrenaline-pumping, often harried combat. The levels, enemy placements, and even boss locations are procedurally generated, guaranteeing you never have the same playthrough twice. This, of course, does result in some quirky combinations that will be trickier to navigate than others.
Keep in mind that the experience is essentially tailored to the 3-player co-op teams as well. Solo is an option–the only option if you have no matchmaking luck or friends to speak of–but the bosses and hordes of creeps leading to them will be substantially more difficult to manage without at least a meat shield to distract them from you.
What exactly makes this game a Soulslike that so often has the Internet drawing the comparison?
The pure challenge.
Remnant:From the Ashes offers at times a steep difficulty spike that will challenge seasoned Souls pros and newbies alike. For a Soulslike experience beyond your typical medieval action RPG, Remnant: From the Ashes is a solid pick.
The most striking thing about Ashen is the art style. We’ve got massive cel-shaded environments that are visually stunning, and the characters are embroidered with details from the attire, armor, and other gear you can don through your quest.
Except for the faces– there are none. The game’s art director commented on how this was a deliberate decision that supports the game’s core concepts, but who knows? Maybe they just got cheap with the animation budget.
This might deter some people, but rest assured the gameplay and overall experience makes up for this one design quirk. You’re teamed up in a co-op action adventure with your best bud or AI robo pal to explore Ashen’s minimalist open world.
Lovers of the Dark Souls style combat will feel right at home with Ashen, which requires players to collect souls, I mean “Scoria” as it’s called in Ashen, while working through the dungeons towards the inevitable boss battles. Healing functions the same too, where you can recover HP with a quick swig from the Estus– er, “Crimson Gourd”, I mean– and live on to swing on.
The story is well-crafted and well-told and the atmosphere adds significantly to the game’s mood. From a first glance, you can clearly see it’s not as massive or epic as Dark Souls, but it does borrow plenty of inspiration and stands up as an overall great Soulslike in the genre.
8) Mortal Shell
A quick look at a Mortal Shell screenshot and you may not even notice it’s not Dark Souls at first. Mortal Shell was not shy about its influences and sought to offer a similar gaming experience with an added mechanic to help it stand apart from the actual Soulsborne entries.
The title gives you a big hint– it’s shells. Like a hermit crab, you wander around as a painfully soft creature until you find a shell to inhabit and start your quest from there. Shells are diverse and can be upgraded with the in-game currency, “tar” and “glimpses” since “souls” would be copyright infringement, to make your playthrough a little easier.
Like Souls players that love SL1 playthroughs, you’ll find plenty of “No Shell” run players or guides for those who thought the vanilla game was just too easy. We’re Souls players. Why would we want anything to be too easy?
A lot about Mortal Shell is derivative of Soulsborne games. We have sprawling environments featuring the usual fare of ruins, caves, gulches, and castles, complete with cryptic NPCs and an incredibly ambiguous plotline.
For Souls lovers, that’s all we need, because the character building is good and the combat is challenging but fair. You won’t squeeze hundreds of hours out of this entry, but it’s a great taste of Souls if you need just a little fix.
7) Titan Souls
At a glance, Titan Souls is a top-down indie game that forgot to change the second word of their title from something other than “Souls”, but despite drawing inspiration from many tried-and-true gaming classics, it is very much its own thing.
Titan Souls is what you get when you strip away the same old exploration, tedious enemy encounters, bloated item systems, and complicated mechanics that confuse everyone and leave only the meat and potatoes– excellent bosses and incredible complexity despite simple controls and mechanics.
You are a guy with a bow and arrow.
Let’s make that even clearer–you are a guy with a bow and AN arrow. Like one arrow.
This simple mechanic puts you in the midst of a near-20 boss rush that arcade style gamers and speedrunners will love running through repeatedly in an endless pursuit to best their personal times and/or world records.
For the casual folk that don’t care for such prestige, it’s still a feat in itself to get through the game. You have but one arrow that you have to pick up after each shot. You can “will” it back to you, but doing so requires you to stay stationary and gives the boss an opening on you.
Very simple rules, but it makes for an incredibly engaging and immersive experience. Each encounter challenges you considerably to learn patterns and how to field each maneuver to get the edge on the enemy.
To overcome, you’ll need incredible observational skills and reaction speed, or a lot of time to die and die again while figuring it all out. It’s frustrating, sure, but it’s overall an amazing experience.
6) Salt and Sanctuary
You’re having a chat about Dark Souls when someone throws Salt and Sanctuary into the convo. There’s no DJ, but you swear you just heard a record scratch–
Salt and Sanctuary? Isn’t that a 2D side-scrolling action RPG platformer? With so many genres attached already, you wanna shoehorn “souslike” on that too? A 2D GAME!?
Hard yes. Any naysayers who may have played S&S know that the translation is surprising and you almost would never expect such a detailed Soulslike experience from a relatively small indie offering from Ska Studios, yet that’s exactly what you get.
You play an unnamed protagonist stranded after a shipwreck. In true Souls spirit, you’re given a vague notion of what to do and where you are, but all details become clearer and clearer as you brave the unknown and push on.
What makes it a great Soulslike is the sheer vastness of the builds you can run. By earning Salt, basically “souls” or “blood echoes” with a different name, you level your character by traversing a massive grid that improves stats conducive to what build you’re looking for.
For the retro gamers, think Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid but shrunk to indie proportions.
The builds get even more intricate because, like Souls, you get your choice of what weapon-type or combat approach. Are you going in with spells for a glass cannon-type build, a classic tank knight with greatsword in hand, or do you want to be a zippy ninja who pokes at foes with a spear?
The choice is yours. Salt and Sanctuary is an excellent game with massive replayability.
5) Code Vein
Gamers tend to dismiss Code Vein as “anime Dark Souls”, and it’s not an entirely unfair comparison.
Like Dark Souls, the combat is deliberate, methodical, and requires some forethought in your approach while also employing a deep character building experience, steep punishment for deaths, and larger-than-life boss battles.
Where it deviates is where it also shines. The anime art style and character design is fantastic. Unlike Soulsborne entries that rely on subtlety and nuance to tell a story, Code Vein incorporates cutscenes and a more standard approach to the story offering a great plot for gamers that love a good story.
Code Vein also rolls in that trademark Souls-type difficulty, although it is made easier by the presence of an AI partner who can heal you in an emergency. For extra challenge, you can turn off the partner and go it alone, but it will be significantly harder this way.
You have been warned. Don’t cry to us when you get stomped by Cannoneer and Blade Bearer.
Code Vein didn’t get nearly as much love as actual Soulsborne titles, but it’s an incredible game nonetheless and deserves a spot in your backlog.
4) The Surge 2
Deck13 was experimenting with a Soulslike formula as far back as 2014 with Lords of the Fallen, a great Soulslike in its own right, but they struck gold in 2017 with The Surge.
The Surge is a great many things, but boiling it down to “Dark Souls in space” seems fair. You collect scrap to upgrade your character in preparation for big time boss battles, many of which will challenge your skills and your nerves.
Taking that scrap to boost your stats, upgrade weapons, or improve your abilities gives you a heck of a lot of options on your build, making the endless kill, collect, spend grind so addictive.
Flash forward to 2019 and Deck13 drops the sequel to the well-reviewed, well-regarded first installment with The Surge 2. The critical reviews were, well, good enough, and the sales were tepid at best.
Despite the less than stellar reception, the sequel took everything great about The Surge and cranked it up to the max. You’ve got great combat mechanics that let you literally rip the limbs off your enemies and collect that ever-essential scrap on your quest to become OP AF.
The shining combat system and engaging story contribute to an exceptional sci-fi Soulslike that often gets less cred than it deserves.
3) Nioh 2
What would you get if Ninja Gaiden and Dark Souls had a baby?
It’s not surprising, given the success of the first Nioh, that the sequel would deliver a similarly polished experience filled with badass bosses and greater depth than the Mariana Trench.
They added Soul Cores, Burst Counters, and a whole slew of new mechanics that essentially reprogrammed not only how you engage enemies but how their AI engages right back.
It’s got a lot of similarities with the Souls series which is how it often draws the comparison, yet it includes enough of its own unique touches like combat stances and Yokai Shift forms, making it an all-around great game in its own right.
Just like Souls games, it’s tough as nails. You can spend hours cultivating a great build and walk around feeling invincible, only to find out that most enemies can still give you the one-two punch knockout if you get careless.
Regular encounters can be tricky to navigate, whereas boss battles will really test your mettle. Like Souls, it’s a tall order, but also just like Souls, it’s incredibly satisfying when you succeed.
2) Dark Souls 2
Is it even fair to call an actual entry from the Soulsborne games an underrated Soulslike?
Considering Dark Souls 2, the irrefutable black sheep of the series, we think it’s more than fair. Everyone talks about the first Dark Souls as the progenitor and the third one as taking the series’ lore, gameplay, and graphics to new heights.
Bloodborne gets top honors for being totally different with its H.P. Lovecraft meets Victorian England aesthetic and frenzied gameplay, as well as the iconic characters. Who doesn’t love a great Maria cosplay?
Sekiro is often left out of Soulsborne conversations, despite being an absolute masterpiece, but fans and developers alike cannot come to a consensus on whether or not it’s even a “Soulslike” in the first place.
That leaves our beloved Dark Souls 2– overlooked, overshadowed, all but forgotten.
Dark Souls 2 totally capitalized on the massive success of its predecessor and added even more great features. It introduced the Power Stance mechanic which would later be used in Elden Ring. It introduced Hexes, which were totally awesome and totally OP until they nerfed it into oblivion. It added Bonfire Ascetics which added a new risk-reward type mechanic for players to ponder.
There was a lot to love about Dark Souls 2, but there was also a lot not to love. Remember The Gutter? Pure controller-throwing frustration. How about the King’s Pets, Lud and Zallen? Hair-pulling madness. An added stat called Adaptability determining how many I-frames you get from a roll? Don’t get me started.
Throw in a bunch of maps that bleed together in design and an endless parade of knight-style enemies, and it’s understandable why it gets ranked last, even though it is overall a solid game.
1) Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight will often attract bewildered stares. It’s side-scrolling. It’s action-adventure. It’s a Metroidvania mostly. Does it qualify as “Soulslike” as well?
Absolutely. Hollow Knight fits the mold in many classic ways.
For one, the world is interconnected in interesting and often unusual ways. Discovering shortcuts and helping good ol’ Cornifer complete his maps is satisfying. Add in that each biome is rich with detail and personality, as well as steeped in lore that is relatively unknown unless the player deep dives into item descriptions and the Hunter’s Journal.
In addition, Souls games are infamous for stripping you of all XP upon death and tasking you with retrieving it. Hollow Knight puts its own spin on this mechanic and requires you fight a shade of yourself which floats near where you died. If you can defeat your shade, you can have your lost Geo returned to level up thereafter.
The atmosphere, environments, and other gameplay quirks are all great, but the main thing that establishes Hollow Knight as a Soulslike is the deliberate and challenging combat that requires pure precision and timing to prevail. The game throws a number of interesting enemies as well as a cavalcade of chaotic bosses.
Those looking for an exhilarating combat experience will find it in the Pantheon of Hallownest, an endgame challenge that tasks the player with overcoming every boss battle in a row with little or no rest or recovery. Only the most elite players of the game will succeed in this grueling gauntlet of endurance and skill.
Combine all this with a minimalist but simply stunning art direction and a score that cannot be beat, and you have one of the best Soulslike games, heck, one of the best gaming experiences there is available.