8. Titan Souls
Titan Souls captures the brutal difficulty of the Souls series while creating more personal encounters. The only enemies in the entire game are giant bosses. So it’s kind of like a mix between Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus. You only have one arrow to fire at your target and it can be drawn back to you as long as something doesn’t leap in the way.
So you’ll spend your time tracking down enemies, locating their weak points, frantically rolling out of the way of their attacks, and hoping that your arrow finds its mark. You’ll also die. A lot. Each new boss has a completely distinct set of patterns and attacks, meaning you probably won’t defeat each new creature on your first try. Its simplicity is both its greatest strength and greatest setback. One you master dodging and firing your arrow, there isn’t much else to learn.
7. Lords of the Fallen
Lords of the Fallen is, at its core, a western take on the Dark Souls series. Muscular men with massive, bulky armor strut through snowy ruins, wielding swords bigger than themselves. The combat should be instantly familiar to fans of the souls games. You need to dodge and carefully choose the proper moment to strike. Every second counts and the wrong move could lead to instant death.
The style of the game is a lot different, with more of a narrative sprinkled throughout. The game’s biggest downfall is that it doesn’t do enough to separate it from the series that it draws inspiration from and what it does do differently is unremarkable at best.
6. Salt and Sanctuary
Who says you need beautifully rendered 3D worlds to enjoy tough as nails combat? Salt and Sanctuary is pretty much Dark Souls if it were a 2D action platformer. The lack of free movement means that combat takes on a different flow. Dodging and returning attacks is made more difficult due to the lack of space. You can dodge under an enemies slash, roll behind them and get a couple of hits in, but that also means that you’ve suddenly placed yourself well within range of their attacks.
The 2D perspective is a double-edged sword, however. Platforming and exploration are made easier and allows for more varied level designs but the combat can occasionally be difficult simply because of the perspective. When an enemy sends a wave of electricity coursing across the screen, you can either jump over it or be thrown to the ground. The difficulty and exploration of the souls series are still intact, but it doesn’t translate as well as it could have.
5. Dark Souls 2
After the success of Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2 tried to breathe new life into the formula, with mixed results. Every time you died a sliver of your health bar would disappear. The only way to return it was to reclaim your humanity, which was easier said than done. This meant that repeated deaths would leave players with very little health. It also made the game more difficult, but sometimes unfairly so.
The world also wasn’t as interesting as the one experienced in the first game. But the combat had been refined and improved upon. The game also introduced some incredibly memorable bosses and sequences and served as a worthwhile sequel to the game that left everyone clamoring for more difficult action RPGs.
4. Demon’s Souls
Although it wasn’t played by many due to its PS3 exclusivity, Demon Souls was the starting point for the entire franchise. Not only was the combat brutally difficult, requiring players to examine enemy patterns and react as quickly as possible, the idea of losing your souls gave death a permanence.
The framework had been laid but it wasn’t perfect. The hub area known as the Nexus was complex and difficult to traverse but opened all of the game’s areas to the player very early on. The areas weren’t connected like they would be in later entries, so each one could be completely distinct from the next, featuring its own traps and mechanics and testing the player’s resolve in new ways.
3. Dark Souls 3
The last entry in the Dark Souls series isn’t the best but it comes close. The world is more beautiful than ever. It truly feels like a world on the brink of destruction. The structures slowly weather, decay, and fall apart. Their only inhabitants the undead monsters that silently wait for unprepared adventures to wander by.
The combat is incredibly refined so dodging, parrying, and stabbing sluggish enemies in the back is more rewarding than ever. There is also more of a story than any other entry in the series. You still need to wade through item descriptions to figure out the true extent of it, but it is the most evolved version of Dark Souls. It knows what makes the series great and what fat needed to be trimmed. But it still cannot stand up to the genius that was the original.
2. Dark Souls
Dark Souls is technically the second game in the souls series but it is truly the game that laid the foundation for what would become a sub-genre of action RPGs. What initially seems like a tough and thoughtful action RPG quickly proves how deep and expansive it really is. You can’t just hack and slash your way through baddies and expect to win.
Learning the ins and outs of the combat system, balancing your inventory, and figuring out how to upgrade your character are all part of the fun. Discovering mysteries and working your way through previously hidden areas, or finally conquering a particularly difficult one, is what makes Dark Souls the classic it is today.
Dark Souls has always been very methodical and complex. Bloodborne stripped some of the complexity away in favor of speed and brutality and the result was a deep experience that pushes players forward at a blistering pace. Each weapon has two modes, and while new tools are few and far between, this diversity means you can choose your favorite style of attack and fully commit to it.
The evasive roll is replaced by a quick sidestep which allows players to not only evade enemy strikes but quickly rush in and rip through the game’s gothic monsters. Everything from werewolves to Lovecraftian horrors are present. The story is simple and serves as a reason for moving from area to area. The lack of shields also means you need to be quick on your feet. It isn’t just an option, its required to survive. BloodBorne takes the base gameplay of the souls series, ratchets it up to 11 and puts a much greater focus on reactionary gameplay. Dark Souls has always been the most difficult when you are confronting a towering beast with just a sword and shield. The combat isn’t just left up to stats and gear, it’s about the ability of the individual player. Each new area is home to bizarre beasts and finding secret areas is extremely rewarding. Everything in Bloodborne exists for a reason, giving players something new to experience and sturggle through. And the struggle is well worth it.